Top 30 Digital Housing Providers: Judges’ insight

Ahead of the reveal of the first ever Top 30 Digital Housing Providers list, we’ve asked a selection of our expert judges to share their insight into how the sector is faring when it comes to digital – and the key issues it will need to be aware of over the coming year

Why is it important for social landlords invest in their digital and technical infrastructure?

Customers increasingly expect their landlord to be accessible and easy to do business with. Customers expect the same experience they get when they engage with their bank, amazon, or utility suppliers like British Gas. Staff expect to have decent kit and systems that enable them to do their job, not hinder them.

Caroline Gitsham, Consultant, Caroline L Gitsham Consulting Ltd

At this moment in time, providing a seamless, easy-to-use digital offer for residents is vital, as well as for staff. COVID has escalated any developments around this, and the need to remain connected at our most challenging time ever faced has brought about seismic change, very quickly for lots of providers.

Bethany O’Malley, Digital Manager, CIH

Supports the ability of residents to access services on line and with self-service. Helps older people stay safe and independent. Allows the ability to spot has boiler failures of lift outages before they occur. Allows staff to readily access information to support their ability to deliver services.

Phil Morgan, Consultant, Phil Morgan Ltd

What digital challenges have social landlord had to face over the past year?

Not having the right gear, i.e. hardware and software, to enable staff to work easily from home – or anywhere for that matter. I think there is also a cultural challenge to be aware of, as well as a digital challenge.

Getting staff set up to work from home, creating the right systems, and providing the right technology are all up there. There’s also the ongoing challenge of engaging with residents and getting them digitally active, especially when it comes to resident involvement and scrutiny.

What challenges will they face during the coming year?

A cultural challenge and meeting the expectations of customers and employees. There are a number of organisations who have adapted quickly and responded well to the challenges that COVID has presented. They’ve been keen to listen to staff and they understand the challenges that they face. Unfortunately, not everyone is having the same experience. I attended an event recently where there were some fabulous examples of organisations getting it right. But one of the participants worked somewhere where they were expected to be at their desks, and they said, ‘I wish they would just give us the kit and trust us to get on with our jobs.’ The difference between the employee experience at work is becoming quite stark.

A growing expectation from most residents that services and self service will be readily available. There will also be a need to understand how to support those faced with digital exclusion – namely through improving access, broadband, and confidence.

To what extent has COVID-19 increased the need for social landlords to be more open and proactive when it comes to adopting and implementing new technologies?

This has been fundamental and a big challenge for providers who previously hadn’t invested as much in this. Some of the successes where we have seen increased involvement from residents and staff in different events etc. should be looked at to ensure that we can take learning from this and offer a menu of ways for people to be better connected to the provider.

I think it has accelerated the agile working and working from home agenda hugely. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have accelerated the work/life balance with women in particular being disproportionately affected. However, I am hopeful that things will settle down and now that people realise what is possible I doubt that things will return to exactly as they were before.

What does the modern tenant expect from their landlord in terms of digital engagement?

An easy, seamless self-service where customers can pay their rent, book repairs and maintenance, and raise complaints. The website needs to have clear direction for the customer to chat with someone if they require help in the form of a chatbot or a message function in their customer portal. Customers are choosing the digital channel over any other channel, so to be able to manage their payments, repairs etc. in one place is critical to customer satisfaction.

They expect to be able to get an answer to their question quickly from a choice of platforms that are convenient for them. There are so many ways technology can be used to improve the housing offer and the customer experience. Technology needs to be at the heart of the strategic decision-making process, and those making the decisions should keep up to date with what technologies are available and being developed.

Residents’ expectations are rising in terms of being able to access services and self-service easily and successfully. This is what they experience elsewhere – why should social housing be any different?

In what ways can digital transformation both bring down costs for an organisation and improve tenant satisfaction?

It is important that all of this is seen as an investment rather than a cost. We must look out of sector at businesses that have succeeded in creating excellent customer platforms and see what we can do to mirror that success. This will then help to meet customer expectations, where we are more in-line with other services that they encounter on a daily basis.

There is little point in digital transformation without an end goal of improved services and improved accessibility to services. In doing so, there is the ability to provide value for money and improve satisfaction. However, digital alone cannot do this – it must link to wider cultural commitments to residents, their voice, and their services.

The results of the Top 30 Digital Housing Providers will be announced on 10 February.

Read next: HACT: The value of social value

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