The way that an organisation organises its technology function is commonly called an ‘IT operating model’. It should be there to support an organisation’s goals and be aligned to what the organisation wants from technology and data.
Gartner identifies five primary IT operating model patterns. Asset (as in IT stuff, not housing), process, service, value, invention and innovation. Each model moves away from the old concept of an internal, cost-managed IT department (c.f. ‘The IT Crowd’) toward an externally-focused, value-generating contributor to the business.
In the housing sector, we’ve often talked about the need to leverage technology more and how data should become an important asset. It’s difficult to imagine that any housing provider today would say, “IT is just for the back office and to manage reporting and the accounts.” At the same time, the way that organisations try to implement technology and new applications to support required processes takes many shapes, often avoiding the IT department or centring the need around a functional process, such as assets, rents or repairs, feeling that an IT department-centred approach will be slow, too complicated or ‘not within their scope’.
IT department vs. technology services
This is where IT operating models are useful. IT is not about the IT department; IT is about how an organisation wants to use and leverage technology within, across and/or externally to its business as a whole. In some cases, as with Great Places Housing, it dropped the ‘IT department’ title some time ago in favour of ‘technology services’. Dan Hearn, Great Places Housing’s director of technology services, said, “It’s a lot easier to operate the full scope of the technology and data agenda in Great Places without the baggage of the ‘IT’ label. People are recognising the difference between IT as a capability for our services rather than as a departmental thing.”
Great Places Housing has assessed its IT operating model across seven primary areas:
- IT leadership;
- Infrastructure and operations;
- Software applications;
- Programme and project management;
- Data and business intelligence;
- Digital (including IoT);
It takes the view that while the strategy and portfolio is developed under the coordinating role of the technology services director, the responsibilities, roles and ways of working are distributed across the organisation. This enables Great Places Housing to take a holistic view of its priorities and opportunities for technology and remain connected across its business functions.
Barry Shields, head of digital and data, Great Places, said, “Breaking down the seven areas of our IT scope needed a structure and model where we could look at our major processes, skills and desired technology capabilities by area. We’ve worked with The Integration Executive for a few years and used its model for examining how we operated and where we wanted to be.”
Evaluation and suitability
Each of the seven areas and the processes within them looks at nine points of evaluation and suitability. These are: financials; decision rights; performance; talent; sourcing and alliances; organisation structure; ways of working; where work takes place; and tooling.
Each will either be a good fit to the desired operating model pattern or are a poor or disconnected fit to the business operating model and the way that the IT should be organised to optimally align.
Furthermore, within the scope of each process to be delivered, the responsibilities and decisions that contribute toward the alignment must be considered, so a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted and influenced by) framework is built to clarify the decision rights and responsibilities for each process. In reality, this may need to be done twice; first to identify the current operating model’s clarity of process operation and ownership, and then secondly to determine which changes need to be made to which aspects of the process (by operating model component) to achieve an optimum alignment.
Opening the black box
From an executive management perspective, the clarity this provides is transformational. From a ‘black box’ of things that IT does, each process and required investment and improvement area is suddenly brought into stark relief. It also highlights that IT is no longer the domain of the technical function but that each element of the organisation plays its part in how information and technology operate to the benefit of the stakeholders.
Alison Dean, executive director, Great Places, said, “We’ve operated a business transformation agenda for several years. Continuous improvement is a way of life for us, but we needed something to really understand where we were on our IT journey and what we needed to do over time to incrementally underpin our service ambitions and compliance responsibilities.
“Taking IT as an operating model on its own and understanding, process by process, how it touches and informs the organisation was an enlightening process in itself. We’ve also benefitted hugely from taking a structured approach because we can see at a glance which areas we still need to work on and how everything fits together to support our services.”
The role of the IT operating model in the development of housing provision and management is crucial. Let’s look at the specific benefits this work delivers, focusing on how it enhances asset maintenance and tenant services:
- Integrated asset management: A robust IT operating model underpins and facilitates the integration of digital tools and data-driven processes to effectively manage your housing assets. By centralising property data, maintenance histories and inspection schedules, developing tools to enhance timely and proactive maintenance becomes more sustainable, in turn reducing the risk of costly repairs and enhancing the overall quality of housing.
- Predictive maintenance: An intelligent IT operating model enables the implementation of predictive maintenance strategies. By leveraging connected IoT sensors and data analytics, you can anticipate maintenance needs before issues become critical. This approach helps minimise disruption to tenants, prolongs assets’ lifespan and optimises field-service resource allocation.
- Tenant engagement & satisfaction: Appropriate digital developments sequenced with improvements in the IT operating model have the ability to really empower tenants with self-service portals, mobile apps and communication platforms. Tenants can easily report maintenance problems, provide and access relevant information and communicate across schemes, neighbourhoods and housing management. Continuous and connected services which deliver transparency and convenience will improve tenant satisfaction, confidence and strengthen landlord-tenant relationships.
- Data-driven decision-making: A well-structured IT operating model supports the ability to consistently capture and analyse trusted data related to asset performance, maintenance trends and tenant preferences. This data-driven approach means that strategic decisions across functions (such as budget allocation, resource planning and prioritising maintenance tasks) become faster and remain connected to the source data more often, reducing the risk of manual errors.
- Compliance & regulatory adherence: A strong and holistically-developed IT operating model aids in maintaining accurate records and adhering to regulatory requirements. Digitising documentation, certifications, transactions and inspections ensures compliance with housing regulations and minimises the risks associated with non-compliance.
- Resource optimisation: With continual pressure on funding, efficient resource allocation is paramount. Connecting the IT operating model enables improvements in optimised workforce deployment, materials procurement and maintenance scheduling at the same time leading to cost savings while maintaining service quality.
- Risk mitigation: By connecting secure data storage, access controls, data stewardship and data privacy measures through the IT operating model, it safeguards sensitive tenant information. This reduces the risk of data breaches and ensures compliance with data protection regulations.
- Innovation & sustainability: A forward-looking IT operating model facilitates the integration of innovative technologies such as smart-home devices and energy-efficient systems. This enhances housing sustainability, reduces utility costs and supports environmentally-conscious housing management.
- Real-time insights: Connecting the IT operating model, digital thinking and infrastructures enable real-time monitoring of assets and tenant interactions. This facilitates immediacy of response to emergencies such as safety concerns or urgent maintenance requests, improving independence cover for vulnerable tenants.
- Long-term planning: By aligning your IT operating model with your organisation’s strategic goals, you create a foundation for long-term planning. This allows faster adaptation to changing tenant needs, regulatory changes and technological advancements, minimising the need for complicated change management across teams and processes and disruption to services.
By leveraging digital tools, data analytics and streamlined processes, housing providers can enhance asset quality, tenant satisfaction and operational efficiency, all while navigating the challenges of reduced funding and increased regulatory oversight.
Tony Feeney is a director of The Integration Executive.