I’ll show you mine if you show me yours…

Pic borrowed from the lovely people at ITPro

Big Data maybe the buzzword of the day, but it is in the small data where real nuggets of gold can be found.  Working in a team that heavily uses data, figures, numbers and spreadsheets you often get flashbacks to school days.  Where the pretty girl would only speak to you when she needed help with algebra (don’t worry the joke was on her, I sucked at algebra).  It’s not so much that data/performance figures are forgotten about, you can bet your bottom dollar the whole world and its pet gofer will be chasing you up at quarter and year-end.  But most see it as someone else’s business/job, an add-on to theirs, nothing more.

Part of my current role is to get people to use data, not just more often but more effectively.  I luckily avoid most of the negotiations with operationally focused managers looking to hit targets by ‘trimming the fat’.  What I tend to delve into is providing support on bespoke requests.  These can range from the disturbingly detailed “I need to know the locations of all ASB cases committed by left-handed tenants with a distinct love of the writings of Nietzsche”.  To more simple pieces like “I want to see changes in customer satisfaction in relation to repairs over a period of x years”.

OK I made up the first one but it neatly highlights the occasionally left-field requests that you get.  And the general lack of understanding of the data that an organisation holds.  Indeed the most often used phrase the team I operate in is Why?  Not to be deliberately pernickety or condescending but because a lot of the time the requests that come in are continuously evolving ones.  Someone has had a spark of something, somewhere and we need help to draw out what is required.  Sometimes it is just to say, no you don’t need that information on a sodding map.

Of course ensuring the data we use/keep is up to date and correct is a whole industry in itself, something I have lamented long and hard about before.  But as a provider of social housing we have at our disposal a fair whack of information.  Good job we’re not on the side of evil then…

Typically the data held by a housing association can be split into 3 parts.  The household, the property and the tenancy. Crucially this is information either held by an organisation in perpetuity as it relates to their assets (x number of bedrooms in x number of properties), is data given to us by the customer (date of birth, email etc – FYI you still need to be able to justify why you have this info, otherwise the Information Commissioner will be so far up your booty they will be able to tickle your tonsils) or tenancy management data (Mrs Jones has been mooning next door again).

The key facet to these data sets is trust.  The rest of the organisation needs to trust that the data you are providing is sound (and that is before you get to the tenants themselves!) and that it can aid them in the day-to-day roles they undertake.  Simple things like mapping out arrears cases or ASB issues can help prioritise workloads/staffing levels.  Looking at the areas with the most possession orders against levels of deprivation and customer segmentation data (if you have it) can also help.  But mostly it is about drawing out the data so that it is something useful.  Because let’s face it, figures on their own are dull, dull, dull.  And that is coming from a guy who sits and uses spreadsheets for 90% of his day*.

Big data projects for housing are on the horizon, but as this is social housing that horizon is a long way in the distance.  In the meantime, if you aren’t already, look at the small data and use it a bit more wisely.

*The other 10% of the time is spent being awesome and doing other work related things.

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