2016/17 has been RHP’s ‘year of innovation’, the foundation of which was rolling out last April the UK’s first all-digital housing service, RHPi. The service, which is designed to lower costs while also improving service, will help us to invest £250 million over the next eight years in providing more affordable homes. For us, a key part of successful innovation is looking ‘outside in’ for inspiration which is why we became one of the first hosts of HouseMark’s start-up accelerator programme ‘Evolve’ (run in partnership with LMarks).
It’s now been three months since we kicked off our involvement with the initiative and six start-up organisations have moved into our offices in south-west London. In partnership with other housing providers and local authorities, we handpicked the six companies based on what we thought they could bring to our businesses and, likewise, what we could share with them. The ‘super six’ are: Illumr, SkenarioLabs, Coheat, Standard Access, Plentific and Rapid Information Systems.
It’s been brilliant having them share our offices and the really exciting bit is that we’re starting to see potential avenues for collaboration, particularly in relation to our repairs, maintenance, development and digital services.
With reference to the importance of effective partnership working and supporting relevant start-ups, our innovation manager, Tom Way, said, “We’re about to take delivery of a modular home ‘pod’ which will sit in our office premises. As the first housing association to announce that they’ll be using the modular method, this pod will give people the opportunity to see what one of these homes will look like, including the latest technology from sector-leading innovation companies.”
So how are the start-ups doing? We’ve chosen three to focus on:
We’ve made excellent progress working with this Finnish company specialising in building-data analytics. Skenario Labs have produced a map-style interface which shows every RHP property; we can then click into each property to find out more about performance indicators and building upgrade requirements.
This programme isn’t just a channel to promote products and services to the housing sector but also an opportunity for the businesses involved to learn from the sector. Through engaging with and learning from RHP, Skenario Labs have been able to develop and adapt their model to better fit the requirements of the UK housing market.
Illumr is an analytic tool like no other, producing 3D images by grouping data units together based on how much they have in common. There’s even the potential to literally ‘get inside’ your data with virtual reality.
As we prepare to launch our all-digital RHPi service for all customers, we’ve invited Illumr to work their magic on our repairs and building data. We’re confident that this will give us the required business intelligence to understand the relationship between buildings and repairs. We’re waiting for the results of the dataset we’ve sent so that we can start implementing the lessons learned.
Coheat specialises in smart heat networks for retrofit and new-build housing, which are more reliable, efficient and affordable than installing individual boilers in every home. Coheat now has a trial that’s up and running at one of RHP’s extra-care schemes, with the first results of the proof of concept to be delivered this March.
RHP focuses on driving innovation from every level of the organisation and I’m pleased to say that there has been opportunities for our staff to learn too, not just in terms of their business ideas but also about the start-up mentality and innovative ways of working. The start-ups have been open to meeting with different teams, service areas and individuals relevant to the work they do so that we can all learn from each other.
Four of the start-ups even joined us for a special version of ‘4 in 4’, our internal innovation programme where employees pitch ideas for business improvements. This time the tables were turned and instead of employees pitching, the start-ups sold their business ideas and what they could offer RHP. At the end of the programme, there will be a ‘demo day’ where the start-ups will share their more informed business pitches and seek investment and support from us.
It’s exciting to say we’ve been part of the journey of all six of these start-ups and we can’t wait to see the benefits gleaned from not just our customers but also other housing associations and beyond. To find out more about the progress of the projects, please check out my ‘An eye on RHPi’ blog at www.rhp.org.uk.
David Done is chief executive of RHP.