As a relative newcomer to the social housing sector, with a combination of property, data and technology experience, it would be easy to look in and reflect on digital and data maturity levels, as well as the embryonic nature of integrated technology adoption. In fact, it’s usually the first topic of conversation when I’m out and about with landlords and sector leaders, typically starting with “How do you think the sector measures up in the digital and tech space?”.
You might think that a discussion about how the sector ‘measures up’ is wholly appropriate for the CEO of Housemark, but I want to go way beyond that. My whole career has been characterised by asking what and why? What do customers want and what do they need to deliver their strategy, how do they tackle challenges and why do some of those challenges exist?
Having worked in fast paced, consumer-facing businesses, I know that if customers don’t get what they want or need, they won’t want to work with you. It’s the same for housing – if landlords shoe in shiny technology solutions, force digital channel shifts and embark on over engineered transformation programmes, it won’t work.
You’d have to go a long way to find a tougher operating environment than the one currently facing the housing sector – having to do more with less income from rents, against a backdrop of supply chain issues combined with escalating cost of living and labour costs. And that is without the political, regulatory, and environmental change that is being managed in business plans. Capacity is squeezed, resilience is tested, and all of this is set against increased public reputation scrutiny and judgement of the sector.
What I want to do is help – it’s why I took on the leadership role at Housemark. This is a great sector that has tremendous energy, ability to adapt and an ingrained commitment to improving the lives of residents and the communities in which they live. In the event you are worried the ‘newbie’ is going to make some overly simplistic assumptions about what is wrong and how it can be fixed, rest assured I’m not. I know that the challenges in housing are much deeper than data, technology and digital transformation, and the narrative on this is well publicised. But what I am going to do is use my experience to ensure that Housemark develop and deliver products and services that help landlords do more for less, tackle the unprecedented, multi-dimensional challenges they face and make sure that everything we do is grounded in the sector’s needs.
Here are my top 5 tips for making sure that data, digital and tech improvements deliver what you need.:
Understand your customers – their needs, preferences and expectations
Then actually capture that data systematically and use it to drive improvements and improve customer experience.
Understand the context
Be clear about what problem you are trying to solve, and make sure you set any ambition within this. I’ll certainly be doing that at Housemark, as I get out and about and talk to customers.
Get customers involved in product and service design
You might think you’ve found the best solution, but you need to work together with users of the service or product to understand their needs and gain ownership for its design.
Get match fit
You can’t abdicate to the ‘techys’, you need to ensure that your programme or product is embedded in the business plan, that everyone is onboard across the organisation and that you have the skills, discipline, and routines to manage the change effectively
Go big or go home
You’ve got to be brave with this type of change, and really make sure that customers, colleagues and suppliers are vested in making it work, recognising that you may need to pivot and adapt as implementation progresses
So how am I going to deliver?
I’ve already been busy talking to landlords and residents, and what is clear to me is that the plans we have, need accelerating. Our new module for Photobook – the sectors only dedicated digital inspection tool on damp and mould – is needed now, so watch this space and you will hear more about this soon.
I’m particularly proud of the work we have been doing with residents and landlords on a new resident module of Photobook too, enabling residents to get involved in monitoring standards in neighbourhoods.
We are going to keep going with our core data and in particular our Monthly Pulse too, which has been aligned to building safety, ESG and TSM metrics. Customers have told us that this is valuable, particularly when it’s augmented with consultancy support to drive improvements, policy and regulatory alignment and compliance.
But most importantly, I’m going to be spending time out and about with landlords’ teams, getting to know the sector challenges first hand to inform the evolution of the Housemark offer. I’m excited about what we can achieve together, and I’m so pleased I joined this great sector, making a difference to the lives of residents and communities.
Housemark’s interim CEO