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The social housing provider of the future

Trevor Hampton, Director – Housing Solutions, Northgate Public Services and Tim Linsdell, ICT Director, The Hyde Group, took part in a Q&A on the shape of social housing in the future.

How do you see the current pressures on social housing impacting on providers over the next ten years? 

Trevor Hampton, Northgate Public Services, said:

There will be a lot of different impacts. There’s a clear trend away from pure social tenure management, and from life tenures, to instead using social housing as a support mechanism for people at specific points in their lives, particularly when they are under economic pressure.

Government policies are likely to continue reducing the amount of social housing. Housing providers will be raising their own capital by selling part of their stock, but the amount of social houses they can build as a result will be of a much smaller volume. Pay to Stay will also have an impact by asking people to subsidise their rent and further diminishing the concept of social housing as a ‘right for life’.

In terms of technology, when you start to look at the management of short term tenancies and more complicated rental calculations, you need much more data. You need better integrated, holistic systems and big data analytics, which can, for example look at who should be paying enhanced rents and who is over-staying their tenure. Additionally the pressure to keep IT costs down is likely to drive housing providers to buy cloud computing. 

Tenants will be demanding a much higher level of service as a result of changes to the makeup of a provider’s housing. Today, a typical social housing provider’s stock might still be 90% social, and it will fall to much less in some cases. Those residents paying market rents are likely to demand a very high level of service.  

How do you see customer and workforce interactions changing through the use of technology? 
Trevor Hampton, Northgate Public Services, said:

Interactions will be a lot more digital and online. People will fulfil their service requirements without human interaction via digital means. They will be able to pay their rents online, deal with problems without engaging in a series of phone calls. They’ll want to do this at all times of the day or night.

There will be a much more mobile social housing workforce. They will be going out and spending time in the properties and dealing with issues at the source. Meanwhile digital self-service will become more the norm, with people wanting to transact at a time of their choosing.

Tim Linsdell, The Hyde Group, said:

Government is driving a shift to ‘digital by default’, and with people increasingly comfortable with digital access, brought about by the consumer shift to on-line shopping and accessing services through social media, digital is part of the fabric of many people’s lives. They have an expectation that this channel is always available.

The current demographic reinforces this, with new generations having grown up in a digital world and having different expectations to older generations. We can already see the early adopters in the sector. Over the next few years there will be even more transition, as long as the right investments are made and our businesses change how our teams work together and with our residents to streamline interactions, increase effectiveness and improve standards.

The basic channels are already in place through call centres and increasingly online for things like repair logging, reporting of antisocial behaviour and such like. However this has the potential to stretch much further and beyond human interaction. The Internet of Things, for example, provides the opportunity for proactive detection of maintenance needs and service failures, which in turn will improve responsiveness, reduce observable service failures and drive up standards without driving up costs.

Is there any kind of customer/demographic shift we need to be aware of over the next ten years?
Trevor Hampton, Northgate Public Services, said:

The old tradition was 2.4 children, three bed properties with five people living there. Now we are seeing more single parents, one parent and one child in two bedrooms. Young people will be getting ten year tenures, so they’ll be moving on. Older people have lifetime tenures and will be able to stay, which will influence the demographics for the next 30 years or so.  

If left unchecked, what are the biggest IT problems facing social housing providers five/ten years from now? And in a perfect world, how would we fix them?

Trevor Hampton, Northgate Public Services, said:
Right now, there is a pressure on housing providers to react very, very quickly to all the government changes. There is a temptation for them to buy short term and niche solutions to immediate problems that they intend to integrate with their main IT solution over time, but rarely do. This creates more complexity. The data doesn't flow into the system and the quality of the information falls. It creates a barrier to using cloud computing in the future because it creates too complex an IT estate.

Providers need a longer term IT strategy, a roadmap on how they’re going to bring all this information and IT together. A key strategy is to give the IT director control of the budget and of the final decisions. If providers let individual departments make their own decisions then there is proliferation of disjointed IT systems. Build a strategic partnership with key IT suppliers, and definitely don't work at arms-length from them. 

Tim Linsdell, The Hyde Group, said:

As housing associations, we have already been investing in robust IT infrastructures that provide the scalability and security to operate safely in the digital world 24/7, and allow us to make effective use of the increasing number of cloud-based offerings. 

We increasingly provide seamless integration with our supply chain to reduce the cost to serve and remove unnecessary time delaying activities. More and more we are looking to software partners to deliver the systems we need, that have sufficient flexibility to meet the differing needs of housing associations working at different levels of scale and help us to keep one step ahead of the needs of our residents and customers.

The future is where customers can link seamlessly and quickly to service providers, removing the necessity for human intervention and the likelihood of failure. This will lead to improved customer experience and faster fulfilment of customer needs.

If similar developments in other sectors are mirrored, within 10 years we can expect a similar scale of technology in use as we currently see in media and utility companies. This will deliver increased financial efficiency that in turn will enable much larger scale development of homes and will help to keep social rents affordable.

Where we wish to differentiate ourselves from other sectors is our desire to achieve this effectiveness whilst maintaining a social heart for the residents that need our help.

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Housing Technology

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