Working in IT can offer exciting and dynamic opportunities for any business leader; however, the housing sector is perhaps one of the lesser known sectors in which to build a career.
Yet at Southern Housing Group, we’re aiming to change that through a clear and focused IT strategy that links directly to our corporate strategy’s focus on providing excellent customer service. In particular, we’re doing what few others in our sector have done and are looking beyond housing to other industries well known for their innovative and customer-focused approaches and introducing these into our business.
How are we doing this? Naturally, delivering an innovative IT strategy is playing a key role in transforming customer service delivery, but we’re also looking at the qualities we want to attract to ensure we have the right type of people in our team. In the last couple of years, most of our new staff members have joined with no previous housing experience.
Our IT strategy is based upon five key themes: fix the basics; reinforce and build; optimise and integrate; integrate and innovate; and secure the estate, all of which we’re well on our way to achieving. We have a number of steps to take if we’re to deliver our vision of providing a modern, resilient IT infrastructure that provides a set of foundations to build on, moving from a fragmented estate to using standard IT integration technologies through a service-oriented architecture with the principle of ‘build once, use many’.
As we’re embracing technology as a key enabler and introducing a new approach with a technology and applications reference model, and taking a collaborative approach to business engagement, we’re ensuring a feeling of ownership among senior stakeholders and that our transformation is truly business-led, not IT-driven.
So what does that look like? Well, while I am personally leading a programme to change the way we deliver tenant services, encompassing digital services, mobile working and omni-channel communications, many of our newer team members are using their expertise gained in other sectors to add significant value. To ensure we remain business-led and don’t become IT-driven, we’re also engaging with people from across the business to ensure that design and implementation work for both our internal and external customers.
A key part of my approach is to give individuals within my leadership team accountability for the delivery of major pieces of work. One team member, who started his career in the corporate world, is developing our architectural strategy based on his knowledge of external best practise, while another is leading on developing our group project methodology. A third member is leading the development of our service management framework, based on ITIL principles.
Yet it’s not just the infrastructure that we’re using this external knowledge for; one of our team is developing an IT customer-service strategy to ensure we’re fully aligned with the group’s increased focus on this area. This new approach reflects the significantly improved operational efficiency the IT department is delivering and maximises the benefits we’re getting from knowledge of and experience in different sectors.
We still have a fair way to go to deliver our vision, but we are working on a number of areas, including:
- Portable device/technology rationalisation;
- Updating our operating systems and enhancing our infrastructure;
- Adopting an internet-based ‘cloud first’ approach;
- Using digital communications tools, both internally and externally.
As a group, we are putting our tenants at the forefront of our thinking to ensure we are a tenant- rather than property-centric organisation. We have adopted the principle of being ‘digital by design’ and, through a structured programme over the next year, we will be looking at how we can use digital technology to help us in the way we work and in the way we provide our tenants with services.
Taking lessons from the success of large businesses such as Asos and British Airways, the focus is on omni-channel, digital-first solutions rather than a predominantly telephone-based service and this will make change management simple and business-process-driven. Transformation will enable service delivery that tenants want to receive via value-for-money capabilities.
We will soon be delivering CRM capability to give a holistic view of all tenant- and property-related contacts in one place, enhancing the way we use our existing information. This will provide a full view and transparency of service provision and current status, including services delivered by third parties through contract arrangements. It will provide the basis for flexible service provision with the drive towards integrated mobile device access and the springboard to the analysis and contextualising of data to inform future service provision, including resource management. This project will play a key role in helping save £1 million per year and will be central to achieving technological efficiencies in service delivery.
We are also working hard to deliver value for money within IT; we’ve recently signed a new licence agreement with Microsoft that will save £275,000 over the next six years, with all savings being re-invested back into the group. Our new project methodology will also reduce costs, ensure faster delivery and drive greater efficiency.
As an IT department, we are significantly improving our levels of professionalism and adopting best practise from beyond the housing sector to ensure we continue to improve everything that we do. Taking such an approach will ensure we play a key part in the group’s transformation and help it to achieve its strategic goals. Looking beyond our own doorstep also means that we will achieve our vision to create and maintain a modern, resilient, integrated IT estate that supports the business goals and challenges of a 21st Century housing provider.
Kevin Connell is the IT director of Southern Housing Group.