After the recent Housing Technology 2019 conference at the beginning of March, a number of new trends are emerging that apply to most housing providers and almost all software suppliers to the social housing sector.
Decoupling applications – Housing providers are beginning to accept that their myriad business applications (even their relatively new, web-based services) as well as their legacy applications will always present an almost-impossible integration challenge. Growing numbers of housing providers are therefore developing a web services-based middleware container around their existing applications and then using that container to act as a de-facto single instance of all their data and datatypes to power a highly-performant presentation layer of ‘floating’, application-neutral services, primarily for front-office and customer-facing services. By decoupling the individual applications from the endless variety of end-user ‘use cases’, they are then free to rapidly trial, fine-tune and roll out new services, without worrying so much about the nuances of, say, the direct integration of their housing management, finance management and mobile working applications.
Non-housing IT – As is widely known, products from a relatively small number of software providers (and associated consultancy/services companies) are used by almost all housing providers, predominantly for their ‘traditional’ business operations (housing, finance, communications and repairs/maintenance). However, as housing providers’ IT and business departments grow in confidence about what they want and expect to achieve, combined with the trend to decouple those same applications (see above), they are expanding their horizons beyond the ‘usual suspects’ when choosing new software suppliers, and often using IT suppliers with relatively little housing-sector experience (that can be supplied by the housing provider’s own in-house teams) but considerable knowledge and expertise around ‘pure play’ web-based services.
What tenants want – When developing new tenant-facing products and services, housing providers naturally start with the best intentions but too often they assume or try to second-guess what their tenants actually want or how (and by what means) they will use them. The pitfalls include, for example, confusing or complex functionality, ‘in-house’ terminology not used by tenants, and even the delivery model (wouldn’t a mobile-optimised site be more widely used than a dedicated, landlord-specific app?). The answer, of course, is to assemble a panel of tenants (of varying ages, backgrounds, etc) and involve them in the process.