Housing 2022

In some shape or form we have been at the CIH Housing event in Manchester year after year. We are really glad to be exhibiting again this year, and looking forward to it immensely. With Covid masks gone, and hopefully increased numbers it is shaping up to be a great event.

This year, with the sector facing a series of challenges never quite seen before there is plenty to talk about, plenty to debate, and plenty to learn. But there is also the chance to find out what technology and systems are available in the sector.

At DTL Creative, we help landlords find and implement the best Digital, Data and Technology strategies. With over 100 landlords under our belt, we would be delighted to talk about how we can make a difference, in fact, we even have a saying. What would a consultancy be without a strap-line. Ours is:

We’re also that little bit different at DTL Creative. We think creatively, we challenge and we have fun. Yes, there is room for fun in business and the sector we love, Social Housing.

So, we’re doing a number of things at the event

We will have a competition for all to enter, and to enjoy. Play darts with DTL. Get the highest score and you can win a days digital assessment from us.

Win prizes folks.

First to appear at the stand and throw some darts wins a prize.
First to score exactly 100 wins a prize.
Score 101 and above and win a prize.

Highest score wins the big prize, a free days Digital assessment consultancy.

At 4 o’clock on the Wednesday at Stand TE13, join us for a quiz with some, well, dubious questions. It will be great fun and one you won’t forget.

What we learn from talking

What we gain from turning up and talking!

Some slate the proliferation of conferences, seminars’, breakfast meetings and online gatherings and their likes as a waste of time. Some say we need to just get on with it and stop wasting time and money and then there are some who say that consultancies and technology suppliers just do this to gain more customers. Of course, this is a part of it. Sales and Marketing are key to any business, indeed any sector, including social housing. We are not that precious that we can ignore this. This apart, some care a great deal about events and the opportunity to talk and to improve knowledge, to share ideas and to learn.

As a business owner I have never shied away from telling it as it is. Yes, we all need to make a living, and need to sell services, but some of us really do care about the sector. You all knew, or you do now, that I grew up in a Council house. Some know that we found it tough when my dad died at an early age, and times were not easy. So, I care. As I remember what it was like, the good and the bad, I remind myself almost daily as to why I now commit myself to a sector I really do want to achieve great things. I

So, naturally, as a business, we talk. My company believes in talking about technology and it’s possibilities. We talk about its virtues, its benefits, and its ability to change lives. We talk to others who think like us, and we talk to others who think differently. We believe that working through challenges and talking them through makes a difference. We also believe that sharing ideas is a must to move forward. How do you do this, you talk of course.

When we engage with the sector, we like to make it real, not just because business storytelling is fashionable, but again it is because we care. Storytelling is the art of sharing the experiences behind your brand, culture, and mission. Its purpose is building a narrative allowing you to connect with your customers and potential customers on an emotional level. People are People after all, and when you use that old saying ‘People buy from People’ then it makes sense. We are very much about who we are, and what we do. We have a mission and that is to improve the sector as much as we can through the adoption of technology.

So, that is one thing we gain from talking. We gain awareness, and nobody can really deny that making it real helps folks understand. Storytelling and being ourselves, and hopefully making a difference by talking, but also listening is key in what we do.

But that’s not really my main reason for writing this small article. My main reason is to encourage more people to talk. Don’t be shy, attend the seminar’s, go to the conferences, and talk. Ask people questions, say hello. Introduce yourself. Use the time wisely.

  • Don’t just go to the events for the freebies. 
  • Don’t walk past folks when they say hello from a stand. I will admit, some do look a bit dubious. 
  • Don’t turn up to a talk, sit at the back and send emails from your phone.
  • Don’t hide in the toilets and sleep because you had too many glasses of wine at that free drinks’ reception the night before. 
  • Don’t do a smash and grab for freebies. If you take, make time for a quick chat.

However, it’s not all about conferences, seminars, and the like.

The social housing sector is full of companies and initiatives offering online information sessions, discussions, forums. Some are even free. They are a chance to learn, to listen, but again, to take part. Ask questions, talk to folks. Conversation is a way of learning even more. 

So, there are actual events you can go to in person now. Who would have thought it? Real life conferences. There are company specific events, and there are shorter seminars and events that are either regional or technology specific.  They are all worth exploring, but please if you go, talk, take part, engage, and take away something you can adopt yourself.

I have always thought that our sector is great at collaborating. It’s open to debate and to talking, but with the area of technology I think we can do more. So, let’s talk. Let’s learn, let’s do great things together.

