Sir – One of the hottest topics in technology over the past few years has undoubtedly been big data. This is essentially any data-set large and complex enough that it becomes difficult to process using traditional applications. The key question is: how can housing providers benefit from big data, and avoid it becoming a problem?
In simple terms, big data should not be seen as a problem. We now have the technology to store and process large quantities of data without spending a fortune. So the question is more one of how housing providers, who collect huge amounts of information on their tenants, can use big data to their advantage.
Storing large amounts of data is in itself pointless unless you can do something useful with it. The key is to analyse the data and use the results to inform business decisions. One of the early lessons in software product development is not to guess at product design but to seek feedback from clients, analyse the data and use this to make informed decisions. This principle works in all areas of business and big data gives us the mechanism to deliver this functionality without huge costs.
The first step for most housing providers is to extract their existing data from the multitude of data siloes it sits in and put it into a single, central ‘big data repository’. There will be immediate business benefits in analysing the existing data to gain insights, such as the groupings of vacant properties, the groupings of the least attractive properties by area and the characteristics of tenants with rent arrears.
The next step is to layer in extra data from additional sources such as tenant credit histories and flood-plain locations that will enhance the analytics. Over time, the volumes of data will increase and it will become possible to add time-series analysis to provide further insights. For example, looking at the percentage void decrease over the last 12, 24 or 36 months.
The effects of big data on some areas of industry have been profound. Leading retailers have been able to attribute sales increases of 10+ per cent to the insights that they have gleaned from analysing their customer data. It will be interesting to see how the housing sector can leverage this new technology to improve service and save costs over the next few years.
Chief Technology Officer, Housing Partners