Why data integration is the IoT’s rocket fuel

The pandemic has highlighted that thinking digital is not just for housing providers' IT departments, Trevor Hampton explains.
A portrait photo of Trevor Hampton, director of housing product solutions at Northgate Public Services.

The pandemic has deepened our relationship with technology and accelerated the shift to a more digital world at a rate that we could not have anticipated.

Technology is no longer just the preserve of digital natives, as people of all ages have grappled with the mute and camera buttons on Zoom and embraced the advantages of using apps to buy doughnuts or barbells at any hour, so they could arrive seamlessly outside their front door.

In the space of a year the World Wide Web morphed into our local shopping centres, schools and cinemas. More people than ever before expect things to happen or appear at the click of a button and there’s no going back. The new normal is primarily a virtual one.

Some social housing providers are now having to flex to meet the demands of their tenants at a more rapid pace than expected and potentially risk being left behind if they don’t have a data integration strategy in place.

Digital dominates

People want solutions to problems and answers to queries and they want it fast. Organisations that already had the right architecture in place to address and satisfy customer needs have been able to pivot operations at pace, whilst others have been left scrambling to adapt.

The takeaway here is that providing a seamless end-to-end customer journey requires more than simply having a web presence –the operative word here being “seamless”. For that to happen the customer journey needs first to have been fully mapped out and the insight gained used to provide the level of service expected.

Quality data fuels the information superhighway and should be seen as the lifeblood of all customer-centric organisations. Fostering a workplace culture which embraces data as part of the organisation’s DNA will ensure a more cohesive and integrated way of working. This is vital because if the right data has not been captured and integrated, then customers, stakeholders and contractors’ expectations can’t be met. 

A pivotal role

You don’t expect to get from London to Scotland on half a tank of fuel, and the same principle can be applied to the journey the customer goes on. Data is the fuel that powers the customer journey, but if no one has captured it by recording the repair, logging the call or scanning the letter, the journey either can’t be completed or will only be in fits and starts, which will have a detrimental effect on tenants’ expectations and satisfaction levels. Organisations with a workplace culture where the central role data plays is understood in meeting customer needs are in a much stronger position of creating a road map and arriving at the right destination.

Yet many providers are still risking being left out in the cold in a fully connected, transparent and integrated IoT world by not having a data integration strategy in place. This greatly impacts on their ability to interact with their tenants when it comes to logging and booking repairs for example. The recent Housing Ombudsman Insight Report found 40% of tenant complaints related to repairs.

Stakeholders’ buy-in

Great customer service starts from within, which is why it’s vital to lay the right foundations as departmental silo working is a major barrier to achieving data integration. The technology is there, but to be effective there needs to be the strategy and the vision to secure the internal stakeholder buy-in. Bringing IT on board at director level can go a long way in achieving this.

Of course, the buy-in of external stakeholders like contractors is equally important. Data integration enables housing providers to satisfy customers, contractors and stakeholders’ expectations around transactions. This is because it provides the complete picture with none of the jigsaw pieces missing. But it is only as good as the sum of its parts, which is why it’s imperative to always think digital from the get-go. Take for example a contract with a supplier who fits and maintains boiler systems; if providing information electronically to the housing provider was not stipulated in the original contract, then it could be an impediment to achieving data integration until the contract is up for renegotiation.

Reimagining the customer journey

There’s little doubt in the age of the smartphone that we hold quite literally, much of our lives in the palm of our hand. In fact, last year the average person created at least 1.7MB of data every second.

24/7 service has become the norm, and people want and have come to expect prompt responses to queries, quick solutions to problems and easy access to information they need to make their lives easier. Not only that, but they have come to expect a service that is personalised and targeted to their specific needs. No pressure then for housing providers “rich in data”, but that premise only holds good when the right quality data has been captured to provide a single view of the tenant. Accurate, informed decision making is not possible without it.

The customer journey has changed dramatically with sweeping welfare reforms in the last couple of years driving customer service up the agenda in the housing sector. Coupled with the overarching need to be open, transparent and accountable and to give tenants more autonomy, this requires a reimagining of the customer journey to identify new digital connections so the data integration points can be mapped out. Organisations that have not taken the steps to think about the customer journey from end to end run the risk of being left behind and unable to operate effectively and efficiently.

Opportunity knocks

IT should no longer be seen as merely a fixer. Used in the right way it is an enabler and a driver of opportunity. But offering a full-service delivery can only happen if the groundwork has been laid and the right skill sets are in place. If the right people and processes are not in place than there is the potential for the walls to come tumbling down, or the wheels to come off mid journey.

The pandemic has changed the way we think, act and connect. Behaviour change on this scale will not be reversed, and organisations who are still scrambling to implement and, in some cases, write a data integration strategy will find themselves unable to connect the dots. The big question to ask is: how ready is your organisation for the next decade of change if you’re struggling with the here and now? Of course, tenants’ needs can’t always be solved by the click of a mouse, but without data integration their expectations will most certainly not be met.

Trevor Hampton is director of housing solutions at Northgate Public Services.

Image: Trevor Hampton, director of housing solutions at Northgate Public Services. Credit: Northgate Public Services.

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