MRI Software has been running a series of breakfast briefings over the past few months, hosted by me, Colin Sales (CEO, 3C Consultants), Michael McLaughlin (social insight lead, HACT) and Phil Brining (operations director, The Data Protection People).
The first briefing covered the challenges in social housing with respect to data and the need for housing providers to adopt more data-driven decision-making.
In much the same way that the miners and drillers of natural resources in bygone eras held the key to fuelling society’s progress, modern data miners and drillers find themselves in a similar position of influence. Consider that 90 per cent of all electronic data has been created in just the past two years and modern data pioneers are the people who can extract value from this data.
The key to uncovering value from data is facilitating the conversion of data into actions via a data-value pathway. The decisions taken at the end of this process then have an impact on individuals across all areas of life.
Social housing providers are no different to other organisations regarding the vast amounts of data collected, held and available to them on which decisions about their businesses and the well-being of tenants are based.
Smart housing providers are harnessing data correctly and efficiently and then using it to build and maintain robust organisations and thriving communities. Conversely, from a service, regulatory and governance perspective, the repercussions of getting it wrong are high, such as reputational risk, operational inefficiency; cost, employment and even lives as the tragic events of June 2017 have shown.
Put simply, badly-organised data hinders long-term business transformation and seemingly harmless errors can have startling implications for forward planning. Michael McLaughlin from HACT said, “We came across a housing provider who found that 20 per cent of its tenants were 119 years old. This was in 2019 and what had happened was some people didn’t provide their date of birth when they logged into the system so they were arbitrarily given a birthday of 1st January 1900.”
This is an easily identifiable slip-up brought about by having no option for unavailable data. However, if it hadn’t been spotted, the consequences of this unrealistic number of centenarians could have heavily influenced the planning of housing provision for an extraordinarily ageing population.
Other data anomalies can be harder to spot and these create doubt in the fundamental trustworthiness of the data; the shaky reliability of information garnered from data will result in hesitancy when making decisions or result in poor decisions.
Colin Sales from 3C Consultants said, “When it comes to good governance, the decision will be made based on your data, not on expert reassurances. We’re reaching the stage where hearing the words ‘prove it’ will be a frequent challenge to management teams.”
The urgency felt by housing providers to enable their data to work for them was outlined by each of the speakers. Beyond risks, prescient leaders are looking forward to moving information from patchwork spreadsheets and legacy systems to integrated, responsive platforms that can model, test and facilitate long-term transformation.
Some of the recommendations discussed for housing providers to consider in their data revolution projects included: defining your mission; building a single version of the truth; mechanisms for cleaning up existing data; validating data at its point of entry; employing clear analytics and business intelligence and embedding residents’ feedback. The goal for each action is to turn data into decisions to add value.
Michael McLaughlin from HACT said, “It has to be a sector-led process. We have to be our own best advocates for how we handle our data.”
Establishing high standards for good data usage will take some time to implement because careful and specific attention is needed for each facet of a housing provider’s service provision. The approach needs to be proactive, with organisations able to present how and why they collect data and what insights they gain from it, rather than purely implementing data practices as a reaction to new or changing regulations.
Phil Brining from The Data Protection People said, “The data revolution is not only here to stay, it’s also gathering pace. You can collect all the data you want but if you can’t derive any value or benefit from it, what’s the point?”
On the horizon, the internet of things, AI and machine learning have the capacity to transform housing providers. These technologies will have major implications in terms of housing providers’ competencies, understanding of data ethics and adherence to standards. One example of this lies in the trading of data and metadata derived from IOT devices.
After all, data on its own is actually useless. Technically, data is just 1s and 0s, numbers held in databases. What we need to do is move it into an arena where we can derive some value from it. Once we have insights, we can make confident and valuable decisions.
To embed data-driven decision-making within the social housing sector, organisations will need a high level of comfort around handling and analysing data in order to instil confidence that the best decisions are being made.
Doug Sarney is the solutions principal at MRI Software.