Chris Weston is Jumar’s Technology Advisor and Digital Strategist. A leading authority on driving business growth using technology, Chris was recognised in CIO Magazine’s top 100 IT leaders in 2016.

The social housing sector is under enormous pressure to work more efficiently, amid increasing demand and fewer resources.

This is exacerbated by unprecedented strain on housing stock and the ever-present need to reduce the number of void properties. The key to addressing this demand (as well as increasing revenues) is to bring these properties back into circulation quickly.

Forward-thinking organisations are beginning to realise the benefits of technology in achieving not only this, but also the ongoing reduction of wasted time and lack of efficiency in the day-to-day management of these properties.

Two areas, in particular, are prime candidates for technological investment:

1. Data: Gathering and processing more useful data, to allow tasks to be prioritised effectively and efficiently.

2. Automation: Increasing the number of tasks and processes that require little or no manual intervention to reduce the reliance on monitoring and other non-productive activities.

Consider first, the benefits of being able to access and act upon more meaningful data. Providers of social housing already hold and process a great deal of data, from information about tenants and their needs, to day-to-day data about the status of housing stock and everything contained within it.

The key is to understand the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ business processes that can bring the greatest efficiencies and savings through the analysis and presentation of key datasets. For any given task, within a particular process, the timeliness and quality of each data element is critical, as well as being able to engineer the provision of that data so that it is presented in the most effective way.

For example – urgent repair issues are often reported by telephone to a call centre. A certain amount of information is recorded, but without experience of the particular problem, this is often not enough information to know who and what to send to the site. In these cases, a further call or site visit is necessary to provide a ‘first fix’ and then collate enough information for a second visit to provide a long-term remedy.

If the tenant was able to provide pictures or video of the problem, this could be a short-cut to a ‘first fix’ there-and-then, with the first (and only) site visit providing the long-term solution.

housing association comic strip

But, there’s resistance to this. While many tenants have smartphones and access to mobile data, they may be unwilling to use electronic means to report an urgent issue if they cannot be sure that someone is actually dealing with the problem. This calls for a hybrid approach, with a call centre operator asking the householder to gather photo and/or video evidence and share it during the original call. This could be facilitated with a mobile app or similarly accessible technology, streamlining both data gathering and the subsequent accurate, timely diagnosis of the problem.

Repairs teams will then have enough data to make more informed decisions about prioritisation, skills and materials, leading to more first-time fix jobs and better utilisation of resources.

It’s not just about the day-to-day, reactive issues where smart use of data and automation can add value. There are also significant benefits to be gained through enabling strategic improvements in housing allocation processes along with billing processes, environmental improvements and health and safety reporting – the list goes on. Collecting this through tenants and new, low-cost connected sensors (the ‘Internet of Things’) allows social housing providers to embrace digital transformation opportunities and create new strategies for their housing management.

This enables ‘lean’ process improvements to be adopted, and because such technology increases efficiencies both the tenant and for the social housing provider, it also instils a lean culture within the organisation’s staff. This, in turn, fosters a culture of continuous improvement and the reduction in wasted time and inefficiencies inherent in a non-data driven culture.

Jumar has a proven track record in delivering IT efficiencies into organisations which provide facilities management services, and understands the challenges and opportunities faced by the social housing sector. Wherever you may be in the lifecycle of understanding the potential opportunities and embarking on transformation programme specific to your business, Jumar Solutions is well placed to add value. We support businesses in across all areas from helping to define the areas of opportunity, build the business case, business analysis, system integration, application development and ongoing service support. To find out more, contact us here.