Report from Sheffield Hallam University highlights the sector still has work to do around data and their approaches to Universal Credit.
So first off here’s the caveats, whilst researched and published by Sheffield Hallam the report was commissioned by Housing Partners. Given that their primary business is heavily tied into providing IT solutions to the social housing sector a pinch of salt is needed here. That being said SHU has a long history of research, particularly in the social housing sector. Hell they even had the pleasure of my company for a year whilst I bumbled my way through a Masters Degree there. Forgiving the deepest of sins (I did my undergrad degree at the University of Sheffield) #UniTilliDie and fundamentally both the report, and Housing Partners’ associated trumpeting of it, carry some weight.
Given the monumental delays, recriminations, borderline lies and fluster coming from Iain ‘never knowingly gives sound statistics’ Duncan Smith and the DWP you would be forgiven for forgetting that we are midway through the roll out of Universal Credit. And whilst there are undoubtedly many more rocky steps to take, piss poor project management aside, it is here to stay. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see that a number of social landlords are still in a bit of a muddle around their customer’s data. The greatest advantage we have as a sector is that there is no element of surprise, rumblings around UC started in 2010, so we don’t really have an excuse. But the findings from the guys and gals t’up north show the same issues that we had a couple of years ago are still around. It does make you wonder what the fudge have we been doing?
I appreciate the monumental task at hand, particularly for the larger social landlords. People move in and out of our properties, have kids, get married, get divorced, get married again (on a number of occasions to the person they divorced) etc etc. Mobile phone numbers are as concrete as a chocolate tea-pot and no-one and I mean no-one takes ownership of the bloody data. But it is not just the day to day grind around data that we appear to have a problem with. As usual there appears to be a disconnect between the IT systems we have, and the systems we need to use. I say this from something of an odd position because the organisations I have worked with have had pretty solid, if unspectacular IT systems. Their data collection, protection and insight processes, whilst not perfect, are pretty advanced and are being used in the correct way i.e. to inform the business and improve customer satisfaction.
The most interesting thing about the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit and now the report from SHU and Housing Partners (from a purely data point of view, not the suffering and utter shiteness of the policies themselves) is that they have illustrated how little we know about our customers. Or in some cases our own stock. It does make you wonder what the situation would have been like without such external stimuli. Would we as a sector remained largely oblivious to how bad our data was?
Many organisations when the Bedroom Tax came out probably looked at undertaking a census. No doubt many who responded to SHU’s survey are thinking of doing the same again. These bad boys are great at providing a big bang effect. It will indicate areas where you have been lacking data (typically you will see a sudden spike in certain demographics sets) but they are only part of the solution. It is in the day to day interactions that you will gather the majority of your information. To truly keep your data fresh you need identify how and when you and your customers interact and make the most of those opportunities. You also need to make sure you properly store the data you already have.
I find it deeply alarming that some 42% of the 167 or so organisations surveyed admitted to using paper based systems (i.e. paper) to store some data on its tenants. This is utterly horrendous and frankly unforgiveable. Storing data on off-system spreadsheets is bad enough, but paper? How the hell do you ensure any consistency, any accountability and any basic audit trail if part of your data is on paper!? If your IT system can’t store the data you need there are plenty of options out there. Side note, if you are procuring make sure the business and not the IT bod is the customer and the lead on the project. IT facilitate, they don’t lead on business focused IT procurement. Though quite often no-one tells them that.
By and large data is a simple beast. Work out what you need, why you need it, how you are going to store it, how are you going to keep it fresh but most importantly how are you going to use it. That my friends is basically it. Everything else is just mere details.