The housing sector in the UK is going through a period of huge change. This is not dissimilar to the change seen by many organisations across the UK; with the rapid pace of change technology is driving business models are evolving, customer expectations are adapting and new challenges are arising. IT transformation programmes are being embarked on everywhere we look to help solve these new challenges whilst also driving efficiencies and creating added value for the organisations, their stakeholders and ultimately their customers.
For the housing sector, there’s been some industry changes which are helping to drive that change. More than 5 years ago the Government called for services to be ‘digital by default’ – something customers are seeing more and more in their day to day lives. You just need to look at the number of apps on your phone to see this in action!
There’s a huge opportunity to be taken advantage of by embarking on a transformation programme to realise some of the promised benefits new technology provides. Whether it’s implementing IoT solutions to allow social landlords to understand how their housing assets perform or RFID and AI technology to facilitate effective asset inspection there’s huge potential. That’s why we’re seeing so many housing providers get on-board with the belief that tech is transforming housing and in turn we’re seeing many begin IT projects and transformation programmes.
One of NP Group’s Associates, Ian Golding (previously Interim IT Director of Southern Housing), has recently been interviewed by Housing Technology and shared his thoughts on when and why housing IT projects go wrong (Housing Technology: when housing IT projects go wrong). As part of our work here at NP Projects, we’ve become experts on business transformation programmes, recently conducting industry-wide research into what it takes to successful run a programme and how to avoid the common pitfalls. You can download the whitepaper and findings for free here – link. But for this blog, I wanted to take a leaf out of Ian’s book and share some of his key thoughts and link this back to our research.
In the article Ian highlights the need for real-time accurate data to fuel change and the success of digital solutions. This is something our Chairman Andy Green has spoken about in a previous blog. Information is at the heart of a successful organisation in the digital age, no matter what sector you’re operating in. When it comes to the housing sector, Ian suggests that this data needs to include “CRM data for the customer contact centre to support tenants, HCA regulatory or internal reporting, document management [and] data flows”. So, when you’re building out the plan for your IT transformation, you must think about the importance of data. This might be a data governance project alongside your programme or it might be the starting point to your transformation. Many use a data-centric programme to reveal information to guide their organisations strategy and provided the quantitative evidence to complete a business case for a wider transformation. Within the housing sector Ian suggests this could be reporting on housing stock to spot areas which can be changed to drive efficiency, measuring the total cost-per-build, ensuring cost-effective maintenance and repairs (similar to the RFID & AI examples I gave earlier), smart scheduling of appointments, mobile apps for tenants or secure API-based data access for authorised contractors.
I wanted to start off with data for a reason. It’s the lifeblood of any company and it’s no longer an optional area of focus. Without being a data-fuelled organisation, you’re going to miss out on opportunities to improve services, become more efficient and ultimately more effective in the provision of your services. Everything else flows from data – so once you’ve got the mindset within your organisation you’re ready to continue on your path to transformation.
Next you need to think about how to structure your team.
In the initial stages of testing and planning, Ian suggests that you create a small dedicated in-house innovation team to “envisage their long-term future state, incorporate technology and new approaches with bold thinking, and test this thinking through minimum viable products”. This is something which is more commonplace in private sector organisations than housing providers, but Ian believes this approach to IT projects will be become more commonplace within the next five years.
But when it comes to delivery you want a more structured approach. With the success of business transformation at the heart of your IT project you need a world-class delivery team on-board. Many will have the core of that team on-board and embedded in their organisation already. They hold all of the knowledge about how you operate, have extensive experience within your sector but might not hold the IT or transformation skills necessary to successfully complete the change. That’s when many look to building a contingent workforce to help supplement those niche skill-sets you need access to. There are many ways to do this – engage individual contractors, use a consultancy but both have their downfalls as I explained in a previous blog – link. Sometimes you want to get the best from both approaches, which is why many look for an on-demand resourcing strategy which is aligned and tailored to delivering a successful business transformation programme. This is where NP Group and our pool of Associates comes in and works with you to find the perfect blend of resource and model of delivery for your requirements.
Ian also highlights this Associate approach as a great way to get projects back on course. It’s his view that an independent outsider who’s ”removed from the detail can help to identify the root cause of a failing project”. We see this with our work with clients. When it looks like things aren’t quite going to plan they turn to us to help identify what’s going wrong and bring about a new plan of action to get things back on track. However, for housing providers the stakes are high so waiting for something to fail before addressing the problem isn’t usually good enough. You need to be able to spot the warning signs, which Ian describes as “low confidence, lack of enthusiasm or mis-placed optimism despite missed deadlines and budget over-spend”. These seem like pretty clear guidelines, but it is so easy to become so embedded in the programme you become blind-sighted; another reason to have an Associate far enough removed to be able to spot those things on your behalf.
There is so much more great advice from Ian in Housing Technology (Housing Technology: when housing IT projects go wrong) I highly recommend you take 10 minutes out of your day to read the interview and get even more hints and tips on what works and what doesn’t!