As someone relatively new to social housing, what’s struck me most is what the housing sector can learn from other sectors in terms of how they could use data to deliver better outcomes for their customers.
Before joining ForHousing in 2018, I spent ten years developing analytic solutions for supermarkets across Europe and North America; a highly competitive sector where to get ahead, it’s vital to use real-time analytics, and that means constantly scrutinising significant volumes of data.
Although customers’ needs in housing are very different to those of retail consumers, there is huge potential to take inspiration from this approach and transform the way data is used.
Many housing providers predominantly take a reporting service approach. By moving to a service that focuses on data quality and analysis, there is an opportunity to continually improve services and deliver more for tenants, which is what we’re doing at ForHousing.
This needs a cultural shift in order to demonstrate the value of data and how it can benefit customers as well as enhance the way housing providers do business.
GDPR has played an important part in supporting this agenda. When the new data regulations came into force and everyone was talking about information security, the focus on data sharpened. Senior management teams are now beginning to realise that data is one of the things they simply must get right – it’s a way to survive and thrive.
A cultural shift
However, when demonstrating the value of data, it’s vital to resist the temptation to dive straight into technology. This cultural shift needs to be about people, processes and technology, in that order, with an emphasis on exploring what data governance means for both staff and tenants.
Taking time to explore an organisation’s behaviours and attitudes to data can uncover really valuable insights. For example, do you have a single source of trusted data or are you relying on lots of spreadsheets?
Housing providers are gathering more and more data, creating a challenge around how to manage that data. People then try to solve that data management problem by bringing in analytical tools; in my experience, it’s better to empower your data teams to tackle the underlying issues first.
Developing a data strategy
At ForHousing, I’ve led the development of a data strategy to improve our approach to data gathering.
Rather than leap straight into running data-quality projects, I was keen to map out a sustainable way forward. We needed a data warehouse; a single place where all the information in the organisation could be stored and accessed.
To do that, we decided to move our three core systems (finance, housing and asset management) onto Illumar’s housing data enterprise platform. The platform does much more than simply extract data from multiple sources, it also systematically applies technical and local business rules to transform the data.
This has been particularly valuable when using the system to prepare our statistical data return (SDR) to the Regulator of Social Housing. It provides further confidence in the quality of our data and has made the gathering and delivery of our data much more efficient.
Bringing in an established data management platform, rather than building something ourselves, meant that our data team could focus on creating reports. It future-proofed our approach to data because the platform itself does 95 per cent of the work. And if a developer moves on, their knowledge doesn’t move with them because the platform systematically documents changes.
But our use of the new platform is only really the start of our data management journey. Applying business rules and checks ensures high quality data, but what about the data that fails, the bad data?
By being able to quarantine the bad data, we can target the really important people-side of the equation; by knowing where the bad data is and where it’s coming from, we can create a feedback process to address that and generate real confidence in our automated reporting.
Our new approach is already having a positive impact. The time saved through the efficiency of our new system can be used to gain valuable insights from our data, helping us to highlight areas where we can improve our services.
There is a real opportunity for us to maximise data management as a vital tool that supports our vision and purpose and ultimately improve people’s lives. At ForHousing, our new approach to data is driven by our commitment to making more things possible for more people.
Zahir Yasin is director of data and analytics at ForHousing.