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Skynet, housing drones and the reality of innovation

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Recently there's been a bit of a twitter furore around Bromford's Innovation Coach Paul Taylor and his comments at the CIH's Housing 2014 conference. The debate has since been dubbed #dronegate.

We asked Paul for his take on whether Skynet really will be taking over repairs, and whether an Innovation Lab might lead us to our doom.


It’s all made for some lively debates and we’ve had a bit of fun.

Except there’s a very serious side to all of this.

If we support the idea that Housing Associations should stick to what they know and never dream of doing things differently we will embark upon a very dangerous path.

If we become afraid of testing new ideas we will never introduce new services or reimagine existing ones.

And if we do that – we’ll stand still. And standing still in an age of unprecedented social and technological change is not an option.

Only 22 of the original FTSE 100 companies remain on the list 30 years later.  It’s worse in the US with only 71 companies left standing from the original Fortune 500.

But that couldn’t happen in the social sector could it? We’re too important.

Not so.

We’ve never really had to compete in a real market before. Most of our income has been paid direct without the need for us to get out of bed in the morning. Combine that with lavish subsidy and it becomes a business model almost too good to fail.

But the props that have held many of us up are now gone or going and that puts the sector in a far more precarious position than a HMV or a Blockbuster.

It’s time to wake up and take innovation seriously.

That’s why Bromford have founded our Lab. Somewhere colleagues and customers can generate ideas – no matter how outlandish they are to begin with.

We won’t laugh at any idea and we don’t do ridicule.

Together with space and time they’ll be supported through a network that helps them grow those ideas. It will refine them and turn them into things that will make a difference to people.

Not all will succeed. Many will fail. Many will get put on the shelf for a rainy day. But we’ll learn loads.

The only rule they’ll be given is: If Bromford started again would you do things the same way?

I can think of at least 10 ways that drones could help housing associations – from updating aerial shots of estate layouts to delivering small repairs that can’t be completed by the resident.

But in reality I don’t think it will be shiny tech that delivers the real breakthrough for Bromford. It’ll be the ideas that are in our customers' and colleagues’ heads that have never been released.

Waste of money? We’ll see soon enough.

Perhaps the real ‘return on investment’ for innovation will be whether your housing association still exists in 5 years time…

Image courtesy of Thom Bartley.