In our series, IT, Social Housing and a Crystal Ball, we have been asking what changes will IT bring to social housing over the next five to ten years. This latest contribution is from Stewart Davison, Product Manager at Capita's Housing Division.
The social housing landscape has seen significant change over the past few years, and it is unlikely that this state of flux is close to settling down. Questions are still being asked about how citizens and tenants will access housing services in the future. Will things really be different, and will the promise of broadband for all be a reality that has an impact on access to services? Technology has a key role to play in the coming months and years. As its limitations are lifted through innovation, this article will explore what this will mean for the delivery of services to tenants.
Technology in everyday life is commonplace. We buy our shopping online, pick up our cinema tickets from kiosks and get appointment reminders from the dentist via text message. The initial apprehension about switching from face to face to clicking a button has been desensitised, and the Government is making moves to capitalise on this. After all, allowing - and encouraging - citizens to 'self serve' has the potential to make savings.
Social housing providers are already using technology to deliver services and engage with tenants. In fact, the increasingly sophisticated nature and popularity of mobile devices has the potential to allow tenants to take even more control in managing their social housing needs regardless of the time of day.
We are starting to see this already with the introduction of web portals. These enable tenants to query rent accounts, report repairs and make payments. This is freeing up precious resource and allowing housing officers to focus on more complex cases. Some savvy local authorities and housing providers have also developed apps covering areas as diverse as homelessness, empty homes, anti-social behaviour and rent payments. As innovations in technology continue to develop, there is the potential to enhance and advance services for tenants.
Augmented reality is an example of a technology that is finding its way into organisations beyond cinemas, such as schools and hospitals. The technology enables a view of real-world 3D environments, such as exploding volcanoes or a functioning lung. The elements of an image are augmented by computer-generated software and the results have the ability to enhance experiences - whether that is as a learning tool or a visual aid.
In the future, tenants, for example, could select and approve a style of kitchen refurbishment using augmented reality software allowing them to view designs in 3D on their smart phone or laptop. An augmented reality app could enable a tenant to 'overlay' the desired style of kitchen onto their existing layout to see how the room could look after the refurbishment.
Another example could be the use of an integrated camera on a smart phone or connected device to diagnose and report repair issues. The app could 'see' the problem and suggest the best contractor employed by the housing organisation to resolve the issue.
Technologies, such as augmented reality, may be a few years away for the social housing sector. But as the pace of development continues at a rapid rate, providers need to start building in different communication channels in to their service delivery. We are in a society where we expect to be able to log on to a website that provides tailored information, or text a housing offer to advise of a problem regardless of the time of day.
Are we in danger of relying on technology and spelling the end of the housing officer? Absolutely not. Skilled and professional employees are needed more than ever in social housing due to the complex, diverse and challenging situations that face many tenants today. Ensuring there is a human presence that can intervene, guide and advise will only strengthen the service delivery provided to tenants. By taking pressure off resource for the simple queries, effort can be focused on providing personal support to those who need it the most.
In fact, there are still 8.7 million people who are not online. Although there are initiatives like Race Online 2012, led by Martha Lane-Fox, there may always be a segment of community that can't or don't want to engage using technology and prefer human interaction. What we need is a perfect blend.
Article from UK-Housing.co.uk