A new view of housing ICT
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It’s widely accepted that the first 100 days in a new job can be incredibly insightful. With your eyes wide open and with no pre-conceptions, this precious period is the opportune time to identify the real crux of issues and also some of the potential solutions. With this in mind, and only 50 days into the job, Bromford’s new ICT director, David Anderton, talks us through his initial impressions of the sector and what he thinks the big wins are for ICT teams in housing.
It goes without saying that the housing sector is going through an immense amount of change at the moment, but what I’ve been surprised about is the negativity that surrounds that. For me, and no – I’m not underestimating it, the scale of change is exciting. When organisations are challenged to shave 5% off spend what you tend to see is incremental cuts around the edges. But with big change and challenge, comes big innovation and I think that’s where we’re at right now. This is exciting.
Let’s not forget, that after all we are still in a solid place. We still do have a fairly substantial guaranteed income. Yes, the 1% rent cut was a tough, unforeseen blow – but I come from the manufacturing industry, where we would have welcomed even 10% of our income to be guaranteed, and I bet many private companies would echo that view.
So, if we do take the positives of at least some guaranteed income, alongside the burning platform the sector is on and the Government’s backing to do more with our customers, you can soon see that we need to harness what we can do, rather than reflecting on days gone by.
And to harness it I think we all need to be very clear what we’re here to do, why we are unique and what can we do to deliver this in the operating environment we’re in. And that’s where the challenge for ICT comes in – what can we do to support this from a digital and systems perspective?
In years gone by I think ICT in housing has existed in a bit of a bubble. I think this bubble was created by the way we previously viewed our interactions with customers - it was about collecting rent first and then anything after that was great, but it wasn’t a core service and that’s how our ICT systems developed. Luckily some housing associations, like Bromford, have seen what added benefits developing a great relationship with customers can bring in terms of service provision and impact, but in order for this to really work the business has to know it’s customers, it has to understand the impact to those customers and it has to provide that information to colleagues – a really proactive 360◦ view of all customers and this is asking an awful lot more of ICT teams than if we look back only a few years.
The other big challenge for ICT is the fact that consumer IT has exploded in the past few years and this has changed the whole way customers and stakeholders want to interact with us. The landscape has changed and we look odd if we’re not addressing it.
What’s great to see is that some businesses, including Bromford, are already coming out of this bubble and they are thinking radically different to be able to deliver what’s required – it’s what I call the “5% stardust”! 95% of what a housing ICT team deliver is done by every business in the world - we have suppliers we have to pay, we collect an income, we have a payroll etc. etc. so let’s get that right as a fundamental. But then there’s that extra 5% that is unique to the sector, a sector that can have such a positive impact on peoples’ lives. This is the stardust and this is the bit that will really benefit from a sprinkle of radical, innovative thinking.
Here at Bromford I will be working with my colleagues to review our services and all aspects of the ecosystem that underpins them. We will be looking to both inside and outside the sector to drive our improvement, but more on this in the future...