The Secret Sauce

The Secret Sauce: that special set of ingredients that is kept a secret for the sake of a competitive advantage. So, imagine if you knew the ingredients. Wouldn’t that be great. We’ll cover more of that later.

Keeping up with the general pace of change in technology can be a real challenging time for landlords. The rate of change is fast, very fast. The world of technology, whether it be IoT, Computing power, Cloud based systems, AI, ML, AR (Surely you know what they are by now without me spelling them out) is moving fast and are all here, and here to stay. Although this is great news, it’s not actually all about the technology.

The other rate of change we are seeing right now in the social housing sector is availability of different systems, the acquisitions of traditional suppliers by larger suppliers, the introduction of new suppliers that are challenging the status quo, and the advent of the sector starting to adopt things like Low Code as a viable option to such things as help desks, CRM systems and more. It can be a bit overwhelming when you bring it all together. So, what hope do you have when considering a project to improve your systems and you want to know what is out there, how to find out what systems are available, what technology is about?

Stagnation

On talking to a friend in the sector the other day, she agreed that, for the first time in a while, we have not seen this much movement, change and options as far as systems and technology are concerned. Innovation is also ripe, yet there is still one issue we see.

Many landlords are not seeing all the options open to them clearly. It is easy to go to a conference and see lots of suppliers talk about their system, and to talk about their new technology and how it makes a difference. The truth is their system probably does make a difference. It may make a difference to you, or it may not. It may make a difference to another landlord but again this may not work for you.

So, why is this the case? Why do some achieve success in finding and adopting new technology and some don’t? Well, it’s all about the way ‘you’ approach your change project. Believe it or not, the software or indeed the technology is not the answer to all your problems. The truth is ‘you’ are the biggest challenge. Yes, it’s people, organisational nuances, culture, experience, well you get the point. It is all about the way ‘you’ go about it! The software is key, but you and the way you implement it is even more critical. 

So, is there a ‘secret sauce’ in finding the right housing technology? 

You see, we are all guilty of being seduced by a demonstration, a pitch, a post or two that shows off the latest wonders in a new software application. It really does look good sometimes. But again, what works well for one and not another is a fine line. But what if there was an actual secret sauce?

What are the ingredients of this secret sauce?  We will pick three, but like most secret sauces we are not giving you all the component parts. That’s a secret!

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions

The first, not so secret ingredient is knowing how to successfully move from A to B. In the world of systems change and consultancy this is called ‘transformation’. It makes it sound clever, indeed almost untouchable in that only rocket scientists can carry out. It does take some real experience and knowledge to be able to carry out systems transformation projects, but it’s certainly not rocket science.

You should however not try it for the first time without seeking some level of advice, bringing some resource in, or asking/talking to others. In fact, you could do all of these. The point about transformation is in the early stages, the planning. Careful thought and due diligence are all early must’s but also important is the ongoing governance of a transformation project. Dot the I’s and cross those T’s when planning. Think what you need to do in detail and do it.

2. It’s all about the money…

The next ingredient, as Cuba Gooding Junior said in Jerry McGuire is ‘Show me the money’. It may sound obvious, but I see this all the time. A great deal of landlords do not adequately budget for change. Some do, but most don’t. It’s a fact. 

And when I talk about budgets, I don’t mean pie in the sky stuff. Like above, do some benchmarking, ask some who have done it before, ask suppliers in soft market exercises for ballpark figures. They will oblige. Whatever you do, do not guess, and do not go into a project without an idea as to what your spend + x is. By the way, x is your contingency pot. You may overspend. That’s another fact.

3. Respect the project

The third ingredient I’ll tell you about is programme resourcing.

When working with a landlord some years ago, we brought in a very experienced project manager that had delivered projects across the world, in many different sectors and industries. He spent a little time with us showing us the secrets to programme and project management, especially managing multiple projects at once.

One thing always stuck in my mind and to this day I try and get across to people I work with. It may sound obvious, but the tip is this:

All in all…

Do not try and do too much overall.

Instead of doing 10 projects, failing on 7 overspending on 5, never seeming to end 2 and finishing one on time, under budget and being seen as a success, do 3 Projects, and succeed on all 3, seeing rewards, seeing success and then able to move on and do the next set. 

