The Housing Ombudsman’s recent report has highlighted a problem that housing providers have known about and grappled with for far too long; poor data management leads to poor outcomes. This revelation isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but rather a clarion call for action; it’s time to take data management seriously.
The Housing Ombudsman’s report found that, “poor data and record-keeping is ubiquitous in the sector and causing daily detriment to residents”. It highlighted instances where residents suffered from, for example, inefficiencies from living in disrepair and missing work due to scheduling mistakes – all pointing to lapses in data and record-keeping. Our sector’s weak point has been exposed, and it’s time to face it head-on… where to begin?
The data pyramid
Housing providers operate in a data-driven world. Every service a housing provider offers, every interaction with residents and every decision should be fuelled by data. From maintenance requests to rent collection and compliance with safety regulations, data is the bedrock of a housing provider’s operations. However, it’s not enough to just collect data, it’s equally important to manage it properly over the entire lifecycle of the data.
To understand the significance of effective data management, it is essential to consider the data, information, knowledge, wisdom (DIKW) model. This pyramid model elucidates the progression from raw data to wisdom, with each stage building on the previous one.
Data forms the base of the pyramid, representing raw facts and figures. Once processed, data becomes information (i.e. data with context and meaning). As housing providers begin to understand patterns and relationships in the information, they gain knowledge. With experience and judgement, housing providers can attain wisdom, the apex of the pyramid.
In our sector, this could look like a progression from collecting data about a tenant’s reported problems (data), to understanding the context of those problems (information), to discerning patterns or trends (knowledge), and finally to making informed decisions about resource allocation, policy changes and/or preventive measures (wisdom).
A plan of action
What does it mean to take data management seriously? Here’s a potential roadmap:
- Assess your data maturity – a data maturity assessment is a great place to start. It can tell you your strengths and weaknesses, and what data management gaps you need to fill.
- Prioritise data quality – the quality of data housing providers work with is just as important as the data itself. Housing providers must implement strict protocols to ensure the accuracy, timeliness and completeness of data.
- Invest in data literacy training for staff – equip your team with the skills to understand and use data effectively. This should include training on data management tools, interpretation of data analytics and understanding the value and implications of data in decision-making.
- Establish data governance – outline clear roles and responsibilities around data management. This should include a comprehensive policy detailing who is accountable for various data-related tasks, standards for data processing and storage, and a procedure for resolving any data-related problems.
- Implement stringent data security – ensure your data storage and processing systems comply with data protection regulations (such as GDPR). This includes safeguarding personal data with appropriate security measures and implementing procedures for data-breach notifications.
- Regularly review and incorporate best practices – stay up-to-date with emerging trends and best practices in data management. Regularly assess your processes and technologies against industry standards and be prepared to adopt new strategies that could improve your data maturity.
The Housing Ombudsman’s report is a wake-up call but it also presents an opportunity for housing providers to overhaul their data management practices.
Let’s remember that improving data management isn’t just about compliance or efficiency, it’s also about serving tenants better. Tenants aren’t just entries in a database but people who depend on us for one of their most basic needs – shelter. We owe it to them to take data management seriously.
Craig March is a senior data business partner at Housemark.