Ask Alexa: How will digital innovation disrupt the social housing sector?

Ask Alexa: How will digital innovation disrupt the social housing sector?

Although digital innovation is becoming an integral part of everyday life, social housing providers are often slow at adapting to this. David Done, Chief Executive of RHP, Helen McGregor, Director of Investment and Strategy at Notting Hill Housing and Peter Watson, Director of Engage Property Technology discussed the issue at Homes 2017. LABM’s Sophie Taylor finds out more.

The incentives
According to RHP, over 90% of a housing association’s tasks can be done digitally, offering huge savings in both time and cost. Digital services are accessible for tenants: RHP undertook research which revealed that 92% of their tenants owned or had access to a digital device. Furthermore, LSL Property Services research found that 72% of tenants would be willing to report housing issues online, making housing services quicker, easier and more convenient.

The challenges
Peter Watson believes that many digital housing services fail because they are hidden within a corporate-looking website, and are not personalised enough. Therefore, it is essential for the user experience to be correctly developed to incentivise residents to use it. To provide a flexible service, social housing providers must use business-wise systems. However, the change to digital needs to be part of a wider business strategy, requiring serious investment, a fundamental redesign of customer services, and behavioural changes within the organisation.

An RHPi customer using the service on their mobile

RHP’s transformation to digital was developed in two stages: providing a fully-digital housing service for new tenants in April 2016 and rolling out this service to existing tenants in April 2017. David Done stated that the goal of digitalising the service was “to radically cut the cost of the landlord service whilst delivering an exceptional customer experience.” Rolled out 18 months ago, RHPi is a tailored service for new customers. The platform is used to deliver quality homes on five-year fixed term tenancies, with affordable rents and 24/7 online support. Pictured above is an RHPi customer signing their e-tenancy alongside RHP Lettings Advisor Marian. Within two years, 70% of transactions were online, and the cost of contact dropped, reducing overall operating costs to £3,500 per unit. Customer satisfaction has also increased and employees report being happier with the organisational change.

Notting Hill Housing
After being approached by PropTech start-up Purrmetrix, NHH decided to run a pilot using their remote sensor technology at a stock transfer estate. 240 ‘kitten’ sensors were placed in 20 flats, monitoring temperature, humidity and ventilation. Once the analytics data was received from Purrmetrix, NHH was able to uncover some issues which would have been difficult to find out without the technology. For example, NHH was able to discern whether problems were being caused by residents or by faults in the housing, and act appropriately to remedy this. The graphs below from one of the households show how their irregular heating patterns were causing spikes in humidity. By receiving data about the best performing properties, they were also able to give advice to lower performing properties about how to heat their homes more efficiently and reduce mould and condensation problems. Additionally, the sensors could be used to evaluate the success of any changes made by a household.

The future
As property management technology evolves, social housing providers will need to adapt their operations to become more efficient and provide a higher level of service to tenants. Not only will housing management systems be used for traditional services, they will also need to integrate with AI such as Amazon Alexa, the Internet of Things, and other new technologies that are set expand the opportunities of housing services.

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