What does the future Housing Association look like?
The housing sector is facing some its biggest challenges in memory. Changes in government policy, budget cuts, increased and more complex user demand, all running on systems developed to manage life in the 1990s. It’s an overwhelming challenge – where do you even start? And what will the future look like?
Well, one reaction has been to start merging them. Often driven by geographical and cultural synergies, Housing Associations are pooling resources to share skillsets, systems, and processes will make groups of organisations greater than the sum of its parts. In 2015, Circle, Affinity Sutton, East Thames, Network, Hyde, L&Q, etc are all in the process. It’s an interesting strategy – but inherently risky: the Harvard Business Review shows failure rates of M&A as high as 70-90%. It’s certainly no silver bullet.
But is it really a question of just getting more efficient at what we’ve always done? Perhaps the problem we’re addressing is not one of scale, but the way we are fundamentally doing things.
Is it really a question of just getting more efficient at what we’ve always done?
I believe creating bigger Housing Associations, with the same outmoded way of doing business is not the real answer. Mergers serve only to distract from the real task at hand. What we should be doing is renewing our understanding of how Housing Associations deliver value to their customers, allowing us to align how the business operates with the needs of the people it’s serving.
This re-imagined world needs a clear and coherent vision; one that puts the customer at the heart of everything whilst remaining adaptable to the constant change of our very digital world.
Here is how I think we can do this.
True North = Customer Needs
It is no co-incidence that when an organisation puts customer needs at the heart of their business, it does not just succeed, it thrives. The future Housing Association makes life easy for the customer by keeping its processes simple for them. It does this by taking time to understand the customer journey and making sure their needs are a standard part of their decision-making process.
If you truly understand what your customers need, you can be confident about making the right changes that they will value
This means services are designed around the things that are genuinely important to them and you can focus your resources and energy on making changes you know will make the biggest positive impact.
Delivering great customer experience starts with being where your customers are – and most of them are on mobile, where they can interact anywhere, any time. A recent report by Ofcom showed that two thirds of adults in the UK now have a smartphone. For new generations, it’s a standard channel – as technology analyst Brian Solis explains “generation Z is mobile first and mobile only”. Mobile isn’t the future – it’s now. Also people are now spending more time on their mobiles – in fact, in 2014 the time we all spent online using our mobile overtook desktop usage for the first time.
Delivering great customer service starts with being where your customers are – and most of them are on mobile.
The future HA identified the customer interactions that work on mobile and made sure its systems were integrated to support it. For colleagues, it identified how different roles needed to work and provided a common platform so that the decision of how, when and where to work was one dictated by people, not technology.
This same technology also allowed them to scrap manual processes that add no value, giving staff more time to support your customers. Everyone gets more from face to face interactions by having access to the right systems and information on the move. Plus, if your whole workforce is enabled to work remotely, you could rent a smaller office space, reducing a significant cost.
The processes of yesteryear have lost their ambiguity and inconsistency. They are now are defined, transparent, accessible and visible to all stakeholders. Customers can get the information they need about the status of their request and your partners find it easy to work with you. This makes it easier to remove inefficiencies.
For example, take repairs and maintenance processes. The future HA built transparency into those processes, such as making better use of video and photos, meaning there was less waste through mis-diagnosis, variations and inspections.
If you’re clear about how things work, it makes it easier for your customers and partners to do business with you – reducing frustrations and increasing trust.
If everyone can see and understand the processes, it’s not a hard sell to make changes to improve them.
Recognising data as an asset
For the future HA, data doesn’t support decisions – it drives them. It can do this because it has invested in a Business Intelligence strategy that turns data from plain old information (something interesting) to actionable insight (something useful). In fact it’s so useful that it can help make tangible improvements to the customer experience and the future HA’s finances.
This insight could tell you, for example, ‘This type of boiler is responsible for 76% of all boiler call-outs’, ‘These houses are likely to flood if rainfall continues at the current rate’, ‘There is a 95% chance that this tenant will go into arrears within 6 months’.
Treating data as an asset, can turn information from something interesting into something useful
A single platform for Housing
The future HA has a technology platform that supports all its core activities. It provides a single view of the its properties and customers, so everyone in the HA team has the information they need in one place. The platform also helps find and collate the right resources and people needed to complete a task – making it easier to collaborate.
A single platform gives your team more useful customer information, helps them to collaborate more easily and deliver a better customer experience
The platform is central to how the business delivers value to its customers. It improves customer service by allowing the HA to communicate with its customers digitally (including via mobile) as standard. It also helps the HA team deliver a better customer experience as they can access the information they need at the right time during a customer enquiry.
The Virtual Association
In response to tighter budgets, the future HA undertakes only those activities that are core to them. For everything else, it created stronger partnerships with other HAs, local authorities and other social enterprises, sustaining an ecosystem of organisations, who can deliver complementary but non-core activities
Collaborating more with others, gives you more time to focus on your core business
They are able to work in a more open collaborative way, through Enterprise social networking, voice and video conferencing, plus document collaboration & management, no matter which team they work in and wherever they are.
When can this vision become reality?
The truth is, there’s nothing here that can’t be done today. The building blocks already exist, or are within a HA’s capability to set up. The world may have changed around Housing Associations but the seemingly insurmountable challenges can be met right now. This ‘future’ isn’t a distant vision – it’s here today.