Housing Technology interviewed Chris Masey, Amazon Web Services’ account manager for the UK public sector and not-for-profit organisations about what AWS offers housing providers, its working culture and how it sees technology in our sector innovating and changing.
What was the move from Orchard to Amazon Web Services (AWS) like, and how do they differ?
I spent a great five years at Orchard and worked with many wonderful housing customers on projects I am proud of. I was becoming very curious about cloud computing and the impact it was having across every imaginable business sector. I was keen to gain experience on the front line and help customers maximise value by moving to the cloud; AWS was a natural fit for me and it’s been a great experience working with AWS customers in the housing sector during the past two years.
What does AWS offer housing providers?
We engage with housing providers in many different ways. From a strategic point of view, often the biggest challenge for organisations moving to the cloud are not technical, they’re about people and culture. We therefore actively help housing providers’ executive teams define a cloud strategy, commit to moving towards a cloud operating model and then support them as they start to build a culture for change.
We also help housing providers build a culture of innovation by applying the mechanisms which have enabled Amazon to continue to reinvent customer experiences and quickly launch new services and products. For example, we are currently working closely with ForHousing to deliver a re-imagined digital repairs experience which will reduce the volume of avoidable service requests into its contact centre. The concept was created and driven by ForHousing’s business and data teams where they used Amazon’s ‘working backwards’ mechanism (where all projects work backwards from the ideal customer end state) to envision a new and frictionless customer experience.
This involves answering five key questions: who is the customer; what is the customer’s problem or opportunity; is the most important customer benefit clear; how do you know what customers need or want; and what does the customer experience look like?
From a technical perspective, we understand the essential requirement of training ‘builders’ on the concepts of cloud to enable transformation. There are two functions in housing IT teams who are quickly becoming the trailblazers for cloud transformation and who have the opportunity to grow their own skillset, principally housing providers’ infrastructure and data/analytics teams.
The infrastructure teams are vital in managing the underlying infrastructure for housing providers, even if the servers and network components are hosted in the cloud. The data/analytics teams, who right now might be managing multiple data silos and on-premise data warehouses, have the capability to help their organisations to democratise their data and leverage advanced AI and machine-learning services.
Our focus is on enabling these builders by giving them access to training and new technologies; we regularly run workshops, free training initiatives and technical immersion days to help them get hands-on with our technologies.
What is the AWS culture and environment like?
The Amazon culture is really different. 90 per cent of what we build at AWS is driven by what customers tell us matters to them.
We are pioneers and we focus on hiring builders who are always looking at how they can reinvent customer experiences. In addition, we are unusually long-term focused; we’re trying to actively build relationships and a business that will outlast all of us.
A great example of this is our focus on helping our customers save money. In the cloud, you just provision what you need, and if it turns out you need less, you give it back to us and stop paying for it. That variable expense is lower than what almost every company can do on its own because AWS has such large scale that we pass on to customers in the form of lower prices. In fact, we’ve lowered prices over 80 times since AWS launched in 2006.
A big transformation when migrating to the cloud is managing costs dynamically. Hence, we have lots of support available to help our customers manage this transformation. Cost optimisation is a key pillar in our framework that is used by our own solution architects and partners to migrate workloads to AWS. We also have many services baked into the platform to help customers monitor the cost of their AWS resources. We even proactively recommend cost savings to customers through our automated ‘trusted advisor’ service that is delivered as standard with any AWS account.
From an environment point of view, at the heart of every Amazonian’s work are our leadership principles, which inform, guide and shape everything we do. It all starts with ‘customer obsession’ and working backwards from the customer problem.
I’d sum it up as a fast-paced, fulfilling and exciting working environment where we are super-focused on helping our customers solve problems and drive innovation with the cloud.
Is AWS seeking to replace the sector’s existing housing-specific IT suppliers? If not, how is it working with them?
Our focus is on helping customers in the social housing sector leverage the latest cloud technologies to deliver new and innovative products to our market.
Which technologies is AWS betting on at the moment?
In the fullness of time, virtually every application will be infused with machine learning and AI, and most customers we work with are very interested in this area. In housing, machine learning and AI have the potential to transform our service models across a whole variety of use cases.
It has never been easier to collect, store, analyse and share data than it is today in the cloud, and that’s because it’s not only much more cost effective, but also because the analytics services available today change the possibilities. There is an opportunity here for housing providers to do more with data lakes which deliver a single data repository in the cloud that join all data types together (structured and unstructured) to drive deeper insights into our customers and assets.
From an IoT perspective, over the next 10-20 years it’s likely that most companies’ on-premise footprint will not be servers; those will almost all be in the cloud. Instead, their on-premise footprint will be connected devices, with billions of these connected devices in homes. The cloud is vitally important in supporting this transformation and we’re already seeing some exciting software suppliers emerge with a housing focus, such as Homelync and Switchee, both of which are using AWS IoT services to monitor, collect and analyse data securely from smart devices in the home.
The last technology I want to mention is ‘serverless’ computing. In 2014, AWS pioneered the event-driven serverless computing space by launching AWS Lambda. The simplest way to describe the capability of serverless is enabling builders to develop solutions without ever having to worry about scaling, patching or managing any servers. A great example of its application would be Comic Relief, which realised an 83 per cent saving on its AWS bill by adopting serverless technologies to support its online donation platform.
What will the housing provider of the future look like in terms of technologies, business operations & IT teams?
The future of social housing will start with serving customers inside the home. Right now, service requests are generally reactive and involve tenants making a call to their housing provider’s contact centre. I expect to see much more process automation where closely-connected communities will evolve and the customer experience will become largely digital and frictionless.
Housing providers’ IT teams will need to manage the growing family of connected devices and support this type of operating model where IoT technologies will become central to how housing providers manage everything from customer services to asset management and care and support.
Who are your partners in the housing sector and what do they offer?
We have tens of thousands of AWS partners globally, many of whom work in housing in the UK.
Some examples include fast-growing software suppliers such as GasTag, Switchee, Homelync and Voicescape who are each using AWS to rapidly bring innovative products to the housing market, while established partners such as Arcus Global and Rackspace have their own AWS practices to support customers with everything from infrastructure migrations and end-user computing to building cloud-based contact centres and new machine-learning services.
The HMS suppliers are also transforming in order to help their customers embrace the cloud. A good example of this is MIS Group. Just 12 months ago it created Incline-IT, a cloud migration and managed services organisation, which has since grown quickly, winning 15 new customers and migrated housing providers such as Housing Plus and Arches Housing to AWS.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Our focus is on helping housing providers to leverage the cloud to innovate, scale and drive down costs, regardless of where they are on their cloud transformation journey.
Whether it’s understanding total cost of ownership for infrastructure migration, building a cloud strategy, moving Windows workloads to AWS, learning how Amazon innovates, defining a first proof-of-concept or training in-house housing IT teams, we’re here to support you and we have the largest partner community that can help build virtually any application in the cloud.
Chris Masey is the account manager for the UK public sector and not-for-profit organisations at Amazon Web Services.