A best-in-class enterprise architecture for housing providers is increasingly built on a cloud-first, mobile-first and web-first trio of guiding principles. In fact, these cornerstones, when combined with data and culture, form the basis of many of the digital transformation strategies that I have read about in the past year or so, and for good reason.
These digital principles have started to usher in new ways of working as we have tried to mobilise our people, processes and data assets. In just a few years’ time, many housing providers will be unrecognisable compared with today. We are witnessing a step change, an evolutionary turning point, as fresh thinking about human-centred, service-design principles is being augmented with advanced tools and systems that would have been unimaginable until now.
I’ve worked in housing for over 20 years and I have never seen anything like it. The pace of change is relentless and is being fuelled by great leadership, new talent, innovation and fantastic technological opportunities to advance our working practices and services.
The idea that a modern workforce is tethered to a desk, located in a purpose-built office, has never really stood the test of time. Business strategies and corporate plans demand exemplary levels of customer service and customer satisfaction; these are only achieved through the delivery of high-quality housing services aligned to the service needs of customers. Many organisations are implementing transformation programmes which, in large part, aim to increase back-office efficiencies, reduce waste and maximise the digital experience for customers primarily, but also all stakeholders including staff and external supply chains.
We’ve seen a recent and sustained dramatic rebalancing of budgetary commitments across the housing sector. This is shifting the spending profile from the back office to the digital front office, and from reactive services to proactive approaches driven by data, insights and a detailed understanding of each customer. It’s worth pausing to reflect on this point and what it means for the sector. This reengineering and repurposing of resources is profound and will have a long-lasting effect.
Moving beyond BAU…
The job of routinely maintaining IT and the ‘current state’ is being replaced with the need for digital professionals to make substantial contributions to customer and colleague value chains through a digitisation and automation workload over and above traditional maintenance responsibilities.
Highly commoditised IT maintenance workloads (i.e. the business of running infrastructure and helpdesk activities) are increasingly being outsourced to external partners to create new internal digital capacities for transformation. This provides a scalable resourcing platform which enables housing providers to concentrate and align premium internal digital resources on bimodal service management and digital transformation.
This change of emphasis has been enabled by ambition, raised expectations, environmental pressures and opportunities created through advanced cloud computing and new ways of working.
Fit for the future
Housing providers have recognised that they need to become ‘digitally native’ businesses to successfully provide ‘fit for the future’ online services. This mirrors what’s happening across all sectors as they work hard to reposition their operating models to meet increasing customer demands for always-on services while delivering strong financial performance.
Digital culture therefore needs to be baked into the organisational design fabric from the ground up, rather than being belatedly added as a peripheral add-on to what has been historically a fundamentally analogue business model.
We all know that customer satisfaction and effective cost control are key competitive and commercial differentiators. Rightsizing and reconfiguring the business in this way enables housing providers to invest in better services and build more homes, both of which represent the fundamental reasons for housing providers’ existence in the first place.
Enlightened leadership teams are recognising the opportunities which are now available to them. This journey of discovery concerning the potential for new ways of working creates a sudden and dramatic appetite for revolution. It’s a real call to arms and comes with a true sense of urgency.
Change and transformation at pace
Given this backdrop, an expression I often come across when talking to housing associations is their ‘pursuit of change and transformation at pace’. For the people tasked with actually delivering change at pace, this usually involves significant changes in their complexion, alternating between various shades of sickly green and ghostly white as they confront the enormity of what they’re being asked to deliver.
Another expression that is relevant to dealing with this challenge is about working smarter rather than working harder. For example, swapping your legacy housing system for another legacy housing system is risky, expensive and ties up huge volumes of staff resources, all to simply trade and change the shape of your technical debt. This doesn’t make any sense; it doesn’t move you forward and certainly doesn’t move you forward at pace. And to be frank, back-office systems don’t transform business models and service architecture.
What if there was another way to transform customer services, mobilise data and automate processes? What if there was a new way of working?
Digitisation, automation & mobilisation
The Microsoft Power Platform and Dataverse is a cutting-edge cloud platform that enables the digitisation, automation and mobilisation of your business processes. These modern cloud tools enable you to fundamentally reboot and re-architect your customer services and organisational design.
Dataverse (formerly CDS Common Data Service) enables you to rapidly create agile data-driven solutions to compensate for your gaps and ultimately replace large parts of your legacy housing systems via a highly democratised low/no-code approach. The PowerPlatform comprises PowerApps, Power Automate, Portals, Virtual Assistants and Power BI. These components work extremely well in isolation but form an impressive and broad array of capabilities when combined together; the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Through the use of low/no-code technology, you can democratise software development while avoiding high-cost and high-risk HMS replacement projects. You can work to shrink the legacy down over, say, a five-year programme until it is organically displaced by modern, cloud-native SaaS tooling.
Future digital assets
Personally, if it were my money, I would rather commit to a long-term strategy that directs my precious financial resources towards my future digital assets rather than the technology assets that served me well in the past.
This is the strategy we advocate at TSG and we genuinely believe that this is a smarter approach. It’s lower risk, lower cost and offers higher rewards through the rapid, agile delivery of minimum viable product (MVP) at pace. Plus, it encourages human-centred design thinking and development principles to flourish.
In fact, many of our housing clients are adopting exactly this approach to mobilise and modernise their computing platforms while they let their historic legacies wither through their displacement by cloud computing over, say, five years.
This is a ‘displacement’ strategy rather than a ‘replacement’ strategy. At TSG, we refer to this as shrinking the nucleus of the legacy while expanding out the next generation of Microsoft first, cloud first, mobile technologies.
At TSG, we know that PowerApps and Dataverse are game-changing capabilities that offer a compelling and complimentary alternative to Microsoft Dynamics 365 due to licensing costs and the ability to tailor no/low-code apps in exactly the way you want them to work.
Rob Fletcher is the housing sector solutions lead at TSG (Technology Services Group).