Turn up, tune in, take part!

It’s conference season

We’re delighted to announce that we started off the conference season for DTL Creative with our very own conference on the 5th May.

Our UnCon series of events continued with UnCon 22. We brought together a number of experts from the sector and beyond to talk about joining the dots with technology and social housing. Five sessions were held in all. They were:

Session 1: How can we use data better and what is its role in  joining the dots.

Session 2: Is there an ideal systems architecture for housing? 

Session 3: Is technology truly serving the aims and ambitions of housing leaders in today’s world.

Session 4: Is the sector behind the curve with technology adoption? What can we learn from outside housing?

Session 5: Can we really improve the lives of those in social housing through technology?

You can now see all of these sessions in our YouTube channel. Simply click on the session above, or go to our channel here.

We were also delighted to attract some high-end solutions providers to the sector in Switchee, Fast Lean Smart, Meritec, Fuzzlab, Salesforce and iOpt. Without them it would not have happened.

What’s next?

But that was just the start, this week we will be attending Scotland’s Housing Festival in Glasgow on Thursday the 19th, where we already have a long list of folks to catch up with and really looking forward to seeing some of our customers as well.

Then, in June, it’s the largest social housing event in Europe, the CIH Housing 2022. We always look forward to attending, and this year we are exhibiting again. This is a great opportunity to seek out DTL Creative and see how we can help you with systems, technology and data strategies as well as procurements and implementations. With over 100 social landlords to our name, we have the experience to make things better, using technology to improve the operations of landlords and the lives of tenants.

So, it’s conference season and we love it.

UnCon 22

I’ve been working in social housing for 16 years now and I can honestly say that there has never been so much choice as far as technology being available to the sector. Some of this is sector specific such as housing management systems, finance and rents solutions, repairs software and so on and some of it is more general in nature that could fit into any organisation. There is property related technology (PropTech) that is literally changing lives for the better. There is Artificial Intelligence tools available that is improving the communications and customer service of operators. It is not the case anymore of it simply being the option of what Housing Management System you chose. This was the norm for a while. These modular-based systems have all seen their fair share of the good, the bad and the downright ugly over the years. In some cases, depending on the implementation, a specific supplier could be both good, bad and ugly, and therein lies the problem. One system rarely fitted all. We still see some strong housing management systems in practice, and we still see some good examples of implementations and commissioning of systems, however, the general feeling is that we do not see the overall systems architecture being as effective as it could be. There are gaps, and as a sector we can do a hell of a lot more in ensuring systems, their use, their purpose is in line with the clear directive of improving customer service.

There are many systems out there that can supplement a core system, indeed replace, and improve the lacking functionality of specific modules. These are typically what we call best of breed solutions, systems that have had significant specialist development, investment and knowledge poured into them. They don’t do everything, but in some cases, they do one thing particularly well. There are income management tools, there are AI based systems that deal with optimisation of field and fleet management for repairs, there are tools that deal with compliance and there are systems that deal with communications such as chat bots. All of these and more are able to exist outside, yet connected to other systems. So, how do you join the dots? How do you make your overall IT estate and architecture as effective as it could be?

The above talks about systems, software, tools….whatever you want to call them, but there are other things as well. What about data, and it’s importance in continuous improvement, ensuring it is seen as an asset just as important as a property itself. Insight, intelligence and action can all be realised through the proper management and control of your data. So, there is that dot as well.

What about infrastructure? Is this a thing of the past now that we are all moving to cloud solutions and software as a service? Not really. You still need laptops, desktops, tablets, phones, phone systems, switches, routers, wi-fi and many more. Your core systems may sit in the cloud or a hybrid cloud environment, but you cannot escape the fact that devices and their optimal use with your systems are another series of dots needing joined.

So many dots. You see our point. If you can join the dots however, you start to see greater efficiencies. It becomes a holistic well-oiled machine and not just a disparate set of IT systems, equipment and services. You see cost savings, you see technical and strategic management of your tech estate become simpler and you see the true purpose of serving the customer become an evident deliverable of IT.

So, let’s talk about joining the dots in UnCon 22, the UnConventional Convention that brings technology to you in a well proven format that allows not only learning and insight, but also a great opportunity to network with your peers.

About the event

There are so many factors in ensuring the best possible customer service within social housing. Technology and its many components is only one very important consideration, but how do we join all the dots to ensure it delivers. 

The event will focus on how landlords can join the dots in a noisy world of options and technologies, with five key sessions….

• Session 1: How can we use data better and what is its role in  joining the dots.

