Think about digital change now - or find yourself left behind
Ahead of our 26 May 'digital housing' seminar, we caught up with Matt Leach, chief executive at HACT, to find out his thoughts on how we can best implement digital change.
Hi Matt. You're speaking at CIH's 'digital housing' event in May. What do you plan to discuss in your session?
I’m going to set out a vision of future business possibilities for UK housing, as new technologies and unlimited connectivity combine to offer the potential to radically change how we engage with and understand our residents and manage our assets. The ways in which businesses are imagined and delivered today are radically different from the technology background against which housing’s core technologies were designed and rolled out.
We need to question why we do things the way we do, and whether integration, mobilisation, channel shift – the focus of much of the investment in changes in housing technology in recent years – has distracted from the more fundamental digital challenges and opportunities facing the sector.
What do you see as the main issues for frontline staff in implementing digital changes?
A lack of strategic capacity at a senior level in many organisations to understand even the basics of business-focused technology. Boards rarely have technology-savvy members, and as a consequence at a governance level their is little or no understanding of the potential of new technologies. At executive director and chief executive level there is similarly little understanding of technology, which is often seen as an issue for which lead responsibility is held several tiers down the organisation. As a consequence, digital strategies are often consultant- rather than organisation-driven, with little scope for internally driven innovation.
At the moment, frontline staff are on the receiving end of digitised solutions based around and embedding systems and processes which are long overdue some significant digital disruption. This needs to change - and fast.
Where do you see this technology going in the next 10 years years?
We’re going to see increasing self-service, as staffing numbers continue to come under pressure. We’ll see – slowly – a growth in machine-led customer service (the sorts of intelligent "bots" organisations like Facebook are piloting). Some housing associations will reshape themselves as technology-enabled platforms for the provision of housing, as opposed to traditional organisations that rely on technology to document and prompt largely non-digital processes.
Next generation connected devices will provide an insight for landlords into what is going on in their homes, while providing greater control for residents over many aspects of their own housing management. Everything will look very different, and those that don’t start thinking about change now will find themselves both left behind and at risk because of that rather faster than they think.