Raven Housing Trust has launched Better Connected, an ambitious two-year digital transformation programme to develop an organisation-wide technical architecture that harnesses the cloud to improve the efficiency and security of our operations. Better Connected will ensure that every tenant and staff member can remotely access the resilient and reliable data they need, anytime, anywhere and from any digital device.
This is one of the most significant and innovative steps in Raven’s history, and our customers lie at its heart. We are designing it with them and for them to address what they value and need. Our aim is to harness technology to deliver consistently excellent services which provide equally good value for money as we know that affordability is the top priority for many customers.
We began in 2019 by asking 300 customers what was most important to them in their relationship with Raven. The most significant findings, not surprisingly, focused on affordability, having the space to live comfortably and having a safe and secure home. We are initially addressing the greatest priority, affordability, with an innovative project called Spark Lab where five members of staff work alongside customers to explore the issue in detail and design a product or service designed to tackle the problem.
Residents, not commodities
There was also a strong desire for tenants to feel they lived in ‘a home’ – i.e. more empowered and in control of their property. They told us that they didn’t want to feel like a commodity living in a unit owned by an organisation. And this is where Better Connected will deliver, by putting customers in control of their home and their data, giving them access to tenancy agreements, fire and gas safety certificates, facts about communal repairs and other vital information.
Like many housing organisations, Raven’s ICT was built on a series of legacy systems which didn’t always talk to each other. Data was held in different areas, resulting in siloed working and creating delays and confusion.
New enterprise architecture
Better Connected will introduce a completely different enterprise architecture, creating a platform for scalability and agility. It’s a comprehensive change programme which will include our CRM, customer portal, housing management system and back-office systems, including HR and finance. This change will drive improvements in efficiency and collaboration, speed and mobility of workflow and communication across the business.
For example, tenants want to know when work will be done on their homes and to track the progress of contractors; our new systems will enable this. And customers who can’t travel to our offices to talk to staff will increasingly feel that we’re always available for them through our responsive systems.
In a related and very important area, sensor technology and automation will be developed to enhance home safety, particularly fire, asbestos and damp testing. Sensors will capture real-time property performance that includes health and safety and compliance data.
Fundamentally, we want to make it as easy as possible for customers to interact with us to save them time, connect them to services they value and trust and give them choice. We will tailor the information so it’s relevant to them and they can get answers quickly. We’re expanding our reach beyond traditional tenants and want to use our digital platform to inform future home buyers and commercial customers about our products and services.
With our move to the cloud, we expect that our operational teams will be able to work faster and in more adaptable and agile ways. While our staff already benefit from flexible working, Better Connected will increase their opportunities to work where, when and how they want to achieve the right work-life balance.
We will be using and developing software which is at the cutting edge of innovation but is also tried and tested in the housing sector for reliability and ease of use. At the end of our two-year implementation period, we fully expect to be leading the way in social housing, helping and encouraging other providers to bring about digital connectivity.
However, we are very aware that we have vulnerable tenants who aren’t digitally engaged so we will be working hard to bring these customers along with us, enhancing their opportunities and their lives. We have already developed an excellent approach to digital inclusion by helping customers with training, broadband issues and equipment loans.
In two years’ time, we expect to have an organisation which looks very different. Customers will have more opportunities to be fully informed of their interests and needs; multiple channels will exist to engage with Raven staff through digital methods or face-to-face. Most queries and requests will be satisfied at the initial point of contact and customers will have the opportunity to influence what, when and how we deliver services through a ‘co-design’ approach.
Staff will have the right tools and information to quickly and easily deliver services. with less time spent on administration and more with customers. Our systems will support the whole business to manage commercial transactions and up-to-date data will deliver better insights to help decision-making. Ultimately, we will bring innovation and simplicity to what we do, providing homes and connecting customers to services they value and trust.
Julia Mixter is the director of transformation at Raven Housing Trust.