Why look back: when we can innovate!

Dave Loudon


I have labelled the first part of this article ‘why look back?’ as we are going to explore an issue that I have seen in quite a few associations and councils. It’s not a statement, but rather a question as to why people look back to what they have already been doing as a way to plan a new initiative.

I have heard landlords say that they spent so much money and taken so much time to implement a new system only to have it do pretty much what the old system did. This is obviously a failure.

  • Where is the return on investment?
  • Where are the savings in time?
  • Improved processes?
  • Better data management and analytics?
  • A reduced Total Cost of Ownership?

These are all areas that should be set as a metric for success. But looking backward in your approach will ensure the answers will not be ideal.

When a company, no matter the sector, is looking at a project to improve something, then it is counter intuitive to look back. Perhaps some things need to be replicated, we understand that, but get them out of the way quickly and don’t let them take over.

Instead, why don’t landlords start afresh, perhaps even being creative, perhaps even stretching the boundaries and doing something never done before. There is a tendency to some degree to take the comfortable approach and look back, but how often do you see Innovative Transformation. Now, I’m not sure if that is a thing, but I think it should be.

Before embarking on any project relating to systems, do the prep, spend time up front not just planning (that’s easy) but thinking differently, think Innovation. Think outside the box (argh, hate that term, but it’s true). Jump way outside the box. jump so far outside the box you even forget there was a box.

When I did my first housing system implementation, I did something for the landlord I was working with that was a little bit different. We got all staff into the largest room we could find, we split them up across teams, sitting finance with maintenance, sitting housing officers with rents and so on. We gave them the task of designing the perfect housing management system and then took their ideas (of which we encouraged them to think differently, anything goes) and based the design of our new system from MIS-AMS on what the outcomes were and then we worked closely with MIS to invoke their ideas. Now, it wasn’t possible to get everything into the system, but we tried, and to this day they are a great partner for the landlord. The staff felt involved, they were listened to, and they were part of the systems design. Wins all round!

We did it a little differently, but what a difference it made.

This is just one example, but there is absolutely no harm in seeking new and perhaps even radical ideas, and deliberately avoid the risk that the sector has been guilty of and assuming you have to use the same old processes, systems and generally ‘we’ve always done it that way, so we know it works’. Doing it that way may well work in some form but is it the most efficient way, can it be better, can it be easier, faster, cheaper for example.

Another thing I have done is to delve outside the sector for best practice, and to seek examples of other ways of doing things. This example was based around customer service. We asked if we could get some time from John Lewis, an exemplar in customer service. We talked to them and got some simple yet very effective hints, tips and ideas to help in the project we were working on. Very rarely have we seen landlords go outside the sector for ideas. Although we think the social housing sector is special, it’s really not any more special than retail, finance, etc. It is a great sector to work in and with some fantastic people, but let’s not think we have to do it the way we have always done it. We could for example do it the way another sector has done it. This could apply to customer service but also many other areas of business.

It’s all about Innovating and challenging. Challenge the norm, challenge the status quo and innovate.

This is why at DtL Creative we are investing in something new, something exciting, and something that will only look forward. This will help landlords think differently, seek new and innovative solutions and new ways of doing ‘things’. Perhaps even the Internet of ‘things’.

There is still a big space for traditional software. Systems that do the basics and even a few fancy things thrown in, but what about new solutions. Surely it’s our duty to at least explore new solutions, and suppliers. If you look at the Wikipedia definition for innovation there are plenty of descriptions that are all suitable. However, the one I like is ‘innovation is something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society’. It’s that last part that DtL are looking at with some determination. ‘Breaks into the market’ is the key.

It’s so hard for suppliers to break into social housing.

‘What? You don’t have any customers in social housing?’ ‘Oh, we’re not interested’.

It’s not as if social housing is like biotech where it is so niche. New solutions, or as we said above, innovative solutions, can be applied to our sector. We are on a mission to find them, to get folks talking about their technology, to help the sector understand the applications of smart technology, the many solutions we refer to as the internet of things, the safety and compliance based technology, and all the other fancy ideas from yesterday that are the reality of today.

So, we are a launching our new dedicated service on the 1st of March called The Blue Banana, the Inn of Innovation. And there is a reason it’s called that. You’ll see.

It’s quirky, its different and its colourful. It will focus on the promotion of innovation in housing, the adoption of new technologies, smarter technologies and how landlords can embark on a journey of innovation without fear.

The Blue Banana is coming……So look out for it.