Digital technologies have already had an enormous impact on the way we work, shop and communicate. Every day, we see first-hand the value of the digital experience with 24×7 access to services and an experience that is personalised to our specific needs and preferences.
Digitisation has great power to transform the social housing sector, streamlining processes for field operatives, transforming engagement with tenants, and helping to deliver a more proactive approach to housing management and maintenance.
While researching our recent report on The Future of Technology within Social Housing, a number of consistent themes emerged around how digitalisation is set to, and in some cases is already, transforming the sector. We have pulled out the top five of these trends to make some predictions for the digital future of social housing.
1. Tenants Can Help Themselves
While the drive to encourage tenants to use voice or web-based portals has existed for several years, recent circumstances have accelerated the shift to digital channels. Digital adoption has increased as more tenants become tech-savvy, and since the pandemic has restricted access to face-to-face interaction, tenants are readier to accept self-service options. Although a proportion of tenants still rely on person-to-person support, a growing number of tenants prefer to manage their own accounts through apps or online portals which make it easier to check rent payments, report maintenance issues or simply update personal details.
2. Smarter Systems Will Add Value
The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of digital transformation, allowing property managers to connect any device to the internet and gather real time data in centralised systems. IoT devices can help to optimise energy usage and reduce the carbon footprint of homes through better control over heating and other energy uses. Many housing organisations are already using intelligent sensors to monitor environmental factors such as heat, humidity and carbon monoxide, allowing them to proactively take care of both their properties and residents. Smart and wearable technology can even digitally connect vulnerable tenants to support services, whether they are at home or out-and-about.
3. Data Management Will Be Digitally Streamlined
Digital channels not only connect tenants to landlords; mobile devices provide field workers with real-time access to information and systems. By automating many processes and creating a digital thread across the organisation, social housing can remove many time-consuming manual processes, avoid duplication of administrative tasks, and reduce the delay in responding to tenant requirements. The digitisation of information will enable housing providers to collect and leverage data, creating a single consolidated view of tenants and properties and providing invaluable insights to better inform decision making.
4. Digitalisation Will Enable Us To Be Proactive
Social Housing has traditionally operated in a reactive rather than proactive manner, only responding to events such as a reported repair issue or a tenant falling into arrears after they occur. This often results in somewhat unstructured and inefficient action to remedy the problem, where an earlier intervention could perhaps have prevented the issue occurring and saved money.
The great wealth of data that comes with digitisation offers a great opportunity for housing providers to fundamentally shift their working practices. Tapping into data from IoT sensors can flag potential maintenance issues and enables more efficient asset management. Big data and analytics can help housing providers identify and spot the characteristics that indicate a tenant is struggling to pay rent so they can take action to prevent them falling into arrears.
5. IT Infrastructure Will Become More Agile
One of the key factors limiting digital transformation in social housing is the underlying IT infrastructure. Updating systems may be seen as a ‘nice to have’ expense but maintaining outdated IT infrastructure could actually be costing organisations more money. Digital methods of working require infrastructure that can handle large volumes of data in real time, that can adapt to changing levels of workload, and provide high levels of security to protect customers’ personal data and business critical applications.
To reap the benefits of digital transformation, organisations need to create an agile IT environment that leverages cloud infrastructure to provide limitless compute and storage capacity on demand and a dynamic software-defined network environment that automatically adjusts to the demands being placed on it.
There is no doubt that the future of social housing lies in greater adoption of digital technologies, from cloud infrastructure to communications channels, smart sensors to mobile payments. The only question is how quickly social housing providers will be able to embrace new skills and implement technologies that enable this transformation.
We further explore the technology trends in social housing and the key factors and steps that are required to embrace digitalisation in our special report The Future of Technology in Social Housing which you can access by clicking here.