A History of Housing Provision
Ever since Housing Associations first appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century their role has been about the provision of low-cost ‘social housing’ for people in need of a home. Philanthropic Housing Companies of the Victorian era were set up to cater for the needs of a variety of social groups including the poorest of households. This role continued through the First and Second World Wars with Housing Associations focusing on meeting the needs of groups excluded from Local Authority housing such as homeless or migrants.
In more recent times, Housing Associations have taken an increasingly central role in social housing provision starting with the transfer of social housing from Local Authorities to Housing Associations in the early 1980s, to Housing Associations becoming the mainstream housing providers and a channel for private investment in social housing during the 1990s. During this period, competition has also been promoted between Housing Associations to build more homes for less public subsidy which has led to significant growth and geographical expansions of larger associations outside of their ‘home’ Local Authority areas.
Since the late 1990s the Housing Association sector has seen its period of most rapid growth resulting in an increase in the rate of Local Authority housing stock transfers and the spread of associations into urban areas comprising areas of poorer housing stock. In fact, by 2005 only 40% of social housing was still managed by Local Authorities and by 2014 the number Social rented houses managed by Housing Associations outstripped Local Authority Social rented houses by 25% (Source: Source: DCLG Housing Statistics, Table 104, Live Tables on Housing Stock)
A Revised Focus
In more recent years, the Housing Association sector has been gearing up for further transformation driven by the new political and economic context within which they now operate. Government policy changes have focused significantly on welfare reform, rent levels and the tenants right to buy. This has resulted in an economic reality for many associations with them recognising they need to take a new path if they are to continue to realise their commitment to providing affordable housing to their communities and meet government annual build targets of 500,000 new homes, a target which is expected to increase to 2,000,000 new homes being required by 2026. Increasingly associations are therefore becoming more pro-active in addressing and investing in change and focusing on how successfully they are delivering to their customers.
Within this context, many Housing Associations have understood that if they want truly modern and efficient customer services they have to consciously identify the outcomes they want to achieve and focus on designing services capable of delivering these to their customers. Underpinning this service design is the realisation that powerful technologies needed to be adopted in both the front and back offices to create a platform for consistent customer focused service delivery. Housing providers are therefore estimated now to be spending as much of their IT Budgets (42%) on Capex and Opex projects as they are on ‘business as usual’ activities (40%).
A Background of Choice
One of the key drivers for this change has been the understanding that Housing Associations are now operating within an environment of choice to customers. Although demand for Housing in certain areas may outstrip supply of social housing, there is a growing diversity to the potential customer base. As a result, Housing Associations now need to provide more choice and service product offerings to attract customers. This choice is also being exercised between Housing Associations as customers choose which Association to buy or rent from based on the properties available and the range of services and products offered by Housing Associations. Most customers now also have immediate access to social media channels, with the ability to quickly get a feel for an Associations reliability in their provision of housing and associated services.
Over recent years, Housing Associations have therefore sought out ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their service provision to customers by restructuring, cost cutting or implementing process improvements. They have recognised that if they are to succeed in delivering quality services to their customers then they need to take evidenced-based decisions on how they design their services around a customer’s needs and structure their organisations from a customer’s perspective. The focus has therefore become on ensuring resources spend time on delivering activities which add value to a customer such as effectively dealing with key customer complaints or queries rather than focusing on back-office administrative activities.
Effective Service Data analysis
Core to identifying the needs of customers is the ability to unlock the information available through digital technologies. Today’s technology provides Housing Associations with smarter delivery frameworks able to bring together the right data and information to deepen a Housing Association’s understanding of their customers and their assets to ensure technology enabled services can be delivered to the customer in an efficient, effective manner.
To facilitate this approach, Housing Associations have had to strengthen their ability to collect, manage and analyse data to a level where it provides sufficient insight to act as a foundation for customer service related decision making. Data analytics have therefore become key to understanding what customers want and how a customer’s needs can be managed. They ensure Housing Associations have a far greater understanding of the impact of making changes to existing service models and allow Associations to start focusing on providing complimentary services to customers to achieve their goals and outcomes such as assisting with a customer’s wellbeing or financial stability.
Unfortunately, in many Housing Associations any such data collected remains held by individuals or in local disparate systems rather being able to be fed into wider organisational strategies making it difficult for these organisations to perform meaningful customer data analytics and take decisions as to the best service provision to provide to customers.
Providing Service through the Cloud
Thankfully, in recent years there has been a move towards providing affordable, scalable and reliable solutions to Housing Associations capable of capturing data and providing efficient services to customers. With the arrival of viable and now mature Cloud based technologies, organisations no longer need to purchase and maintain expensive hardware and associated IT infrastructures to provide service orientated solutions to their customers. Instead, organisations such as Housing Associations can adopt enterprise-grade IT infrastructure extensible enough to accommodate growth, requiring minimal capital expenditure and yet able to provide flexible, agile solutions to manage customer focused processes.
The development of dedicated Cloud solutions focused on the Housing Association sector has been fundamental to this transition. Cloud based solutions provide all the key elements that have historically acted as blockers to the Housing Association sector providing the following key benefits:
- Low Cost – The use of Cloud solutions avoids large capital expenditure being incurred on implementation services, hardware and upgrades allow small to medium sized organisations, such as most Housing Associations with limited IT resources, to focus on running their businesses rather than their IT. Organisations can therefore take full advantage of a wide range of products from solutions to storage which can be scaled on demand as they grow. The implementation costs associated with such solutions would historically have been prohibitive and a barrier to all such implementations except those in the largest of organisations.
- Flex on demand – Cloud environments provide elastic capabilities that can expand and shrink based on demand. When demand is cyclical, capacity can be increased or decreased with organisations only paying for what they use. This is particularly attractive to many Housing Associations who continue to expand their activities through mergers and acquisitions and therefore need to be able to flex their demand as they grow.
- Innovative Solutions – With Cloud Infrastructure, organisations can rapidly deploy new systems, solutions and projects to take them quickly to the forefront of their sector. No longer is there a need to undertake large scale projects to implement solutions. Instead solutions can be deployed and configured quickly avoiding the need for lengthy, expensive IT projects and allowing Housing Associations to quickly deploy targeted solutions focused on servicing their customers.
The use of Cloud based solutions has therefore allowed standardised solution approaches to be provided which can be configured to support Housing Association specific business processes in a more streamlined and cost-effective manner. This has allowed quicker and cheaper implementations to be performed able to facilitate the servicing of customers and the management of an association’s housing stock.
The provision of integrated Housing Association Cloud based solutions has therefore meant that Housing Associations can link key customer, asset and finance data together providing a platform upon which they can provide consistent, efficient and effective services to their customers. In addition, it is estimated this ‘back-office’ technology has removed upward of 20% of operational costs to such organisations.
The Housing Association sector is currently undergoing a significant period of transformation in which organisations are realising they need to be more independent and self-sufficient yet still continue to provide affordable housing to their communities. With increasing competition between associations in terms of customer choice, and with customers becoming more discerning in who they choose to let their homes from, Housing Associations need to become much more service oriented in their provision of properties to market.
Key to the understanding and targeting of customer service is the harnessing of technologies able to interpret data about customers, their assets and any service requests raised. The recent move to Cloud based technologies has enabled affordable systems capable of performing these activities to be made available to Housing Associations enabling them to drive towards being able to focus on customer Service orientated processes using Cloud solutions.
If you would like to get further information about Claremont and the Claremont Housing Association Cloud based solution click here.
As Principal Functional Consultant, Ian is primarily responsible for designing and implementing tailored functional client solutions relating to the Service, Contracts and Financials business areas. He has extensive involvement in functional presales.