In the first Golden Marzipan Ask the Expert episode, Steve Dungworth chaired a panel discussion on the emerging digital trends in social housing, concluding that sustainability, data, and communication will become increasingly important in the year ahead
2020 was the year of the great reset, one with sudden stops, market shocks, but also transformative change. In the housing sector, teams across the country experienced a rapid, overnight transformation; and digital with a capital ‘D’ accelerated right up the chain.
In terms of digital transformation it was quite successful, with cloud strategy acceleration and the subsequent transition proving to be a big win. The process of embracing digital was a “very refreshing” experience, said Steve Allcock, executive director of ICT, Data, Digital Transformation at Johnnie Johnson.
But he added that there were some challenges around the upskilling of colleagues and remote connectivity. Nick Atkin, chief executive of Yorkshire Housing, agreed, adding that the new normal has shifted both the digital offer and communication factor.
Looking ahead to the coming 12 months, then, we all wanted to know if there would be a continuation of the digital trends of 2020 or if new ones might come to the fore – along with the disruption and division these trends might engender.
Digital transformation for the housing sector has to come rapidly. As Nick pointed out, the era in which we’re living is the most accelerated period of change in history.
However, customer-wise, the story is different. Some tenants, residents, and customers remain reluctant to embrace the change. In this sense, many digital efforts to keep elderly, vulnerable residents connected had become a rising trend among housing associations.
For Steve Allcock, the value of digital is about offering people choices, believing the answer lies in the flexibility digital can offer and educating people on its benefits.
Faceless comms will also contribute to reducing operational waste, he said, which is something to bear in mind as growing businesses will have to increasingly think in more sustainable terms with regard to their workforces.
Although a data-centric culture is emerging, for many associations, data is simply unreliable or isn’t there yet to start. In this foggy territory, there are many grey areas regarding the categorisation and management of data as it moves across the development chain. For that reason, the UK Housing Data Standard can help to address the issue by using Business Information Modelling (BIM) processes.
Communication will also become increasingly important, and both understanding tenants’ behaviour and applying a customer-centric approach will be essential. As Nick covered, to prioritise mobile-friendly content and interactions will make this transition a smoother one.
Climate change is another big part of the agenda, and housing associations will need to plan and cater for greener home obligations and standards, using tech as a key enabler.
A call for unity
I ended our panel discussion with a question about collaboration. It’s estimated that in the sector we spend at least £600m per annum on managing and implementing technology. Was there a way for more collaboration to achieve better value for money?
Steve Allcock responded by highlighting the importance of investing by making data the centre of best practice. Our technology lead Andrew Giles also supported the idea of greater sharing and collaboration.
The final word came from Nick, who rallied us around using the existing spirit of collaboration within the sector to create more buying power and leverage with technology suppliers.
And I agree. Together, we have the opportunity to fully utilise sector data about the properties that we own and manage. All two-and-a-half million of them.
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