It’s about picking your battles and being successful. You will get thanks for this instead of tying too much and failing on most.

So, there is so much going on within the world of technology in social housing. It need not be as complicated as it first seems. The secret sauce goes a long way to making change successful, but remember, it’s not actually that secret. It’s more common sense.

Want to find out how to cut through the noise and find your own secret sauce? We can help at DTL Creative.

Complacence in Compliance

Not too long ago I attended and spoke at a small seminar on Gas Compliance and was staggered at some of the safety issues that exist in general, but also in relation to the social housing sector specifically and the challenges imposed on landlords.

This then got me thinking about compliance in general and how the sector looks at this. The statistics are staggering and the risks high, yet some landlords aren’t looking at it seriously enough. This isn’t borne just out of what people were saying at the event but also my own experience in talking to and working with landlords themselves.

I’ll begin with the issues facing landlords and then take a look from the other side of the fence at those tasked with providing solutions to help landlords.

Issues landlords face

Legislation: Ever changing and complicated, it’s not only hard to navigate but incredibly important this is dealt with properly. The accountability of a landlord to deliver processes and solutions in compliance is high and the legislation is there for a reason: to keep your tenants safe and you as a landlord covered!

Evidence: How does a landlord evidence what’s being done in the area of compliance? To evidence activity, it needs to be simple and cost effective but also needs to be watertight (no pun intended). When looking at control and ensuring you can evidence what’s been done, there are a few critical areas to be considered: data, and the need to have the highest possible quality of data; and to make sure it’s secure and follows legislation is critical these days. Ignore it at your peril. Process mapping and understanding who does what is another.

Change: Change is never easy. One fact of business is that a great deal of folks don’t like change. So, change needs to be controlled and documented. It can be a powerful area if you get it right. But it can also be the main difference to winning hearts and minds. Use change management sensibly.

Cost: It had to be mentioned, didn’t it! We don’t have bottomless pockets, so the need to be ever cost effective is obvious, but evidence the spend. We are big fans of looking at return on investment, and in many solutions the investment can be very much worth it, bringing cost savings.

Systems integration and architecture: From a systems perspective it’s so important to ensure that the systems you use work seamlessly together. This isn’t just important from the perspective of data as we mentioned earlier, but also to ensure that you can have a productive set of processes that are implemented thought your software. If you have separated/siloed systems, you’ll suffer and so will your tenants.

Blockers

Now that we’ve identified the issues landlords face, it’s worth looking at some traditional blockers that exist.

On occasion we come across what we refer to as legacy and the many attempts to hold on to it. How many times have you heard folks say, ‘We have always done it that way’?

When you look at this in a little more detail, we simplify it into:

People and behaviour: Going back to that ‘We have always done it that way’ and people don’t like change comment, it starts to make sense. People and their nature like comfort, and when you take them out of that comfort zone it’s, well, uncomfortable. So, the trick is to make it as comfortable as possible. That’s another article altogether, but you get the point: it doesn’t need to be awkward.

Ownership: Sometimes it seems near impossible to work out who’s in charge. Who’s responsible for delivering compliance within a housing provider? It’s not the easiest thing to identify. And herein lies a common issue. You need accountability.

Resource: Accountability is key, and who does what is another. But if you’re to look at how you carry out compliance improvements, or general day-to-day management of compliance, who does it? Can you seriously do it with who you have, or if you are to up your level of compliance management, do you need to recruit or reorganise?

What tends to happen?

Spreadsheets: We simply can’t escape them. We know they exist. We have seen asbestos managed purely on spreadsheets. Legionella as well. I can’t imagine there’d be many hands raised if we asked who thought this was a good idea.

Responsive/Reactive in nature: When it comes to process, there are many landlords we come across who tend to wait for something to break before fixing it. Imagine if you could predict and get to the issue before it happens. It makes sense, cost is reduced, efficiency is increased, and dare we say dangers reduced and safety increased. Software and technology can help, yet the take up is not as high as it should be.

