For the majority of housing providers, the first lockdown meant establishing temporary measures, changing processes and adopting new systems to ensure continued service for tenants, forcing them to try new ways of delivering services at scale.
Instead of taking years, it was an acceleration in just a few months for the implementation and use of new technologies and digital working methods; as the Scottish government’s recent digital strategy report said, “Digital is no longer a disrupter; it is now a vital sustainer.”
Defining digital maturity
Digital maturity is tricky to define. It’s not just the technologies you use; it’s about your business strategy, structure, leaders, teams, staff skill and confidence levels and much more.
Digital maturity and digital transformation are often used interchangeably, but this is misguided; digital transformation leads to digital maturity. A company can’t simply decide to ‘digitally transform’ and expect that to happen without going through the necessary thought and planning processes to make sure that the adoption of new technologies is serving specific, practical needs and goals.
An organisation that is digitally mature will be able to respond to technological innovations and changes, whether it has initiated those changes itself or whether it has no control over them at all.
Findings from the report
A report published by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) found that 55 per cent of housing providers’ senior leaders would rate their staff’s digital skill levels as ‘excellent’ or ‘high’. The findings also indicated the influence the pandemic has had on the housing sector, with over half of CEOs saying that digital progression is a strategic priority for them.
The data in the ‘Digital Maturity of the Scottish Housing Sector’ report was derived from an online ‘digital check-up’ tool for SFHA members to measure and compare their digital progression and maturity against other housing providers.
The tool focuses on six areas – leadership, culture and skills; tools and equipment; content and marketing; data and cyber resilience; technology-enabled care; and priorities and barriers – and gives organisations an overall digital maturity score. The report’s findings include:
- 86 per cent of SFHA members have a digital strategy or are in the process of creating one.
- For staff digital skills, 55 per cent of senior leaders said their colleagues’ levels are either ‘excellent’ or ‘high’.
- Two-thirds of CEOs categorised their staff as having ‘medium’ or ‘high’ levels of digital confidence; only four per cent said their staff had low levels.
- For tenants’ digital engagement, only six per cent of senior leaders rated their tenants as being highly engaged with their organisation online; 34 per cent reported ‘medium’ levels of online engagement and 60 per cent as ‘low’.
- 73 per cent of organisations have given staff and tenants mobile access to their systems via phone or tablet, 52 per cent are using cloud computing or storage, and 45 per cent have introduced messaging and/or collaborative platforms.
- From all the 60+ submissions made to the digital check-up tool, there was an average digital-maturity score of 61 per cent.
Challenges to digital progress
The other key challenges and trends identified in the SFHA’s report included:
- Digital progress is happening but more needs to happen faster through pro-active leadership.
- Digital skills and confidence need to be measured and improved.
- Housing management systems are under performing, with low levels of adoption.
- There is a strong shift towards cloud computing.
- Online tenant engagement needs to improve.
- Data-driven analysis and decision-making needs to be better.
Capitalising on accelerated progression
While progress is being made and digital maturity is getting better, the Scottish housing sector is still some way off having a culture where digital is embedded in everything we do. Digital progress has to be recognised as central to any organisation’s future business resilience.
Having a digital strategy is the first step in enabling the delivery of an organisation’s wider business strategy, helping housing providers to thrive and provide continuity of service to tenants, staff and other stakeholders.
SFHA’s full digital maturity report is available from sfha.co.uk.
Gary Dickson is the digital and design manager at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.