If housing was given its end of year report there is one area that would, consistently, get a ‘must try harder’ mark, IT. However, a bit like the overweight kid secretly helping themselves to extra pie in the small hours, we are in serious denial as a sector, both about where we are in terms of using IT, and where we should be.
At the moment I am back at the hotel du Mom ‘n’ Pops (cheers sodding expensive to live in Britain) but I had, until the back end of last year, been away from the nest for the better part of a 7 years. During this period a substantial amount of changes to the way in which I paid my bills, did my banking or even ordered my beloved pizza happened. All can now be done without phoning anyone or even turning on my PC (yes I have a PC, f@*k Apple and f@*k their Macs, I like my mouses to have a right click button thank you very much). Housing, although catching up, still has a long way to go.
It is not just the innovation of the private sector, but the speed of the changes that has always struck me. It is one of the pros of a free(ish) market, if there is a way to make it easier to take money off someone a business will find it*. The same cannot be said for the social housing sector. I am constantly appalled at the snails pace at which the social housing sector reacts to the quickly changing world around it. Maybe we are cautious beasts, maybe it’s a cultural hangover from pre-stock transfer days, but social landlords are about as nimble as an oil tanker attempting a handbrake turn when it comes to advances in IT. We are even worse at implementing said IT upgrades.
If you think we aren’t too shabby at IT I will refer you to your organisation’s mobile phone app (if you have one). I’m guessing it is probably only iOS compatible and is largely not fit for purpose. The first generation tended to be email pushers i.e. instead of being linked up to your housing management system an email would be generated. What is the god damn point in simply having something that pushes an email that someone then has to reply to? Thankfully, after realising the first generation of apps were bollocks, a second wave does appear to be on the horizon. Halton Housing Trust are doing what housing organisations should have done the first time round and are linking the damn thing with their housing management system. It has however taken a little while for social landlords to realise the error of the first batch and, as ever, we are playing catch up with everyone else. My favourite response to a housing app can be seen below. I’ve been a gent and spared both the organisation and the app developer’s blushes. The comment is rather apt I feel. Sorry kids that is definitely a ‘Must do better next time’ grade from me.
There does appear to a genuine attempt at rectifying our naivety around technology and to stimulate some innovation. Paul Taylor at Bromford has recently been proposing the idea as to whether housing associations should have innovation labs. My answer is yes. God yes, with a cherry on top. But for the love of whichever deity you feel the need to pray/sacrifice unwanted children to please hire people with the right skill set to make it work. Don’t just get Janyce from housing to do the job because she’s full of ideas and a bit whacky. Hire people who do this malark for a living, introduce them to Janyce so they can understand how housing works and let them take the lead from there. Far too often we hire from within as a sector when we don’t have the right skill sets. This needs to change, like the DNA pool of Norwich sometimes you need to get in new blood. This appears to be the case at Bromford. I hope many will follow suit. Innovation by its very nature breeds fresh approaches, a greater willingness to try the untested and a better trust of technology. All good things in my book.
So as the little minions that brighten up our lives and lighten our wallets prepare for a near (but so far) summer break of excitement I hope the housing world takes the time to refresh and renew efforts to make the most of technological advances that have occurred. If we don’t we will run the risk of being left behind in the next great leap forward.
*By no stretch of the imagination is this an endorsement for Milton Friedman or Fredrich Von Hayek, their arguments are as flawed as the boring as hell publications they’re presented them in. Although for balance (incidentally other right-wing neo-liberal thinkers are available) the stodginess of the writings of Messrs. Friedman and Von Hayek is matched only by Karl Marx’s Das Capital, a book so treacle-esk I thought of selling it as such.