As housing associations begin to embark on their digital transformation journey the message at this week’s Tech@Housing event in Manchester has been clear: don’t start with buying the technology, as this is only part of the answer.


Adopting shiny new technology and plastering it over outdated systems and processes will only cause new problems, rather than solve existing ones.


Transformation is about changing mindsets, ways of working and putting the customer experience first.


Here we’ve outlined our top 14 tips for a smooth running transformation program:


1. Set clear outcomes: document what you are trying to achieve, the benefits of transformation, and set outcomes from the start. A lack of clarity about what you want to achieve is often the biggest stumbling block to a successful transformation. The outcomes should be focused around what is best for the customer (your tenants) and colleagues, not about IT. Transformation is about making a positive difference to people’s lives. So, be clear on the problem you’re trying to solve and keep focused on resolving it.


2. Ensure sponsorship from the start: a successful transformation program should be led by the chief executive. Transformation should be on the board’s agenda every month to ensure that it happens. The executive team also need to support the vision. The organisational strategy for every housing association should be about delivering better outcomes for customers. If your exec team is making statements like ‘it might take longer’, ‘you might need more people’ – then you’ve got a problem.


3. Get stakeholder buy-in: similarly to the point above, it is essential to involve key stakeholders from the start. This should include front line staff and tenants, as well as business decision makers and people who have an influence on finance. Transformation is not just an IT problem, or a procurement problem; it is first and foremost a way of thinking, and about remodelling the way we work, and everyone needs to be on board to make the necessary changes happen.


4. Empower people to make a change: collaborative working will underpin the success of any transformation. You need to empower the right people to make decisions. Housing associations have notoriously been run by committee, but in order to make transformation happen you need to select a few people to make the decisions. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a two-pizza rule – i.e. you should never have a meeting where two pizzas couldn’t feed the entire team. The more people in the room, the less productive you’ll be.


5. Simplify processes: Apple’s motto is to simplify, simplify, simplify. In the words of Einstein, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” Yet, housing associations are guilty of having very complicated ways of working. Transformation is about making your services as simple, straightforward and standard as possible. So, if you don’t simplify your systems and processes, you cannot take advantage of the new technologies available.


6. Adopt an agile way of working: once transformation begins it doesn’t stop. You need to keep moving, adapting and challenging old ways of working. Decision making in housing associations has traditionally taken time – everything has needed to be documented, presented and approved. Yet, in order to make things happen, these need to be refined, and colleagues need to be empowered to make decisions without having to go through a lengthy approval process.


7. Find your catalyst: many leading tech providers run ‘think tanks’ for housing associations to join in free of charge. Take advantage of these. Attend and spend time with tech companies, digital agencies and partners who are already digitally transforming other industries. Pick their brains on what has/hasn’t worked in other sectors and share the challenges you’re facing, themes and trends happening in your industry. These meetings can act as a catalyst, introducing you to people who can help provide solutions to your problems.


8. Ring fence R&D money: it is hard to spend money on R&D, but this is what every successful business is doing in order to survive the digital revolution. Creating a ring-fenced innovation fun, that gives people the opportunity to step away from what they had been doing, helps with continuous improvement. It’s all about investing time in understanding your business and using the funding to drive innovation.


9. Collect and analyse data: from now on you will need to collect and analyse data. This will give you a better understanding of the outcomes for your customers and help you to build an infrastructure that provides for people’s actual needs, rather than the ones you reckon they need. Data is a form of collective intelligence that will help you to solve complex problems your business faces.


10. Start with making just one service excellent: don’t rush to put every service online. Start with one and make it excellent from a user perspective. You will quickly lose customers if you rush to put all services online and haven’t thought about the customer experience properly. If your customers have a bad experience online they will revert to old ways of communicating with you like calling your customer service centre again.


11. Ensure your internal processes can support your new service: you have to ensure that your back-end systems and ways of working support the new online services. If you implement a new service that you can’t support, then you will create frustration for your customer and will lose their trust.


12. Automate rules-based work: approximately 60-70% of the tasks that you do are rule-based, and if they are rules-based they can be automated. Introducing automation is not about making efficiencies around staff or people losing their jobs, it’s about using people’s time in more focused areas – i.e. they can spend time interacting/talking to people, looking after people whose needs are greatest. Automation can free up your workforce to support more tenants face to face.


13. Use tech to solve problems: AI and machine learning can be used to help make systems and processes more efficient. For example, some housing associations are now using AI to help them map journeys – suggesting routes that not only save the housing officer time but fuel too. Introducing smart sensors and IoT devices into homes can help to meet the needs of residents – i.e. they can automatically report a damp problem, detect faulty boilers or even monitor if elderly residents have had a fall, etc.


14. Put the customer experience first: digital natives expect information on demand and on an app, and housing association tenants are the same. The days of asking them to ring a call centre to report a fault or problem are numbered. Likewise, offering them a time-slot of between 9am-1pm is no longer acceptable. Housing Associations, like every other business, have to compete with the likes of Netflix in terms of offering the best customer experience possible.


ORM is Moat’s strategic digital partner. We designed and delivered their brand new website, and supported Moat's own in-house developers in the delivery of their portal – check out the video to see how it looks. Why not talk to us about how we can assist your housing association’s digital transformation?