Housing associations: a customer-centric future?

We recently held a dinner for senior housing IT executives. The idea was to explore challenges and changes in the housing association industry, and the vast opportunities to be found in embracing the latest technologies.

On the evening, conversations were centred around a wholesale move to digital – for customers and organisations alike. There’s an understanding across the sector that organisations must engage with customers in new and modern ways. This has led to associations rethinking business strategies and embarking on ambitious journeys to enhance their service delivery methods.

Getting the right tools for your customers

This line of thinking dovetails with recent regulatory demands from the UK government. Such demands have enforced rent reductions and removed revenue streams. Again, digital transformation provides a solution, efficiency and engagement, respectively, reducing costs and catering for potential customers who are increasingly digitally aware.

Such a digital transformation is a challenge. This is something digital consultancy agency ORM (Rackspace partner and co-presenter on the night) is helping housing associations with, so they can become more efficient in delivering customer-centric experiences using the latest technologies. Managing Partner & Founder Peter Gough notes that in the past associations had technologies and systems working in silos, rather than together. They used technology as an approach in and of itself, rather than “understanding their customers – their needs, and their motivations”.

But as customers have become more digitally native, housing associations have increasingly wanted to meet that need – something Peter says should be encouraged: “Housing associations must more than ever think differently and take a customer-centric approach with best of breed tools. Self-serve and convenience must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.”

Therefore, it’s vital to pool the right technologies – build some: buy some – to create the best experience for customers, and solutions agile enough to deal with future industry changes.

“Customers now expect to pay rent via mobile apps, book repairs online, and rely on everything about a housing association being a connected, user friendly experience.”

 

Get the right support for your business

During the evening, housing associations attendees explained they were sometimes struggling to fulfil their ambition. IT executives spoke of a ‘me too’ approach to industry tech stacks and being frustrated with systems and software providers, that have historically dominated the market – but have perhaps been slow to introduce new collaborative technologies.

Such systems and providers cannot support everything we’ve talked about. Yet, customers now expect to pay rent via mobile apps, book repairs online, and rely on everything about a housing association being a connected, user-friendly experience.

Additionally, there were concerns about inhouse teams feeling under equipped, sometimes lacking expertise, staff, tools and processes to start and maintain a transformation journey. A key aim should be to focus efforts on areas of differentiation rather than those that merely keep a business operational.

So, don’t feel that you must be tied to the approaches of a key application provider. Go and build best of breed and take what you need to deliver the right solutions for your customers. But be mindful of when and where you need assistance and figure out the best delineation of responsibilities. This might be in building and managing infrastructure or gaining insights on how to move from legacy systems whilst enhancing security provisions, which protect the vital personal data with which you’re entrusted.

When it comes to support, upskill and enhance what you already have, a partner can augment with help and guidance. Such a partnership can save you time and money, making your organisation more flexible and agile, meaning you’ll better adapt to whatever happens next.

 

“Although it’s easy to scoff at the notion of ‘landlord as a service’, it may well be where the industry heads.”

 

Give your business the opportunity it deserves

At the event, such a sea change was suggested by a housing association CEO. He riffed on blockchain, predicting a future when distributed technology would enable someone to easily switch landlords. It was a ‘cat among the pigeons’ moment – an idea that challenged the core business model of housing associations and how customers are managed. Such a change would represent massive industry disruption.

But when you look at commodities, you realise people were until quite recently stuck with a sole energy provider. Then things changed – quickly – and only organisations who’d adapted in time were able to immediately reap the rewards. Although it’s easy to scoff at the notion of ‘landlord as a service’, it may well be where the industry heads.

Even if not, the model will continue to change in unforeseen ways. What we do know is housing associations will carry on supplying services, therefore a constant focus on the future of their customers is required. To facilitate this, they must embrace change, be agile and adaptable, and work with the right partners to forge a better future for everyone.

Check out how we worked with property management group Pinnacle to expand its on-premise storage to cope with greater data volumes, consolidate its siloed IT infrastructure and evolve its communications infrastructure to accommodate new channels.

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