Not enough questions: When we look at software and process-driven solutions in relation to compliance, sometimes the needed questions are missed or simply avoided. Some key questions to ask are:

Do we feel we are we on top of this? Do we ensure evidence through proper data management and systems control? Are we allowing transparency in the use of systems?

These are only a few necessary questions, but the point is that questions should be asked. Just because you always did it that way, does not mean it’s the best way to continue.

The way forward

Technology is key. In every other aspect of business, in every other sector, we’d see software services deliver solutions in such areas. There are many solutions available to social housing, so if we address some of the basics above, and we look at the solutions available, perhaps complacencies in compliance can be reduced. We can, rather simply, if effort is made:

Housing Management Systems: 5 lessons from experience

“Why did we ever buy this @^&@ system?”

You’ve bought a new, shiny, all encompassing, truly amazing best of all housing management systems. Or at least that is what the supplier said at the conference. It can do this and that, it can change your life forever, it can transform the way you do things for the better. However, can it?

First up, of course it can. The above is not necessarily a dig at the suppliers. We believe ‘most’ of the housing management systems out there are very good systems, and ‘can’ potentially deliver some improvements in your operations, improve your customer satisfaction, and give you more insight into your data, your performance, your service delivery. 

We say ‘can’. There is that word again. Can.

We are saying that it ‘can’ do a good job, but only if it is implemented well. And that is the hard part, implementing well.

I have been involved in many housing management systems implementations and I could write a book on the subject (now there’s an idea). We have been doing it for a while now, and although systems have evolved, and are technically more advanced, the same old issues of systems transformation rear their very ugly head again and again.

As a consultancy, we find ourselves in the main getting involved in two lines of work with housing systems.

1.     We get involved from the start.

2.     We are brought in to rescue a failing project.

The second is usually needed after some or all of the areas below have occurred.

5 Lessons to avoid classic procurement mistakes

So, we have, hoping some will take heed, set out five lessons in avoiding the classic mistake of ‘forgetting why you bought it in the first place’. 

1. The Need

There has to be a need. Someone somewhere in your organisation has stood up and said we ‘need’ a new system because of, well, something.

We don’t want to focus on specific needs, but what we do want to say is that it never surprises us that landlords seem to lose sight of these as the project goes on.

They should be omni-present, and they should be agreed, documented, reported on, all staff/users made aware of, communicated to the supplier, communicated to a consultancy, third parties and so on.

Develop a reporting mechanism in your project that says, ‘Hey, we are implementing this system because……and we are going to make sure we deliver to this’.

2. Training

Training is one area that surprises us. Why on earth do some of the suppliers carry out classroom training or train the trainer before the system is ready for it. They do it way too early in the project. It’s fine to train those involved as part of the project team, and its fine to give an initial system overview, but please do not attempt to carry out anything more than this until the very later stages of the project, and only do it on the actual final data set. It is then, and only then that it makes sense to the many who will use the system/s.

Finally, people forget. So, leave the training to as late as possible.

3. Teamwork and Roles

Our experience has shown us a few classic traits in systems projects relating to team working. They are:

·     Landlords under staff their projects. Too often, there is not enough involvement from a project management perspective. IT, operational departments, and yes, you! the senior folks, the sponsors. Resource your project responsibly with the due care and attention something of this scale requires.

·     Landlords lump it all on one person. Don’t fall under the trap of saying, “Pete, you can do it, right? You once used a ZX Spectrum, so you know about these things”.

·     There is no liaison. Make sure someone is available to be the main conduit to the supplier and that they talk to them. This should really be your PM. Make sure this person controls the communication and is the main conduit. Avoid multi-channel chat between the supplier and all your different staff as there needs to be control, otherwise it will all go haywire.

·     Understand the roles. Don’t just rely on the supplier to create the project governance. Write your own PID, and get the Roles and Responsibilities detailed out. It will make a big difference.

4. Architecture

Systems architecture is the key to making the system shine. Any housing management system out there really only comes to life when it works well with your other systems. You’ll hear about things such as the finance system integration/interface and so on. You will hear about magical technologies such as web services. You will hear about flat file methods of getting data across, or real time interfaces. 

