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From test bed to crucial application – what is the next big thing?

I have always been impressed by the way that new IT developments evolve from some high technology test-bed into crucial business applications. By offering to deliver hitherto unattainable business benefits, these IT developments quickly become an agent for change; as existing systems start to incorporate the next big thing.

As we all recall, back in the day, mobile workforce technology itself was ground-breaking and unproven. Yet it seems almost ridiculous to cite that now, for it lies today at the heart of most housing associations’ technology estate. Rolling forward to much later technologies we are seeing how the Internet of Things (IoT) can potentially deliver a huge benefit in areas such as boiler management, security and tenant broadband.

However, it is one thing to look simply at how technology affects your own industry once it arrives. What’s possibly a far more useful task is to study how technology advances, that have worked well elsewhere, might bring future benefits to the social housing sector. In studying what has worked well in other sectors, there are often benefits that we can translate into our own sector as an agent for change.  This near future predictive analysis is incredibly valuable, as it reveals a rich landscape of opportunity both in terms of driving efficiency and more importantly boosting customer service. It enables those vendors who lead this market to develop similar systems for the benefit of the sector.

Interestingly, I believe there are fundamental lessons to be learnt from high profile social media, apps developers and data scientists in the consumer world. Potentially these hold considerable promise for both housing associations and their tenants. My own company 1[endif]--> Touch is currently studying how we can best incorporate these ideas into our own systems – it’s what we call our 2020 vision … a clear view of how winning technology in one sector can be utilized to excellent effect in the social housing arena.

Let’s for example look at Uber who are famed as the world’s largest and fastest growing driver hire operator. Whilst not actually owning any hire vehicles themselves, their online app based ordering model has proved to be incredibly disruptive to traditional Taxi service providers worldwide. This now, of course includes London – traditionally the home of the black cab.

To me, the really impressive thing is that the whole online operation behind Uber uses near live interaction. Customers who book a cab using their smartphone or other GPS enabled handheld device are sent details of the selected car and driver and receive an estimated arrival time alongside other information relevant to their trip.

Surely, this approach can also drive standards in the social housing market too.  For example, it can make a huge difference to appointment scheduling systems. Tenants should be able to go on line 24/7/365 through an HA Portal or App and enter a request for say a responsive repairs operative to attend or a visit from a housing officer. Like Uber this appointment would then be confirmed to tenants by text. On the day of dispatch, using the Uber model, tenants could also be sent a photo of the mobile operative, their name together with an estimated arrival time and even the registration number of their vehicle. This would greatly reduce the number of failed visits and significantly boost customer perceptions.

Such approaches prove the validity of productive self-service apps for customer use. One only has to look at the online bank Atom. It has no branches. All its customer’s financial transactions are made through an app and consequently the service levels are the same quality 24/7/365. This shines a clear light for the potential of future app developments in social housing.

One can see other lessons that can be learnt form the mainstream too.  Experian, for example, is using big data and extremely clever algorithms to predict the likelihood of people falling into debt. To achieve this, they use trend analysis to extremely good effect. Surely, then it is very possible for Housing Associations to use similar techniques to identify those people who are vulnerable, likely to fall into arrears, require maintenance or that have boilers in need of replacement.  Interestingly, from our own research we see that missed gas appointments have a strong correlation to rent arrears – so the use of statistical analysis does seem potentially very relevant to today’s social housing sector. To ensure that that this data analysis is truly useful, it is essential that the data is both cleaned and validated to a high level of quality and it’s equally important that sophisticated algorithms are designed to predict and analyse behaviour. Once this is done, the clever part is interpreting the data effectively and coding it into an app.

Given this, there is huge potential here for predictive analytics based on trends and algorithms to make a real difference for both tenants in customer service terms and for Housing Associations looking to drive Value for Money. The effective use of Big Data analysis could save the industry £millions, which ultimately, if desired, they can reinvest into tenant services and customer care.  

In developing tools, apps and portals, our role as technologists is to interpret how best this analysis might deliver for tenants and landlords alike. Overall though, the continuous evolution of technology is not just an agent for change, it also an agent for continuous improvement of service delivery. As the ultimate beneficiary is primarily the tenant, then in keeping with our 2020 vision strategy I for one, will keep looking for new technologies that improve their tenancies even further.

1st Touch helped us to design and build a first rate system that will  not only transform what we do but add a whole new positive dimension to the customer experience we deliver.

Carole Galsworthy
Director of ICT

The 1st Touch solution ticked all the boxes in respect of our pre-defined criteria. In particular, we liked their approach to implementation and flexibility in delivering 
the solution

Claire Sockett
Systems Development Manager

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