Leaning up and becoming scalable: The future for housing associations

The UK’s housing associations are under strain – here head of public sector UKI at SAP, Satpal Biant, discusses how housing associations across the UK can transform to become both lean and scalable

Posted 21 September 2022 by Christine Horton

The strain being faced by housing associations in the UK is well documented and is absolutely no secret. In fact, despite owning approximately 10 percent of total rent stock in the UK, they’re finding themselves under considerable pressure. After a tough couple of years throughout the pandemic, housing associations are finding there’s an even greater demand on their services, with the increasing costs of living and a series of budget cuts putting them under ongoing strain. Running lean and efficient core business services is now more critical than ever, whether across construction, HR or finance. At the same time, it’s equally critical that housing associations are meeting the demands of their tenants and residents, only then can they start to expect long-term survival.

With so much attention now turned to the services housing associations are delivering, they need to pivot their operations and relook at their efficiency. 

For some industries the move to greater digital efficiency has been easy, but for the housing associations that are still beset with legacy IT and technical debt, making the shift to digital is much more difficult. Having adopted a disaggregated approach to onboarding tech solutions, applications often find themselves siloed from each other, unable to communicate and share data.

It is now critical that housing associations recognise the value of moving their business processes onto one unified platform, in the cloud, and understand how this can unlock real-time data analysis capabilities. For example, with increased access to data from across different business operations, associations can switch from a reactive to a proactive approach to property management, addressing common issues before they arise and mitigate against costly, unexpected challenges.

In this article, I’ll address the importance of adopting the technology for real-world benefits – in turn providing an efficient service that positively impacts on the lives it touches.

The ongoing Covid-19 impact

The pandemic has profoundly impacted all of our lives, and the lives of those we interact with. For housing associations, many have now been left with empty properties and rising costs – a situation which is only going to be exacerbated further with the continued increase to the cost of living.

According to a recent study by accounting firm, RSM, almost two thirds social housing organisations have seen a rise in their rent arrears and an increase in the number of empty properties on their rosters due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a theme that is prevalent up and down the country. The same survey also highlighted how residents now feel the services provided by housing associations are also declining in value – with maintenance issues taking longer to solve and difficulties in being able to speak with support teams. This all points to a worrying downward trend across the industry. 

But, there is a way this can be overcome. Traditionally housing associations have been behind the curve when it comes to implementing new technologies across their business – due to either limited funds or the sheer size of the operations. The impact of the last two years has highlighted the need for greater efficiency and communication, and by deploying the right technology this can be easily achieved – it’s not always the case of burning through budgets. 

Should housing associations choose to deploy innovative tech solutions, they will be able to get a greater insight into their entire collection of properties and tenants almost instantaneously. By having a solution in place which provides real-time data analysis, in the cloud, associations will be able to make operational predictions and take a proactive management approach before something goes wrong, for example identifying when a boiler is likely to break or when a tenant is likely to enter arrears. By doing this, housing associations can not only deliver more efficient and positive services to their tenants, but in turn reduce the associated costs that come with delayed maintenance and missed financial difficulties.

The benefits of deploying innovative technology solutions across the organisation will not only help to support tenants, but also those working within housing associations. By being up-to-speed with the latest tech associations can see their talent retention increase, as well as attracting new staff into the business and ensure their wellbeing at work is above average. These developments in technology will also help to create a sustainable supply chain for associations, helping them to build more properties, support more of the public, and leverage the benefits of a global business network.

Looking back on the achievements of others

For housing associations, and any organisation looking to succeed in such a fast-paced and unpredictable environment, learning from others has to be a priority. If we can’t look at how others are doing it, what they’re doing right and where they may have gone wrong, we can’t build a successful operation.

One of the UK’s largest housing associations is currently managing more than 100,000 accommodation units across the breadth of the country – including care homes with the help of innovative technologies. As part of its modernisation, the team made the decision to unite its business applications and embrace data at its heart.

Not only is it an organisation that other housing associations should look to as a guide, but it is a prime example of how to grow by learning from another. The organisation has identified the value of having readily accessible, readable and constantly updated data from the experiences of others who have already made this change and are seeing results, and in turn has experienced its own growth. The housing association is using a unified cloud platform, which includes custom applications and industry specific solutions, to drive innovation across its entire portfolio. Being located in the cloud, the Association is able to make changes across the business, giving all those working for the organisation access to the relevant data and information – and not running the risk of any of this being lost because of server or paper based storage. 

Concluding thoughts

The ongoing rising inflation and economic uncertainty facing the UK is no doubt going to continue putting increasing strain on the services of housing associations and other public sector bodies. By integrating and wholeheartedly embracing new innovative technologies, associations can ensure greater efficiency and ultimately a successful future.

By failing to adopt an all-encompassing solution, that meets industry standards, is accessible to all and clearly displays useable data insights, housing associations run the risk of failure. With the current economic climate being more volatile than ever, housing associations really can’t afford to put vulnerable citizens in even greater difficulties. 

Satpal Biant is head of public sector UKI, SAP