There are many advantages to being small: you have more legroom on a plane; you tend to bump your head less often; and you’re more likely to be able to get a job as a jockey.
When ‘small’ is applied to running a business, management are more likely to be involved in every aspect of service delivery; they are likely to know the names of their entire team; and when in the office, they normally don’t have very far to walk from the front door to their desk. Importantly, the smaller the business, the more agile it tends to be and a change in strategic course can often be achieved faster.
However, being small also presents its challenges. The social housing sector is on a trajectory of rapid change and organisations are looking to provide ever greater value, seeking technological solutions to new and different tenant demands and expectations. How do small businesses find the skills, resources and budget needed to successfully adapt? Although many accept that the future will see service delivery digitised and provided online, this is accompanied by a fear of taking a business that is working fine and introducing technology that might cause chaos. As is often said: “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try and fix it”. And yet some of the best examples of digital business transformation are seen within relatively small housing providers that have invested a fraction of what the larger providers have, while achieving more.
Change is inevitable, and our job as business leaders is to adapt and manage this. We ourselves have changed the way that we want to deal with those that provide us with services, so we need to accept that many of our customers will want to engage with us differently. Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm, recently reported on executive best practice and stated that business leaders should allocate two-thirds of their time operationally, working ‘in’ the business, while the rest of their time should be spent working ’on’ the business, with 14 per cent of their time invested in innovation and planning improvements and 20 per cent of their time then spent successfully implementing the associated changes. How many of us can say we invest this much time in the development and management of change within our businesses?
As an example of what can be achieved, Cornwall Rural Housing has developed an IT strategy that both supports the organisation in achieving its service ambitions, while improving data security and compliance. With only seven staff, CRH can certainly claim to be a small housing association, but its chief executive, Peter Moore, has been keen to explore how the business could move to a more effective business model by using technology better. He soon discovered that CRH could afford to implement an IT strategy that provided the benefits that previously were only considered available to those with large IT budgets.
Within a 12-month period, CRH is:
- Installing new IT hardware;
- Implementing a robust offsite backup solution, so supporting business continuity and DR;
- Moving to Office 365 and Microsoft cloud services;
- Introducing a web portal (to be implemented by the end of 2018), with full connectivity in real time with CRH’s housing management software, so that tenants will be able to update their details, make appointments, report problems and view tenancy documentations, and staff will be able to access the system from anywhere and help tenants with digital services.
Such has been the success of this portal that the first housing provider to implement it is now achieving over 60 per cent of its tenant transactions online.
How much would such an IT strategy cost? Well, in CRH’s case, the five-year cost is far less than six figures. Add to this the significant improvements anticipated in customer service, governance, staff working and business security, and the business case is extremely compelling.
In summary, technology and digitisation is changing the way we do business. Providing services that are not only highly regarded by tenants, but that also provide value for money, is increasingly key to the long-term security of almost any business. The question is not should you review both your business and IT strategies to take best advantage of technology, but how and when you do it?
Colin Sales is the managing director of 3C Consultants.