Today’s data operating environment
As Housing Technology’s focus in September is on the green agenda within IT, it’s worth thinking about the impact of poor data management on your organisation’s carbon footprint.
For example, your servers will generally be operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s probably well over double the operational time of the most heavily-used business laptop while drawing far more power than a laptop. The more disparate types of software you use, the more server power you will need, with many software manufacturers demanding more computer power than their software needs to ensure there is sufficient for the occasional peak demand.
It also stands to reason that the more data storage you need, the more power you will need, even if you are not accessing it regularly. In summary, reducing the number of software applications you use and ensuring you don’t keep data for longer than you need to will reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint, as well as ensuring that you are compliant and keeping the regulator happy.
Many housing providers have operated with a myriad IT applications and infrastructure over the years, all of which at the time of purchase seemed to make sense and perhaps fulfilled an immediate need, but without possibly much consideration of the longer term effect on their wider IT ecosystem and their business as a whole. As a result, many of today’s housing providers will have legacy systems that remain essential to the business yet hinder all areas of the business working as one.
These systems can sometimes be surrounded by unconnected, ad-hoc bolt-ons, half-used modules, workarounds or completely separate systems that have been created to fulfil a specific requirement that were intended to be used at some point in the future. In addition, in many cases these systems are accompanied by a labyrinth of local spreadsheets. This model couldn’t be further from a unified data environment and a ‘one source of the truth’ strategy.
This is an area of frustration for a great many organisations and often acts as a barrier to moving to more efficient and effective business models. It creates challenges around integration, agility and data flow that can affect the integrity of the data and therefore lead to shaky decision-making and inaccurate performance reporting, which in themselves can weaken sound governance.
Data is growing exponentially. Many more organisations have transformation at (or near) the top of their corporate to-do lists, but there appears to be far fewer examples of housing providers who have undertaken a significant corporate-wide project that has transformed the way data is used and that substantially improves how services are provided, decisions are made or indeed how internal business processes operate.
This could be down to a number of things including:
- A lack of compelling data vison, strategy and a burning platform to act as leverage for change;
- No dedicated senior roles with relevant wider direct experience in how data can drive a better business;
- Data, digital and transformation lacking strategic profile and support (this seems to be changing);
- Transformation programmes that have been started before the data is ready;
- Decision-making that continues to be based on instinct and ‘experience’ rather than science;
- Silo working and internal power dynamics getting in the way of collaborative success;
- Poor data quality, governance and monitoring.
Data and the regulator
The regulator has increasingly been taking notice of how important data is to housing providers. However, reporting is often a source of difficulty for organisations when it comes to financial returns, health and safety compliance and, more recently, issues around rent setting. Looking back over the last seven years’ worth of the sector’s annual risk profiles and counting the number of times the word ‘data’ was used in the narrative, it’s interesting to see how much more profile data seems to have:
- 2013 – 18 pages / 6 mentions of the word data;
- 2014 – 16 pages / 5 mentions of the word data;
- 2015 – 18 pages / 5 mentions of the word data;
- 2016 – 28 pages / 4 mentions of the word data;
- 2017 – 40 pages / 11 mentions of the word data;
- 2018 – 32 pages / 30 mentions of the word data;
- 2019 – 28 pages / 38 mentions of the word data.
More noteworthy is how prominent data and technology have become in these documents. In both the 2018 and 2019 sector risk profiles, ‘data’ was actually listed as part of the top strategic risks:
- 2018 – Strategic risk / data and safety monitoring, covering GDPR, cyber-attacks, health and safety, and statistical returns;
- 2019 – Strategic risk / data integrity and technological risks, covering data integrity, rents, asset management and KPIs, and IT security/GDPR.
The regulator has a clear view on the impact poor technology and data management has on the reputation and the performance of a provider. Section 18 of the 2019 sector risk profile states:
“Integrity of data is fundamental and permits good board decision-making. Failure to manage data integrity risk is indicative of a poor control framework. Integrity can be lost due to poor technology or when data is processed incorrectly. Erroneous data can be costly to fix and can damage the reputation of an individual provider. Accurate data and up-to-date information will assist in areas such as compliance with rent setting, maintenance of providers’ asset management strategies and in the preparation of KPIs.”
Through their checks, in-depth assessments and engagements with the sector, it’s becoming clear that data (management, use and quality) is becoming a key area for regulatory attention, so there’s never been a better time to get your data into great shape. More importantly perhaps, accurate, available and secure data allows an organisation to make the right decisions, empowers staff, enhances online digital self-service, and provides the insight and ability to improve operational effectiveness and demonstrate value for money.
Managing data properly has the power to propel organisations to become more efficient, better governed and, more importantly, customer-centric. It could be argued that without a strategy to transform your use of data, more general business transformation is doomed to failure. It is those that recognise and respond to this who will flourish… keeping customers, staff and the regulator happy in the process.
Gary Clark is the data services director at 3C Consultants.