18 November 2020

At the recent National Smaller Housing Association’s Conference and Exhibition, I hosted a seminar discussing how lockdowns have tested the IT capabilities of social housing providers. I was joined by two members of staff from Squared, a smaller housing association we are working with on their digital transformation. Although Squared started their project with us before lockdown, it has become even more significant that the changes they are making to their back office systems and digital tenant services are essential for future growth and demand.

Technology has been a saviour for most organisations during lockdown, enabling working from home and helping us to maintain vital services and communication with tenants. However it has also presented challenges, especially for those whose systems do not support remote accessibility.

Many housing associations were fortunate enough to have everything they needed in place, thanks to robust business continuity plans, whereas others are adapting their IT strategies to get up to speed.

Squared were fortunate to be able to facilitate home working but they’ve struggled to mobilise their current housing management system for out of office access. This is why moving to Castleton’s community housing management solution is key for them as it is a cloud-based solution, providing them with secure access and a consistent experience whether in the office or remotely.

I’ve seen how lockdown has increased demand for remote working, cloud-based solutions, cyber security, digital tenant engagement and repairs and maintenance triaging. There has been an increased demand for digital communication channels to reduce pressure on contact centres, mitigate the impact of a reduced workforce (due to isolating or furlough) and because of the difficulties with maintaining face to face contact. Increased traffic through websites, portals, social media, email and SMS has placed more emphasis digital services. Housing associations have found themselves having to monitor digital channels outside of normal office hours and find ways to instantly respond to queries.

Whereas a website requires heavy investment, SMS communications are a quick and easy solution as they are low cost, have a great response rate and allow for two-way communication. SMS can help to take the pressure off contact centres by sending updates, such as rent balances, allowing phone lines to be left clear for more pressing matters. Squared are also implementing Castleton’s SMS Communication Manager because it is cost efficient, with little need for high levels of digital literacy or training. It is probably the most digitally inclusive solution as most UK households have a mobile phone.

Whilst some tenants may be demanding digital services, this isn’t the case for everyone and the challenges lie in enabling those who aren’t as tech savvy to adopt these methods of communication. When implementing digital solutions, you will need to consider accessibility – do tenants have the internet access required to use your services? If not, can you supply this for them and is this an investment worth making? Training (for staff and tenants) and promotion to encourage adoption. Simplifying your solutions to reduce any barriers such as literacy, language or technical skills. Portals can be made more inclusive by using icons to create a simple ‘tap through’ experience to make enquiries. Again, this is something that Squared are implementing alongside Castleton to enable 24/7, digital self-service.

When it comes to mobilising your workforce, where does your responsibility lie? Obviously your staff will need the right equipment in place to access systems but also consider the user experience and making that as consistent as possible with the in-office experience. Security is also key as you will need your tenant data to be handled safely and with GDPR compliance.

This is where cloud based solutions are probably the best option as they are secure and robust for business continuity. Cloud-based solutions remove the requirement for complicated, expensive IT kit, the implementation is simple, you have more flexible pricing options, they are scalable for future growth and enables working from home with a consistent user experience. Also, for smaller housing associations there is the added benefit of less pressure on small IT teams and this is one of the key benefits that Squared recognised when choosing Castleton’s cloud-based housing management solutions.

It’s fair to say that the IT challenges the social housing sector were dealing with before lockdown have only been heightened during the coronavirus pandemic and relying on robust, secure and reliable technology has become increasingly important as part of our recovery and long term strategies.

To find out more about Castleton’s products or to discuss any challenges you’re facing, please get in touch.

Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy is Sales Director at Castleton an MRI Software Company

Jimmy Rogers is Sales Director, Castleton an MRI Software Company.

Has lockdown changed your technology strategy?