In challenging times for housing, technology is key to unlocking efficiency

It might sound harsh but the 1% rent cut has finally created the conditions for housing to truly embrace transformation in a whole range of areas.

Boris Worrall is Executive Director of the Futures directorate at Orbit Group

Boris Worrall is Executive Director of the Futures directorate at Orbit Group

18 December 2015

One of those areas is technology, which many rightly see as the key to unlocking efficiency. But it will only be the multi-million pound game-changer we need if we align our digital investment strategies with significant culture change and replace our corporate view group-think with a genuine user-experience perspective. Which is obviously much easier said than done. So practically, what does that mean?

The starting point for change is first recognising the brutal reality. And that reality is that our systems and interfaces are generally awful when compared to the commercial world. Because we can get away with it. Or we could. But that has changed. Customers don’t use our digital services because they are not on the web (70% are and that figure is rising) or because they are somehow different to everyone else in the world. They don’t use them because from a user’s point of view, they are too often rubbish.

We need to take a fresh pair of eyes and look at the kind of user experience which would encourage us to use digital, rather than thinking about our offer in abstract, corporate terms. We then need brutal reality conversations with our contractors in key areas like repairs, and with our IT providers. Service has to start with what the customer wants, not reflect our internal silos, current technological limitations and complex contractual arrangements.

So while this is about changing our systems, that’s only half the story. We need to set an ambition to change the game and look outside of our organisations and beyond housing for inspiration. We cannot simply overlay ‘digital’ onto existing services, seeking to digitise what we do now in the hope that people suddenly and inexplicably change their behaviour. We need to re-invent what we mean by service and in doing so, create services which deliver a better user experience through the medium of digital. While the phone remains a quicker, easier, better and more reliable way of booking a repair than struggling to navigate a clunky website interface, channel shift will remain a distant dream. At its core, any digital service has to be better than what we do now. It’s less about channel shift and more about a shift in our thinking and ambition.


Boris will be leading a session on ‘embracing IT as the catalyst for digital change’ at the IT in Housing Conference and Exhibition which takes place 10-11 February 2016 at Chelsea Football Club in London.

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