How social housing can benefit from embracing technology

24 February 2022 3 min. read

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technology at a rate that would have been hard to imagine before the crisis. The social housing sector has traditionally been slow to accept and integrate innovative technology platforms, but over the past two years a small cohort of early adopters has begun to make use of some of these to transform how they deliver services.

Plentific and Viewber are exciting examples of disruptive technology. “On the property management front, some social landlords have partnered with Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud-based platform Plentific to help them order and track repair jobs,” says Jonathan Gregory, a director at JG Associates and a senior associate with Campbell Tickell.

Meanwhile, a growing number of organisations have signed up to viewings and inspections platform Viewber. According to Gregory, who is also Interim CEO of the Industrial Dwellings Society, the impact of these and other technology platforms could be transformative.

How social housing can benefit from embracing technology

Viewber matches landlords and estate agents with thousands of on-demand, local ‘viewbers’, who can carry out viewings and inspections of properties on their clients’ behalf, allowing them to operate more quickly and efficiently across wider geographies.

The social landlords using Viewber tend to use it for sales viewings, property and vulnerability checks – especially in areas of dispersed stock. But Gregory says the potential scope of such platforms is something that landlords should start engaging with, using their influence to develop tailor-made services.

“One of the biggest challenges in the sector that needs massively disrupting, is the whole way in which we inspect and survey problems with our properties,” he explains. “Given that these are our number one asset, you’d think we’d have that sewn up. But we haven’t and it’s really to our shame that we haven’t taken it seriously enough.”

Inspection quality

Gregory says that new post-Grenfell building safety regulations, which are expected to come into law in 2022, will force social landlords to up their game when it comes to the quality of inspections. And this is where new technological solutions could help out.

“You could get [someone] to go out and look at the repair [needs] of a property,” he continues. “Now, they won’t necessarily be a qualified surveyor, but they can film it, photograph it, do a video walkthrough of it, send that back to our office, and then a qualified surveyor can look at it – and potentially those images will be good enough to diagnose a problem and enable a decision, or identify that specific property for a fuller inspection.”

Embrace disruptive ideas

To take full advantage of new platforms Gregory insists that the sector’s leaders need to be more proactive about embracing new ways of working. “Firstly, organisations have to look at who they are recruiting into senior roles, so they’ve got people who are positive about disrupting existing practices, when appropriate, or at least are keen to explore new approaches.”

And from more forward-thinking leaders, a different attitude to change in general in the sector could – and should – emerge. Gregory thinks this is crucial if transformation programmes among social landlords are to have any impact.

He doesn't pull any punches, saying: “If there's one thing we need to transform in housing more than anything else, it is our approach to transformation, because too many people haven’t got a clue how to approach it.”

“Everyone’s got a ‘transformation programme’. In most cases, these programmes are not fit for purpose. Too often, it’s little more than rebadging the day-to-day work, but with more meetings, more scrutiny, more reports, more toing and froing. And the worst of it is, poor performers remain so, while the good people get overworked even more and become ineffective because they can’t keep up with the workload that’s dumped on them.”

This article was previously posted in the ‘New operating models in social housing’ study from the Disruptive Innovators Network and Campbell Tickell.