The Social Housing sector's digital transformation - what to focus on

The Social Housing sector faces a fundamental digital challenge in 2020. A challenge that was substantial before the coronavirus outbreak, but now has been exacerbated to different levels. That said, as we continue to adjust to a different way of working whilst we try to combat coronavirus, there is an opportunity to take a step back to reassess service delivery and how digital technology can support these requirements. By preparing now, the social housing sector can get into a position that will drive the change that has been needed for many years.

The three most critical areas to consider in your digital transformation are:

1. From a ‘customer experience’ perspective, tenant’s expectations have changed!

Data published by the Ministry of Housing on levels of public satisfaction within housing and the associated community, reveal that in 1994 -1995, 68% of social housing residents were ‘satisfied’ with their repairs & maintenance service. However, 23 years later, that number has decreased to 65%. At the same time, in the Private Sector, this statistic has increased from 70% to 74%. Difficulties in contacting landlords, poor quality work and poor speed of response are all areas cited as having got worse and in its latest Insight Report published in July 2020, the Housing Ombudsman also declares that complaints about repairs continue to be their largest category. In the past 23 years it is disappointing to see a decline in satisfaction but it clearly demonstrates that the sector appears to have lost touch with expectations which is why this should be the first area to focus on when considering digital transformation within the Social Housing sector.

2. Compliance has been put firmly back on the national agenda. 

In direct correlation, Grenfell has, and rightfully so, challenged everything. However, as of June 2020, 3 years since the tragedy, 67% of High Rises with ACM are yet to have had any remedial work undertaken. At the 2020 Spring Budget the Chancellor announced a new £1bn Building Safety Fund to support Social Housing landlords in removing dangerous cladding, and now that the Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act is in place, tenants also have the power to effect change in their homes if conditions are substandard. With the Grenfell enquiry still on-going, we will undoubtedly see other new regulations proposed as we progress further through 2020. The signs are clear – the government and the media are watching the sector closely – a response is therefore essential.

3. The critical importance of delivering a service efficiently 

Underpinning everything is how to deliver a service efficiently. Educational priorities over successive governments in the past few decades, combined with a workforce rapidly approaching retirement, has left us with a significant skills shortage. Britain alone must recruit over 400,000 people each year to deliver existing housing and infrastructure needs, which is the equivalent of one person every 77 seconds. Of course this doesn’t take into account the new immigration system and qualification quotas announced by the Government earlier this year or the financial pressures currently experienced within the sector. Unless there is a focus on evolving the way service is delivered in social housing, efficiencies will fall, which perhaps now more than ever before, the sector simply can’t afford to see.

One rule to remember

Digital is about doing things we couldn’t do before and enriching those we could; a point that has been emphasised further by the Coronavirus outbreak. Digital brings people together in one global location; a world without boundaries; a world where ideas are born and developed; where people live, and most importantly where people transact. In this respect, it is important to remember that our customers are not just ours. They consume services from other providers on a continual basis and they measure their performance against that of your own.

For example, if a telecoms provider came out to fix a tenant’s broadband within 48 hours and you take five days to fix a tap, will the tenant care if that’s an industry leading time or will they simply question why you were unable to match the service delivery of the telecoms provider?

Our customers’ requirements, demands and expectations will only ever increase, they, like all of us, will only ever expect more and for less. But if that is what everyone else is offering, can we really blame them?

The important point to remember is that the technology is already there. Organisations who share your aims are there. Organisations who can add real value are there already, however, you have to take the first step. You have to own your journey, collectively, across the business. Don’t accept mediocrity just because it looks familiar. 

The time has come to be brave, challenge convention and ensure that the story of your business and sector doesn’t end with a failure to change. 

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