Digital transformation, a source of confusion and worry for leaders in the housing sector, is nothing to be afraid of. It more or less refers to getting a business ready to operate in a changing digital environment.
Uncertainty surrounding the impact that Brexit will have on the market has, for at least the short term, slowed national home building. As a result, pressure is likely to increase on social housing to ensure as many people as possible have a safe and suitable home. Being able to cope with these changes is critical for any housing provider, so having the right digital infrastructure to deliver more for less and manage pressure is essential.
No organisation or market sector can view itself as immune from the disruptive impact of digital and mobile technologies. Changing consumer expectations have increased the demand for being able to make contact across mobile and via digital tools such as social media.
Embracing digital technology isn’t just about buying and installing it though. The real benefit of new technology is its transformative nature. Organisations can become more productive and analytical in their approaches. According to the consultants McKinsey & Co, a successful digital enterprise has a number of character traits:
- They’re ambitious in their targets, and measure the value they get out of digital initiatives, not the volume.
- They extend their capabilities by hiring in new skills from other sectors.
- They ring-fence digital talent, so it doesn’t get distracted by ‘business as usual’.
- They challenge everything, across every function, process, product and location.
- They move quickly and are prepared to constantly reinvent themselves.
- They take a focused approach to investment, concentrating on high-value areas and scaling up successes quickly.
- They put customers at the heart of their digital transformation, learning from every interaction in order to improve the customer experience.
Interestingly, none of these traits involves actual technology. McKinsey argues that digital transformation is about culture first, taking a more productive and efficient approach to work.
Focusing on developing these seven characteristics will help an organisation to adopt new technology which will in turn improve productivity and services. Taking such an approach will enable innovations and the identification of potential areas where technology can assist and improve processes.
For example, in the housing sector, one provider we worked with spotted a need to better manage productivity and staff when in the field. We developed a map-based application that draws together information from all areas of its operations to help it manage properties and make smarter decisions. Housing officers and maintenance workers can now be assigned to optimised geographic areas to allow more visits to be made each day; tenants can be more quickly and easily allocated to the right properties with suitable facilities; and rent arrears officers can be more proactive in spotting trends and running campaigns in hotspots to reduce rent arrears. Altogether, this transformation project is delivering more than £100,000 in savings each year.
Producing a cultural change
Often, the major stumbling blocks in implementing digital transformation are not the technology but the cultural impact and encouraging buy-in; investing in technology itself is relatively simple. The best tools are selected by a group of leaders, but these must be effectively implemented, introduced and used to develop productivity.
Digitally-mature organisations are more innovative and more collaborative than their peers, as well as more willing to innovate with digital technologies. That means that organisations in the housing sector that are starting out on their journey to digital maturity need to deliver a culture shift as they mature. Yet, as a recent report on Digital Transformation from Raconteur points out, you can’t just issue a decree that the culture will be different; you need to visibly change the prevailing conditions in the workplace.
The Raconteur report sets out a number of factors that must be addressed to achieve culture change, with several falling under the banner of how employees collaborate and take decisions together. First, organisations must move away from traditional, slow, layered bureaucracy and become more agile in how they analyse and act on data. Secondly, they need to work more efficiently across traditional functional boundaries to achieve common goals. Finally, they need to move towards a culture based on constant low-level evolution rather than major upheavals every few years, and learn to value occasional failure as a chance to learn to ‘fail better’.
The other side of the coin involves creating a physical and technical environment that supports this collaborative, agile approach. This can mean redesigning office spaces or a call centre to encourage collaborative working, perhaps following the lead of Google by including a range of social spaces in its offices alongside traditional desks and meeting rooms. It also means giving employees tools that help them share, innovate and work effectively, such as collaborative office suites, video-conferencing and mobile devices that let them work when and where they need to. This can be particularly beneficial in the housing sector, with so many employees required in the field.
What makes a successful digital transformation in the housing sector is a culture that formulates an environment where innovation and the development of ideas is encouraged. Implementing technology is the simple bit, and should not be a source of heavy concern for leaders. The focus needs to be moved from what technology can do for an organisation to what people can do for an organisation with the right technology.
Luke Stewart is the geo practice manager at Ancoris.