By Will Costello, head of data, technology and architecture, Socitm Advisory

The latest report from the Housing Ombudsman is another call to action. In the Spotlight on Knowledge & Information Management (KIM) report, the sector is being held to account on data and information management.

“…poor data and record keeping is ubiquitous,” Richard Blakeway warns. And this only becomes more complex for those social landlords embarking upon a merger.

One challenge identified by the Ombudsman’s research is multiple systems being used for the same purpose.

“We have seen issues where landlords referred to systems not ‘speaking’ to each other and legacy data being inaccessible.”

Tenant complaints can be a key indicator of data gaps, failing processes and information mismanagement. When thinking about data and management in social housing, the Ombudsman reminds us that this is ultimately about people. When we get this wrong, trust can be eroded and it is tenants who are being failed.

Time and again we are brought in to work with organisations where consultants have underestimated the complexity and importance of data and systems in mergers and major change projects. It is landlords who are left to pick up the bill.

But there are ways to approach this with logic and efficiency, ensuring a smooth coming together and a better experience for people.

“A merger…is an opportunity to carry out due diligence on the systems, their compatibility and conduct risk assessments,” the report continues

As leaders across the sector begin to sit around the table to plan their futures, we’ve developed this six-step guide to making mergers a success when it comes to data and systems:

  1. Due diligence

Many organisations bring in large international management consultancies to work on the business case and target operating model.

Post-merger, it often becomes clear that IT and change considerations have not always taken into account the level of detail needed to ensure accurate projections. Ultimately, it often costs more and takes longer than predicted – with new skills needing to be brought in to complete the work.

At Socitm Advisory we are often called in to help unpick these challenges, providing pragmatism and clarity on next steps.

It is always prudent to consider investing in specialist IT support at the outset of a merger. That way you can get a detailed picture of the true state of your systems, processes and data and a properly quantified and costed roadmap for change.

  1. Enterprise Architecture

The first step on any new organisation’s IT roadmap is to set out how you want the overall ‘system’ to work.

What data do you need to run the business? How will processes work? How will systems knit together to enable this? And what does all of that mean for the structure? Enterprise Architecture is a way of looking at all of these things in combination, ensuring that change is managed effectively.

Housing providers do this in different ways – some create ‘Design Committees’ and determine everything by consensus, bringing the best of each individual organisation’s processes together. This takes more time, but can increase buy-in for change.  The downside can be lowest common denominator processes that are not optimised for the future.

Others create a focused, multi-disciplinary team that works to deliver the most efficient model against a set of principles agreed by the Executive and Board, with input from real users, including staff and tenants.

Whatever your approach, it’s important to find a way that works within the culture you want to create.

  1. Commercial

The legal agreements in place with your existing suppliers will also require novating across to the resulting legal entity.

Areas of change and cost are likely to be in numbers of users, costs of contracts, notice periods and renewal fees/dates and cancellation fees. There are also going to be systems that will be decommissioned over a period of time that result in contractual negotiations, in particular the movement of 3rd party integrations.

  1. Data and insight

Aside from the obvious need to ensure information is kept secure and only accessed by those that need to see it, the key challenges in merger situations are most likely to be the quality and differences in the existing data across the merging organisations.

Getting data right is an investment that isn’t often talked about upfront and yet can be a significant area of cost as it needs to be cleansed, archived, transformed to new structures and migrated to new systems.

Insight you gain from the data you hold is key to running an effective organisation. Once you understand what data you need to feed the insight you require, you can construct the detailed design of your systems, processes and underlying data structures to meet these needs.  If you’re aiming for predictive analytics for example, it will be important that data is held in a way that enables this, and ensures accuracy.  Plugging in Power BI and hoping for the best is not enough!

You will also need to consider the information needs at all levels of the organisation as well as those you engage with outside, including the Regulator.

  1. Legacy systems

With the rationalisation of your architecture, some systems will be retained, and others will be made redundant.

You will need to produce a roadmap to make sure that redundant systems are decommissioned safely, with relevant data migrated across to new or retained systems as well as any 3rd party integrations.

The end goal will be to have a rationalised infrastructure that requires the minimum amount of support and has the ability to grow to meet future demands.

  1. The people factor

Finally – and most importantly, none of this change is possible without people – first to do it, and then to sustain it.  IT and data is no longer the preserve of techies sat in a basement somewhere. Organisations need to carefully consider the detail of their supporting structure and the skills and experience needed to ensure successful day-to-day delivery and strategic risk mitigation.

In addition, organisations should commit to supporting their people at the heart of the change to better data and systems, to ensure entire teams are engaged, informed and equipped to embrace change.

For more information about Socitm Advisory’s support with IT modernisation, transformation and change programmes, contact [email protected].

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Read the Ombudsman’s report here.