Ignore all of that! Until it is time. Start off thinking about how you work, and what information you need to pass or be visible between different departments, then you can rely on the technical architects to make it happen.

Draw your intentions in a diagram and include it in the project documentation.  It will make a difference when consultants and staff want to understand what is in scope, what will work what, and what the intentions of particular interfaces are. As a minimum we would want to see a solution design document that encompasses the details. 

5. What did we buy again?

Some of you reading this will know what we are talking about here. 

You would think that between the supplier and the buyer it is known what was purchased. But we have seen countless times where it is not clear. 

Most systems out there are based around modules such as repairs, rents, ASB, CRM and so on. Make sure you have these referenced back to the contract/agreement you had following your tender.

The same goes for areas such as consultancy days, expenses, and so on. 

Simply put, the flow of Tender >  Contract > Delivery is critical, and someone needs to know and own the overall commercial and contractual delivery and how this relates to your project delivery. When you said you wanted ‘this and that’ in your tender and then supplier X won, based on those requirements, it ends up in a contract cementing these requirements. There is now a commitment to deliver. Then, comes the part of making it happen, and ensuring what you bought and what is being delivered is one and the same.

Project Control is Key

We have seen a real disconnect in some projects where the direction the project was taking was nothing like what was contracted to be delivered. This is where the project control is so important. And if you go back my first point about the ‘need’, it may just all start to make more sense. 

There is an old saying, “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. It’s also true in systems transformation projects.

If you need some help with getting it right, we have loads of experience with most housing management systems; get in touch!

Opportunities for applying VR and AR in social housing today!

Use of VR and AR in Housing

Recently, we’ve been speaking to several housing associations about the opportunities presented by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

From these discussions I have come to some conclusions about how ‘ready’ t#ukhousing is for VR and AR. I’ve also learned how strong, or otherwise, the current business case is for housing associations to take VR and AR seriously.

These conclusions are:

  • Wide adoption of VR and AR within the sector is still a long way off. We’re currently at the stage of piloting and testing on a smaller scale. A requirement at this stage is to find solutions that are relatively low cost. They should also have minimal barriers to entry. They also have to present a fairly low level of risk;
  • The business case needs to be rock solid. VR and AR are both technologies that are at risk of slipping into the ‘nice to have’ or ‘tech for tech sake’ category. This is leading to a perception of novelty over practical value; and
  • We need to think beyond current sector processes and norms when we consider how we might apply VR and AR.

This led me to develop the following list which sets out three applications that I would consider are immediate opportunities for those interested in experimenting with VR and AR within the social housing sector.

Augmented Reality for Remote Repairs Support

mage: www.kingdomhousing.org.uk

Recently, Kingdom Housing Association worked with XM Reality to deliver an AR solution. This solution allows a trades operative to be virtually present in a tenant’s home. They can then see the issue in real time using video technology on a mobile phone or tablet. This enables them to offer support and advice by having their hand superimposed on the scene in the tenant’s home.

More information about how this approach can deliver real business and customer benefits can be found at Kingdom Uses Augmented Reality Technology – Kingdom Housing | Kingdom HA, Fife

360 Property Tours with Matterport

For free (or for advanced features as little as £7.99 a month) with Matterport, you can capture a space in 3D with your smartphone and provide your staff and customers with 360 property tours. Imagine if senior stakeholders could review the condition of a void property virtually while in the office. Or, if you could conduct desktop tours of multiple properties with an applicant, before progressing to an in-person site visit.

Immersive Experiences

Image: www.carechoices.co.uk

Beyond the two more obvious applications above, there is now a wealth of VR content available for free online. You can buy a decent VR headset for around £50 and pair it with a smartphone. This could be used for a wide range of things, including to put staff in the shoes of someone with dementia, for engaging customers in education & learning, or as an immersive therapy option. Or, in housing, to do a virtual viewing!

There is more out there, go and see!

The list above is by no means exhaustive. But, part of our role is to prompt ideas and discover new ways of applying technology to deliver benefits together. I hope we can use it to generate more use cases to add weight to the VR and AR business case for social housing. If you need some help with that, we’re more than happy to have a chat and introduce you to our network!