The emergence of cloud platforms and the number of software applications now being delivered ‘as a service’ has presented a plethora of choice, but how can you keep things simple as well as ensure users’ safety and security online? Lucie Glenday, digital insight and innovation specialist at IT Lab, discusses solutions that have been designed to make our lives easier, such as single sign-on and multi-factor authentication, and how they are providing a higher level of security and control for users.
In recent years, social housing providers have faced the challenge of doing more with less funding, and this had led to a need for ingenuity and a realignment of resources, with particular emphasis on an increased use of technology.
Whether it’s applying for a tenancy, reporting a fault with a boiler, accurately recording which rents have been paid and those which are still owed, or administering maintenance budgets, housing providers rely on complex IT systems to allow them to function effectively. Many public sector and housing services have now embraced cloud solutions, but only to a limited extent. There is still a degree of hesitancy on behalf of administrators to fully commit to the cloud for applications and certain functions for which the platform is best suited. This, in part, is understandable, because housing providers deal with sensitive data such as names, addresses, national insurance numbers and bank account details, all of which are potential targets for identity theft and hacking. However, the question that needs to be asked is, are decision-makers correct in assuming that there are security-related uncertainties around using cloud solutions?
In a prescient report in 2002 entitled ‘Remote control – Housing associations and e-governance’, authors Martyn Pearl and Martina Scanlon argue the case for the early adoption of technology by housing providers in order to meet statutory target obligations, to ‘invest resources accordingly’ and to enhance accountability and service delivery. Of course, over the last 14 years, many things have changed, including the availability of far more sophisticated solutions to the problems faced by housing providers.
Their primary responsibilities have remained the same but how they achieve their goals has shifted dramatically. They are still involved with making appointments for tenants, managing assets and contractors, document management, reporting, and dealing with complex finance systems. Many, if not all, housing providers are actively seeking ways to cut costs through efficiencies within their organisations and, with the over-arching reach of technology these days, the majority have put in place systems which, while not detrimental, certainly do not allow them to reach their full potential.
There is also a great deal of misunderstanding and mistrust of cloud-based applications, especially when it comes to data security. It’s time that housing providers embraced forward-thinking digital strategies which would allow them to improve services and make efficiencies at the same time.
Phil Turner, vice-president for the EMEA region at Okta, a leading provider of identity and mobility management for the cloud and mobile enterprise and an IT Lab partner, said, “Many housing providers still think of IT providers simply as vendors that deliver solutions to address their IT needs. But SaaS companies can deliver much more; the cloud offers flexibility, increased security and lower costs, ultimately making the lives of housing providers and their tenants easier.
“For example, Okta providers its customers with a foundation for secure connections between people and technology — cloud applications, mobile devices and more — so they can give their employees, customers and partners access to the best tools available, while enforcing strong security.”
A deeper understanding
The common core of IT provision in the social housing sector can be said to concentrate on three main objectives: systems integration, mobile working and customer communications. Cloud-based services for all these applications offer significant flexibility and ultimately better customer service thanks to the levels of security provided.
There are many myths surrounding the use of the cloud, and one of the most common concerns is that it’s not secure and is open to hackers. It’s therefore important to provide secure solutions which make use of enhanced encryption and intrusion detection systems to minimise the risk of outside infiltration and keep sensitive information secure. It’s also vital to educate decision-makers to help them better understand the possibilities such technology offers. A greater understanding of the cloud solutions available will ultimately ensure better IT solutions that directly benefit employees and ensure a completely secure end-user environment.
One of the other major challenges facing the housing sector is that most housing providers have multiple contracts for different services with multiple suppliers, thereby complicating the migration of applications and systems to the cloud. Bringing together all of the operations which a housing provider needs under one roof offers them the opportunity to improve their processes as well as enhancing their infrastructure performance.
There’s no doubt that housing providers face many challenges, not least of which is the provision of high-quality, affordable homes backed by responsible and responsive support services. An organisation which has a legacy approach to its IT infrastructure, perhaps as a result of years of ‘evolution’ without a coherent strategy, will not be maximising its RoI and will be failing those it seeks to serve.
Housing providers must invest in IT infrastructure in order to improve life for their staff, correctly maintain their asset management programme and enhance communication systems for their tenants. A move away from a piecemeal approach to a more integrated system, backed by the security of the cloud, is now vital, with IT providers working in partnership with housing providers in a more strategic and inclusive way.
Lucie Glenday is a digital insight and innovation specialist at IT Lab.