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By Stewart Davison MSc, Head of Innovation, DTL Creative
The last 12 months have seen unprecedented change in the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These changes have been societal and have disproportionately affected sectors and businesses that have people at their heart. We have seen the economic impact on hospitality and travel, and the personal impact on primary and secondary care services.
With social housing (SH) being a ‘people-centric’ business, it was initially seen as a sector that would be massively impacted by the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. How would responsive repairs be carried out during lockdown? How could prospective tenants view properties? How could we effectively support vulnerable tenants, continue with property improvement programmes and construct new properties for rent?
SH providers, like all businesses, also had the challenge of making their workforce deliver their services remotely from their homes, rather than a centralised office. New questions had to be asked: Do we have enough laptops? Do our systems and infrastructure support the number of remote workers we now have? Can we continue to innovate with technology, or should we stay as we are?
Reflecting on the past year, SH has weathered the Covid-19 storm very well, and technology has been a key enabler for delivering service continuity, opening up many opportunities for providers to alter the way ‘it has always been done’.
We’ve seen the use of augmented reality in helping tenants deal with repairs issues; chat bots and intelligent agents managing the increasing demand on digital tenant interaction; and a wave of providers virtualising their technology infrastructures to ease the deployment of hundreds of remote workers.
These are the positives that many social landlords have been able to take advantage of, but there is still a vast swathe of the sector that has either been unwilling or unable to embrace the changes and benefits that technology can bring them.
It’s not through intransigence or lack of vision that many SH providers have not reaped the rewards that digital can bring: sometimes it’s a simple lack of knowledge and understanding of how their peers have been able to do something that, to them, looks improbable to say the least.
It was this knowledge and experience gap that led to HQN and DTL Creative teaming up to create the Innovation and Technology Network.
Throughout 2020, we’ve worked with both SH providers and technology suppliers to support a ‘thinking differently’ approach to tech adoption in social housing provision.
We will look to work with HQN to build a self-supporting community of likeminded housing and technology professionals, while providing content that enables organisations to embark upon projects that just 12 months ago may have seemed impossible.