Three years after MRI Software bought Orchard Systems, Castleton Technology and Housing Partners, Housing Technology interviewed Deborah Matthews, the company’s managing director of social housing.
What have been the biggest changes at MRI Software over the past three years?
Since MRI’s acquisitions all took place in a single year, we initially needed time to consider what product and people strategies we wanted to pursue with our newly-combined capabilities.
Joining one of the biggest ‘proptech’ providers in the world was a great place for us to land – we suddenly had access to extensive new technologies, knowledge and experience from a range of different sectors and territories.
Our social housing division is now the largest in EMEA, with more than 850 customers supported by an extensive team responsible for delivering our suite of end-to-end solutions. Not only have we continued to support our customers’ existing solutions such as housing management, repairs and asset management, we’ve also accelerated the development of new solutions.
How has the inclusion of the social housing software portfolio impacted MRI?
As with many technology vendors, we want to transform the way people live, work and play, and that impact is felt more acutely in social housing than in any other sector.
As a company working closely with the commercial, private, build-to-rent and facilities management sectors, the sense of purpose and social benefit that social housing delivers is especially important, and we’ve been able to accelerate MRI’s approach to community connection and promoting social good.
Innovations such as our Resident Voice Index (RVI), MRI’s research into the sentiments of social housing residents (with over 28,000 responses so far) highlights tenants’ real opinions on the topics that matter the most to them (our RVI reports are freely available). The feedback we’ve received from residents has already led to the introduction of three community action plans.
The technology solutions we’re developing in our social housing division are often applicable to the wider property sector. For example, our first-time resolution CRM solution was built with and for the social housing sector, with open design principles so that we can take it out to the private rental, residential markets and beyond.
How does MRI differ from other IT suppliers in social housing?
All we do at MRI is property management, so we can deliver a comprehensive suite of solutions and expertise that focuses on the property management sector.
Importantly, this offers us an unrivalled opportunity to gain experience from wider industries. We can access technology solutions and strategies from key MRI customers in the private and commercial markets and then integrate them into our social housing ecosystem.
For example, we’re taking the IoT technologies used in facilities management and applying them to social housing to help tackle problems such as damp and mould.
We’re also the first global organisation to develop a collaborative ‘AI-first’ proptech platform. We will soon be talking more about MRI Agora, a platform that will enable integration with partners, third parties and even competitors, giving housing providers a unified experience and access to multiple solutions through a single gateway to enable smarter decisions via our hyper-connected data platform, Agora Insights.
This is the sort of strategic development we can offer customers across the wider property management sector and one we’re excited to leverage in social housing.
How is MRI supporting housing providers’ current challenges?
While social landlords face many operational challenges, other priorities are about taking a resident-first approach, whether by enhancing customer services, improving the safety of resident or being more transparent.
We’re working collaboratively with the sector to create innovative solutions that tackle some of the biggest challenges, including better data management, addressing compliance and dealing with new regulations.
Technology can play a pivotal role in ensuring fairness, transparency and better standards of housing and services, with tools for precise and transparent billing, autonomy-enabling tools for field operatives, and native-apps that encourage customers to self-serve.
Given the ongoing financial strains on households, adopting a proactive approach is essential, and leveraging AI-driven predictive analytics tools makes it possible to get a clear view of and prioritise those in greatest need.
In the face of escalating homelessness figures and domestic abuse, technology that helps reduce the challenge for outreach teams in managing mounting caseloads is an imperative. Innovations such as built-in audio transcriptions and What3Words location services are examples of how AI can help to save time, reduce administration and record things accurately in real-time.
Which new technologies should housing providers be considering?
The biggest shift we’re seeing is in organisations moving from a reactive approach to more proactive and pre-emptive strategies, and giving more information and autonomy to team members in the organisation.
For example, IoT technology can predict when repairs might be needed based on conditions within and around a property, instead of waiting for a repair to be reported, and solutions such as Income Analytics can flag people at risk of falling into arrears before they miss a payment.
Where does AI fit into MRI’s product development?
MRI doesn’t apply AI indiscriminately for its own sake; instead, we look for situations where AI could solve the problems our customers face.
We’re using AI to free up time and enable people to focus more on complex cases, instead of being hampered by manual processes. For example, dictation software, such as the voice-to-text feature in our Safer Communities solutions, is a valuable tool that saves time while working onsite.
AI is a powerful technology but we’re careful about its application. When designing solutions, we take an AI-first approach, asking if a process can be made more effective or efficient by adopting AI services. Where applicable, we don’t just let AI make all the decisions without any oversight. We can set up specific parameters to flag more complex cases that need further investigation, making sure these decisions are people-driven, not just AI-generated.
Deborah Matthews is the managing director of social housing at MRI Software.