• Session 2: Is there an ideal systems architecture for housing? 

• Session 3: Is technology truly serving the aims and ambitions of housing leaders in today’s world.

• Session 4: Is the sector behind the curve with technology adoption? What can we learn from outside housing?

• Session 5: Can we really improve the lives of those in social housing through technology?

If these are topics/questions you are keen to learn more about, we have assembled a series of experts to discuss, debate and inform on some of the hottest topics we face as a sector.

In typical UnCon style we will also be introducing some real-life stand-up comedians to help us through the day. We are not giving too much away, but its going to be great fun and an event to remember.

Death of the job advert!

There is so much happening in the social housing sector at present. There is a much needed push to solve the sad and desperate situation of mould and damp in a great deal of properties. There is a growing need for landlords to get on top of compliance. Add to this the ever increasing debt and arrears mountains, the repairs and maintenance backlogs, the difficulties in maintaining services to tenants for ever tightening budgets, well, I could go on. And that is the problem. I could go on and on for a bit on the issues facing what some have called a crisis. I see daily from our customers the challenges they face. Nobody is perfect and I do not condone one bit the failings of some landlords that are quite frankly shameful. I also recognise that there are thousands of landlords, and tens of thousands of social housing employees who try. I know of one housing officer who has been in tears on a regular basis as she deals with situations that are simply heart wrenching. So, there is a problem, a big problem in that there is a great deal to fix, not a great deal of time to fix it, and not to mention the costs.

It has to get better, right. But how?

Those who know me, know that I am an advocate of utilising technology where we can to better the lives of those living in social housing. It doesn’t I will admit fix everything, but I will say this, we can use technology a great deal more than some think or indeed are aware of.

Here he goes again, selling the virtues of technology, of systems, of data management and so on. He would do that, as that’s his business. Well, you are right. I will do that as it is something I truly believe in. 

However, I am not going to right now. I am going to talk about something else. Something that, yes, is linked to technology and is paramount to its success but not technology itself. I’m talking about people, yes, people. Skilled people. People with knowledge, expertise and talent are needed.

That’s easy I hear you say. Just throw together a job advert, put it in a magazine or two, your web site, perhaps even use a well-known recruitment company. 

Here’s the thing. Are you truly going to attract the best possible talent doing that. I don’t think so, and here is why. 

I have recently got to know Rich Wilson who founded a company called Gigged.AI. Rich spent 12 years in the staffing industry and 3 years at Gartner before founding Gigged.AI to help make hiring easier.

The War for Talent is in full swing, the term was coined by McKinsey and Company way back in 1997. However, hiring tech talent is harder than ever largely due to the increase in digital initiatives and the rise in remote work smashing down the usual geographical barriers. 

The most in-demand tech roles for companies across the UK are software developers, web designers, and data analysts with AI skills quickly catching up. According to Adzuna in April 2021 there were nearly 10,000 vacancies for software developers, compared to 5,630 at the same time last year. Furthermore, the Gartner 2021 CFO survey found that 74% of CFO’s plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the Covid-19 crisis ends which creates even more competition.

Traditionally when skills are in demand there are a number of tactics organisations deploy which include but not limited to:

  • Create a long job ad and post on LinkedIn
  • Create a new Preferred Supplier List (PSL) of agencies
  • Hire contractors from PSL when perm hiring stalls
  • Referrals schemes
  • Recruitment open days 
  • Expensive PR Campaigns to hype up culture and opportunity
  • Increase Salaries

Now these are all perfectly good solutions in the past. However, most digital initiatives have an end goal to generate revenue, transform businesses and reduce costs. With a lack of key talent then projects start to delay and so does the revenue. This is when most CEO’s and CFO’s start to get interested.

Social Housing in not immune to the challenges and must look at different models to hire and retain tech talent to ensure projects are delivered on-time and on-budget.

A different approach

The future of work is accelerating and there are new solutions which offer a faster and effective way to source and on-board tech talent. A recent Harvard Business School Report states: 

“COVID-19 has only accelerated the move away from traditional, pre-digital-era talent models toward on- demand workforce models.” 

Furthermore, Gartner published research last year that predicts 35% of the global workforce by 2025 will be gig workers. While in May 2020 the Mercer Global Talent Study Report that stated 77% of executives believe freelance and gig workers will substantially replace full time workers in the next 5 years. 

Enter a new way to hire. Platform sourcing!

The well-regarded University of Oxford Report on Platform Sourcing stated there will be rapid growth in the next 5 years on how companies use Platform Sourcing including crowdsourcing and outsourcing platforms. 

