When creating our recent report on ‘The Future of Technology within Social Housing’, the people within the sector we spoke to all had an appetite for change and clear views on the critical role that technology will play in digitally transforming the sector.
Some of their thoughts and collective vision was outlined in our previous blog ‘5 Predictions for the Digital Future of Social Housing’ which definitely sets out a path of exciting times for the sector. However, there are a number of factors that we identified in our research that are hampering progress and slowing the pace at which digital transformation can be achieved.
The consensus of those we spoke to is that the sector is not moving fast enough to embrace digitalisation and maximise the full potential impact of the technology available. There are many factors that are hampering progress that starts with the executive vision and cascades all the way through to the legacy infrastructure currently in place.
Executive Vision & Direction
Change is not something that just happens; it must be driven by clear vision, it needs ‘buy-in’ from all involved and people need to be missioned and resourced to affect change. Traditionally, IT has been seen as a cost centre across the Social Housing Sector and has not had a ‘strategic’ seat on the top table. As a result, IT spend is determined by the savings it can make within its function rather than being viewed in terms of the positive impact it can have on the wider organisation and service delivery.
Aversion to Risk
A common theme running through our consultations was that the Social Housing sector is inherently risk adverse. Where some of this stems from the origins of the sector and the need to carefully manage costs and deliver immediate value for money, a string of failed technology projects across the public sector has led to a more cautious approach. Although the sector does not need to be at the bleeding edge of technology innovation, it does need to be bolder in making technology decisions. A more balanced evaluation of risk is required that considers level of investment, potential risk but, more importantly, what the investment will enable you to achieve.
It is felt that legacy infrastructure in place within the social housing sector is now fundamentally holding back the digitalisation of the sector. A consultant operating in the sector speaks of 9 out of 10 issues they come across pointing back to failings in legacy infrastructure that is neither agile, nor capable of coping with the demands being placed on it. New applications are being loaded onto servers that simply do not have the power to support these and legacy networks do not have the capacity to flow the amount of data required around the organisation. Creating the scalability and agility in the underlying infrastructure is critical to enable digitalisation.
Lack of Application & Data Integration
It is often said that organisations are data rich but information poor and this is a sentiment we found within social housing. Many organisations are utilising a diverse range of applications that operate in non-integrated silos. This means that data is fragmented and cannot flow seamlessly across the organisation which is critical to digitalising tenant engagement and automating processes. There is a very real need to focus on data and creating digital threads across the organisation and turning data into insights that can affect change.
IT Mission, Mindset & Capability
Probably the most fundamental area that is holding back the digital journey in social housing which came out from our study related to IT mission, mindset and capability. One of the participants spoke of the sector having more ambition (to improve services and systems) than it has the capacity and capability. There is a view that IT need a new ‘mantra;’ a mission and mindset that moves from just ‘keeping the lights on’ to one that is focused on digital innovation.
The Social Housing sector is at a critical cross-road that it cannot ignore. To move the sector forward and achieve their aim of meeting the demand for decent homes, they need to embrace digitalisation but in order to do this, they must first address those factors that are currently holding them back.
We further explore these factors as well as the 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.