We know digital exclusion still exists, although it is steadily decreasing, with the majority of the digitally excluded aged 65+. However the argument about getting these people online is becoming less vocal, so perhaps the smart move would be to simply enable the people who support and care for those still offline to mediate digitally on their behalf, and accept that they might not be part of the digital revolution.
The interesting new element to the digital inclusion debate is not around who is online or offline, but the range of different devices people now own and use. With sales of traditional PCs declining and tablet ownership soaring, with nearly 65 per cent of the adult population owning a smartphone, the fabric of ‘digital Britain’ is very different from just five years ago. And the challenge for many organisations is how to service this range and diversity of digital devices, not getting the final tranche of people online.
Working with over 50 housing providers over the past ten years, we have seen a shift from steadfastly trying to get everyone online, to focusing on enabling people to access integrated services better on their chosen device. What this has led to is the majority of people being able to self-serve, whether reporting a housing repair in seconds on their My Landlord app or paying rent via a secure website, leaving face-to-face and front-line staff to handle more complex cases and help those people who just don’t want to be digital.
For many, this is a far better balance in terms of efficiency, value for money and tenant satisfaction and Looking Local is an integral part of this balance; taking the technical overhead of managing all the different channels and devices away from partners, allowing them to focus on their core housing business.
The recent launch of Home Group’s My Landlord app is a case in point, proving a clear appetite for easy-to-access digital services. In just six weeks, the app had been downloaded 1,000 times, handled 625 housing repairs, had 30,000 hits on supporting information (housing, welfare reform, tenant services, etc.) and communicated over 1,000 times with tenants around repair management and scheduling.
Adding new channels
Similarly, Your Homes Newcastle is experiencing increased use of its digital services, in particular the use of choice-based lettings via its interactive TV channel, as well as the growing interest in welfare reform information and health.
While digital inclusion traditionally meant getting people online, it should now mean using appropriate digital channels for service delivery and communication. Not only does Home Group’s app mean that it can communicate more directly with its tenants, the image sent as part of the non-emergency repair report means the right parts are taken to the job first time around, making the whole process more efficient and far quicker than other digital channels.
The addition of national partner content from The Money Advice Service, the DWP and the NHS, as well as transport and journey planning information, means that Looking Local can offer a wider, more inclusive offering than most organisations can pull together alone. In addition there are solutions for self-care, mobile working and promoting the use of all digital channels to enable intermediaries to act on behalf of those people who are still offline.
Owned by Kirklees Council for all of the public sector, Looking Local can work with housing providers of all sizes to deliver relevant digital services across interactive TV (Sky & Virgin), smartphone apps, mobile, web, social media and even internet-enabled games consoles, leaving housing providers to focus their offline efforts on those who are happy to remain digitally excluded and benefit from the one-to-one interaction they are given.
Jane Hancer is the communications manager for Looking Local.