We expect mergers and mobility to be the dominant drivers within the social housing sector over the next year and beyond.
With much of the UK housing stock transferred into the not-for-profit sector and the increasing number of mergers within this market, the next 12 months will see housing associations continue to come together in search of economies of scale while being required to address a broader range of social needs for their tenants through delivery of bespoke services.
Housing associations in England own almost 2.3 million homes and represent an £8 billion annual turnover, alongside the Government’s target of building three million new homes by 2020. Technology and telecommunications is vital to both maintaining the existing infrastructure of housing associations and enabling successful future transformation.
As these organisations merge their ICT solutions, they should be considering common communication standards across the newly-formed business, while enhancing the support and services provided to tenants in line with the Government initiative to reduce the digital divide and focus on customer service. Furthermore, factored into this changing environment are external interests from the health sector, police, local authorities and educational bodies on how people in social housing can benefit from a better communications infrastructure.
In parallel with these mergers, flexible working and mobile working have been buzz terms in social housing for a few years now. The idea that workers in the social housing sector operate from a single office is long gone. They often need to be responsive and agile even when on site visits or in meetings. Put simply, it’s doing business on the move. This is only likely to increase, as technology advances, and working practices become ever more flexible and mobile.
For example, BT has been working with Westminster City Council to mobilise their city-wide wireless network for use by the council workforce, meaning housing officers can upload queries or update housing data via specially-designed PDAs while out on site visits. The council is already seeing greater efficiency as the handheld technology reduces administration, return trips to the office to update files, and other associated unnecessary travel costs.
A YouGov survey for BT Business saw 65 per cent of directors of the UK’s smaller businesses citing staff motivation and 50 per cent increased productivity, as key reasons to adopt flexible, mobile working practices.
From a business perspective, we recognise that consolidation and rationalisation can make the housing sector more effective, alongside mobile technology solutions that improve customer relationship management, diversity and corporate social responsibility.
Charlotte Andersen, mobility general manager, and Andy Jones, head of partner management, BT Business