Activating IoT

Everything technological in our lives is connected and generates masses of data. All of these insights live on proprietary platforms and provide limited siloed insights into what has taken place on a particular device, lacking contextual fabric. This is only a small part of the overall puzzle. Execs may find themselves at a high risk of micro-data overload leading to decision paralysis.

Social housing providers today have a plethora of offers for IoT (Internet of Things) solutions but few of those integrate all these data sources into actionable and unique insights. The solutions that do exist are technology driven, not data science driven. There are few examples of advanced machine learning at play. Housing associations have indicated that their core needs are focused on prescriptive analysis around voids, contacts, repairs, disrepair and poor payers. They seek not only a prediction of what is likely to happen but also recommended actions with a high probability of success.

Empathy-led resident journeys

The oft-repeated but rarely applied mantra of ‘we care’ is now being put to the test. Housing association tenants and activists have shared their experiences on social media. These discussions focus in particular on the extraordinarily poor state of repairs, the bloated management structures, executive compensation, the constant delays, obfuscations and rigid, process driven customer services which lack human empathy.

With the rise of social media, failings are being brought to the fore and most housing associations have been found wanting. This requires a fundamental rethink of the resident journey to re-integrate empathy and a human element. This doesn’t cost any more and can lead to much better outcomes – as demonstrated by Phoenix Community Housing. But this does require execs to be transparent, approachable and willing to move away from their comfort zone. Much soul searching is required, it’s time to take the cuddly messages displayed on websites and actually live them.

Data and technology

With ever-dwindling funds and government support, there is considerable expectation (or hope) by housing association execs that embracing new technologies and ways of working will change how housing associations prioritise spend. There are already some brilliant examples out there: Vantage UAV has drone technology which 3D maps buildings and then repeats the same scans monthly. An AI then reviews for changes and highlights potential repair requirements for humans to review and approve. This saves Housing Associations millions of GBP in surveyors, allows them to detect issues earlier and means they understand their buildings better.

Red Olive is building AI tools to predict repairs and dis-repair as well as better understand who will contact call centres most.Theyn then suggest actions to be more in-tune with residents and deal with issues before they spiral out of control. AllPay is building Machine Learning tools to predict which customers are likely to be late payers and what solutions can be provided to minimise impact and penalties. AIM Housing has built human portable 3D scans that automatically create floor plans, measure sizes and do a dollhouse mock up.

These all have the potential to make housing associations smarter and liberate much needed funding for repairs and resident support.

Digital ‘evolution’ not ‘transformation’

Stories of successes and failures in digital endeavours at various housing associations abound. Amongst the most interesting recent examples are Peaks & Plains Housing Trust: a relatively small housing trust (5,000 homes) which was downgraded by the RSH to non-compliant G3 in 2020 and had to embark on an ambitious digital transformation as a result. They worked from the bottom up to fix their unreliable data landscape, the poorly documented and followed compliance processes, single person dependencies and ownership and accountability (amongst other issues).

What is interesting is that despite the incredible volume of work required, they embarked on the journey with a shared sense of purpose, a lot of elbow grease, a solid project management team and some common sense design principles they managed to regain their ratings within 18 months. Most interesting of all, this involved relatively low cost, light touch external specialist support. No jazzy consultants or million pound transformation projects, just leveraging existing manpower and capabilities to do the basics well. They are now set to leverage their new strong foundations to make the most of a data-led future.

iProperty makes the interesting point that there is no such thing as a digital transformation but rather a continuous evolution of a firm’s digital landscape. It is not only a more positive message but also signifies that there is no end-state which would hold forever, it’s a continual evolution and iteration with no real target state, only the next iteration of a digital strategy, therefore requiring strong and flexible foundations which can be built upon.

Insights before technology

A majority of specialist providers today offer CRM systems, ERPs, Asset Management Systems, Call Centre Management Systems etc. All brilliant technologies and platforms, but some of the housing associations queried on the topic admitted that the state of their data and data maturity were behind where they should be, often as a result of never-ending mergers and acquisitions and ill-fitting operating models.

While there is a strong ambition to move towards these CRM systems, significant value can already be unlocked through the implementation of a consistent data strategy and carrying out some simple data analytics. This should include building a single source of the truth on customers which, combined with existing data sets (time since last contact and past behaviour, on time payments, demographics etc.) can automatically provide red flags for identifying vulnerable residents or risk based stock inspections & repairs.

Once the house is in some order and there is trust and credibility in high quality data sources, then the technology comes to the fore. As always in data science: rubbish in, rubbish out.

At Artefact we specialise in supporting digital evolution programmes from simple Data Maturity Assessment, to Data Strategy, to Programme Health Checks all the way to managing a full Systems & Tools design to implementation. We can apply advanced data science techniques to common problems experienced by housing associations – to save costs and service residents more effectively.

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