The report focused on research around how Fortune 500 firms are adopting online platforms. The following benefits were reported:

1. Providing easy access to a scalable source of manpower, skills, and expertise 

Platforms provide access to freelancers with highly specialized skills and expertise, making them an attractive option for organizations to quickly and flexibly complement the capabilities of their in-house employees on an on- demand basis.

2. Reducing start-up and transaction costs 

Compared to traditional outsourcing vendors and contracting agencies, platforms substantially lower the start-up and transaction costs of a contract. This allows enterprises to quickly hire freelancers to address project needs. 

3. Eliminating conventional hiring barriers 

Platform technologies eliminate or at least reduce geographical, informational, and administrative barriers in the hiring process. This allows their use for projects of shorter length and scope. It facilitates the hiring of freelancers on a more flexible, on-demand basis, and allows managers to bring in new skills and knowledge to the organization that would otherwise have remained outside. 

Social Housing can win the war for talent by moving away from relying on traditional permanent and contract hiring by working with task based open talent platforms. Over the last 5 years NASA has transformed how they innovate by creating an Open Innovation Centre of Excellence which works with platforms such as Gigged.AI, Upwork, Innocentive and Guru to complete project work using talented freelancers.

Think differently, think creatively. You don’t always have to follow the old ways.

Procurement Rules and must do’s

I’ve been managing IT for almost thirty years across a number of sectors, with the last sixteen dedicated to social housing. Throughout this time, whether it was the head of IT for an oil company or the time I spent at a worldwide telecom’s provider, there are some lessons and rules that I have learned that should be, indeed need to be applied to the deployment and management of technology. One specific area where I feel needs some rules and guidance is procurement.

Sometimes in business you need to look at improving or replacing an IT service or application. This may be due to failures from a supplier in not delivering, sometimes it is due to poor customer service, their technology not keeping up with their competitors or simply that you have an internal policy to review suppliers, systems, services a set time prior to a contract finishing or on a regular set period.

So, what options are open to you and what can you do when you discover you are not getting best value from your technology suppliers? We will cover these below, but it is worth noting that a good procurement cycle starts not with procurement itself but with having all your ducks in a row.

You should of course know your existing estate inside out, and we don’t mean a list of systems, infrastructure, and services in a simple spreadsheet. The following are absolutely essential to be on top of.


TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP

Simply put, you need to know how much you are spending as an ongoing concern. I am not just talking about the annual maintenance cost of systems, I am talking about other factors such as specialist support you may occasionally need to write a report, hidden upgrade costs, training, customisation/changes needed due to legislation or regulatory change, and so on.

You NEED to know this. It’s always worth doing it properly as it is the main driver in being able to calculate true VFM.

The reason this is so important is that it will provide a benchmark for costs you will receive from bidders, but also allow you to set expectations and budgets.

See the article link below to give you some pointers

THE IMPORTANCE OF TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP IN SOCIAL HOUSING TECHNOLOGY

APPLICATIONS STRATEGY

Next up is your Applications strategy. Have a plan, know what you need and know what you want. It highlights how to align your systems strategy to your business plan, developing future state roadmaps and how to get the best from your technology. You will base a considerable amount of your procurement decisions based on this.

See article link below to give you some pointers

WHO NEEDS AN APPLICATION STRATEGY, ANYWAY?

KNOWLEDGE

You may think you know everything, but I have seen on quite a few occasions the situation where when asked questions such as: How many licenses do you have? Is there a data map? Do you have a data strategy? Is there somewhere we can see when all your contracts end?, the answer to these being a look of bewilderment, or simply ‘No, we don’t have that’.

Know your onions! Ensure you have the knowledge and the procurement (if indeed you need to procure) will flow a lot easier.


TO THE PROCUREMENT THEN –  OUR 3 GOLDEN RULES YOU NEED TO LOOK AT

With the above all in place you can safely start looking at your procurement. I have set out some rules of procurement that we believe all should follow.

DON’T JUMP IN

Whatever you don’t assume that sprinting to the procurement stage is the only way forward.  We suggest that you regroup and rethink your strategy. It’s worth taking stock.

A successful procurement exercise should include the following:

  • Asking/checking if what you are seeking addresses the business strategy/plans and approach to customer service
  • Does it address the cultural ambitions of the organisation?
  • Carry out a full options appraisal
  • Carry out an assessment of your data
  • Specification of and reviewing new technology (re-thinking your approach – perhaps one example is cloud and SaaS against on-premise)
  • set target costs and service levels, is it within a budget cycle, 5 year spending plan.
  • a pre-procurement exercise to scan procurement options e.g. frameworks or direct
  • Carry out a risk v reward exercise.

