As one of the sponsors of the Housing Technology 2011 ‘Blueprint for IT’ market intelligence report, we were very keen to see this year’s publication and to see how themes and trends are developing in the housing sector. This year’s report provides excellent analysis of the direction of the market and a very clear message that housing providers need to demonstrate value for money for their IT services while still maintaining a focus on service quality.
With both operational and development budgets coming under greater pressure due to the economy and the Comprehensive Spending Review, the challenge to everyone in the sector is to ensure real value is delivered back to the business for all IT projects as well as during day-to-day operations.
To achieve this value demands innovation. Not only from IT departments, but also from service providers in the sector to make sure the maximum benefit to customers and employees can be gained from limited resources. Products and services need to be fresh and targeted at the business need, with flexibility built into the delivery model to meet changing customer demands.
With hot topics such as remote working, media streaming to the desktop and mobile workforce systems being discussed as tools to help housing providers deliver better services to their customers, IT departments and the service suppliers they engage with certainly have their work cut out if they want to be successful during this demanding period.
While newer technologies enrich the functionality available to housing providers and their customers, IT departments can’t simply be reactive to the demands for change. There is a balancing act between continuing to deliver core services to the highest quality and also delivering successful projects.
It is interesting to see that two of the main factors influencing project success and failure are ‘budget and resources’ and ‘IT staff skills and knowledge’. While operational pressures always seem to grow for IT departments, what is the recipe for being successful on both fronts?
Well, there is no ‘one size fits all’ model, as each housing provider has its own pressures. IT directors and managers are now at a crucial crossroads in their decision making – continue to do more in-house or rely more on trusted partners?
This is where the 2011 report raises another interesting point – what should be the most important characteristics when selecting a supplier? It was no surprise to see ‘service/functionality’ and ‘customer service and account management’ coming out as being very important, but the report also makes it clear that suppliers still need to demonstrate value for money.
As the housing market deals with commercial realities and rises to the challenges set by the coalition government, cost will remain a very important factor in supplier selection. The good thing is that cost has not become the single over-riding factor as it did in other sectors where outsourcing deals didn’t achieve the desired results due to a lack of focus on organisational fit.
Over the next few years, we can also expect to see a change in the makeup of IT resource allocation. This year’s survey shows ‘external agencies’ and ‘external contractors’ combined taking up just 10 per cent of IT resources.
If this situation continues, housing providers will miss the opportunity to bring in fresh ideas and news ways of delivering services and innovation could suffer. What MET actually sees in the market is a real appetite for innovation and I am sure we will see businesses working together more to achieve it.
Having seen similar trends in other markets such as finance and retail, it is encouraging to see the housing sector adopting some of the lessons learned while avoiding some of the pitfalls.
So, in summary, the 2011 report gives everyone in the sector food for thought, but the drive for value for money will most definitely lead to innovation and will see this market mature significantly. The next 12 months will be challenging, but at MET we are excited at the prospect of being able to help more clients within housing meet their business goals.
Kelvin McGlynn is business development manager for MET.