Now you can see why it is important to do these early checks/actions. If you don’t you may just get into a bit of trouble. Some we work with have procured systems and need help because they have not done some of the above.

It’s worthwhile checking you have done all you can to prepare before procuring.

PACE /TIMING

More often than not procurement is rushed through because existing contracts are coming to an end or at a renewal point.  We have seen landlords panic as the contract has expired and is now running monthly without anyone realising. Our golden rule of thumb is that you should be considering a re-procurement exercise a minimum of twelve months before the deadline to allow for proper planning. The timing of your management and procurement route is crucial. It can also be costly.

INNOVATE

There is always room for genuine commercial innovation in contracts. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Suppliers will not mention the ability to negotiate on cost. Why would they? It’s just the same in your personal life. Your Satellite TV company won’t tell you the latest deals until you have phoned and threaten to leave. There isn’t a Martin Lewis for social housing, but it is rather straight forward……just ask.


Although there are rules, or to put it another way, activities you really should do in procurement, it is just as important to prepare well before you actually need to procure. As we said above, having your ducks in a row is just as important as the actual procurement itself. With the preparation in place and the prerequisites carried out, your procurement will carry less risk, very likely result in a better selection, cost less and at the same time align better to your business culture and strategy.

Innovation through technology in a social landlord. Is it for me?

Four truths

Let me first tell you a funny yet rather alarming story. I was working with a landlord a few years back, building a systems strategy that would help them solve a range of operational issues. Part of this process as any consultant knows is to interview, to talk, to understand people who are stakeholders/users of the systems. One day I was talking to a systems user. I was attempting to get across that ‘perhaps it would be a good idea to look at things differently, with an innovative hat on’. ‘Ah, he said, I have done that already. I innovatively created my own spreadsheet that does what I want.’ I cried into my coffee!

With that story in mind, beware that one person’s innovation is not necessarily the same as someone else’s.

But what is this thing called innovation? And is it for me?

When you google Innovation, it comes up with the following: ‘Innovation is the practical implementation of ideas that result in the introduction of new goods or services or improvement in offering goods or services. ISO TC 279 in the standard ISO 56000:2020 defines innovation as “a new or changed entity realizing or redistributing value’. I bet you didn’t know that it had its own standard that ‘provides the vocabulary, fundamental concepts and principles of innovation management and its systematic implementation’ Now, is it just me, or is that a bit counter intuitive having a standard for innovation? Maybe not! 

Innovation is not a new thing. People, yes ‘people’ have been innovating for a very long time. Business does not innovate, people innovate. So why has innovation hit the zeitgeist? Easy, we’ve hit a moment in time, certainly in social housing that the same old ways of working aren’t quite delivering any more. When you add the fantastic array of technological solutions available in today’s world, you do wonder what we are playing at.

I believe it is a lot simpler than a good deal of landlords think. There is no need to fear technology, and there is certainly no need to avoid looking at things differently. I do however see some signs of hope in that there are some landlords approaching service delivery with a much more technological focused strategy. I only this week seen a great post from Magenta Living about the adoption of drones. We have seen the use of Augmented reality to help repairs, more and more AI through the likes of chat bots. It is happening. But it is not happening enough and it is not happening quick enough.

We wanted to encourage landlords to go out there and at least re-think their technology and systems delivery, to re-think their use of data and how they can use it more and to generally do what we know is possible, and that is to improve operations and the customer experience through technology.

So, some words to encourage leaders in housing:

  • It’s not as expensive as you think to deploy new innovative technology solutions.
  • It does not need to be as lengthy and painful as process as you may think.
  • Being innovative is not as risky and ‘out there’ as you may think.
  • Yes, being innovate in the adoption of technology can improve and indeed save lives.

We obviously believe in the good technology can do. We know properly adopted technology can make a difference to the daily way in which employees carry out their jobs. This then has an impact on the end delivery to customers and their experience.

When you allow yourself to think and to generate ideas, it is great. When you allow others to think, to be creative, to be innovative it is enlightening. It creates a buzz. It created a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach that says, we’re trying. We’re using our brains; we’re doing the right thing by our customer. And surely that is the goal, to do the right thing by your customer. 

This then is surely the goal. The bettering of lives. Surely that is what social housing is all about.