2013 Connected Housing Index

At the back end of last week, the brilliantly insightful @AnneMcX published @VisceralBiz 2013 Connected Housing Index. If you’re interested in modernising service delivery in social housing, I implore you to read it.

There are some gems in there. Punchlines (or my take on them anyways): the sector has started its digital journey.  Which is good, because this time last year, it was barely out of the starting block. However, there’s still a way to go.  I’m not going to try to summarise it further – it’s a very accessible read. Cover to cover.

The response so far

There’s been plenty of tweetage about where different HAs have landed in the league tables.  With a few notable exceptions, I’m a bit disappointed at the back-slapping on the relative positioning over-shadowing the more significant messages emerging: namely that we’re yet to get real engagement and the customer voice being heard, despite the potential of the digital channel.

I figured this body of work deserves a more considered response than I can do in 140 characters on twitter, so I’m blogging.  Here’s a few thoughts and reflections on the richer analysis it contains, some thoughts about how it might evolve in 2014, and what I’m thinking to do next.  I’m making an assumption there, that @VisceralBiz will do it again in 2014. I do hope so – but I’m also conscious that this is a big piece of work for a small organisation to undertake. For free.


Its interesting to hear that lots of HAs are using facebook, but not really getting great engagement levels. I’m wondering if there are better ways of using the platform, or whether its just not the platform for engaging with your landlord. My gut feel is that we should explore the possibilities more. I’ll be checking out some of the different examples of uses highlighted in the report to see if they’ll be useful for us. We’ve got a couple of ideas to explore with colleagues to develop our facebook use too:

  • scheme specific pages (where we have enough scale, for example, our student or NHS accommodation schemes)
  • supporting customers to set up their own local community pages, and we (as the HA) interact with them there, rather than simply expecting them to come to our pages.

And we need to do some evalution of our experience over the last couple of years. I want us to be open to the possibility that facebook might not be significant channel in the long term.  Just because I’m an enthusiast for new things, I don’t want to expend precious effort on stuff that doesn’t impact at scale.

Online Services

Its good to read that more HAs are offering online services.  I’d love to know what “report a repair online” leads to. Its hard for @VisceralBiz to mystery shop the functionality without being a registered user.  Does it simply generate an email to a person, or does it integrate with the underlying system? I’d be happy to provide demo account to our system for next years index. We’d all learn so much if lots of HAs would do the same.

We’re putting quite a lot of time and effort into getting the core online services right (I’ll blog more about it soon). Most HA websites have felt largely like ‘corporate brochure-ware’ with a bit of simple functionality tacked on the side. Happily that’s beginning to change. We’ve gone for a completely user-centred approach to building our new online services functionality – holding workshops with real live customers to find out what and how they want to interact with us online. We’ll launch the private beta next month, and a wider public launch in March/April.

My hunch is that real engagement activity (whether its on facebook or an HAs own community platform) will take off when there’s something “real” to engage with in terms of service delivery. Real time, relevant announcements and info about what the landlord is doing in their area that’s relevant to them. Corporate announcements about what’s happening inside our organisations aren’t really fascinating to anyone other than ourselves.


I was interested to read that some participants in the study were still having difficulty engaging the senior management folks in their organisation that digital matters. Interested, and disappointed. If you’re in one of those organisations, I have just two pearls of wisdom for you.

1. Dinosaurs became extinct in the end.
2. Get another job.

Honestly, I see no future for organisations who have their head in the sand on this one. (bear in mind that my skills are much more attuned to “doing digital things” than persuading people to do digital things, so my wisdom may well be biased).

And if you’re looking for a job, please bookmark tvha.co.uk/careers – we’ll be recruiting this year. And we do quite a lot of digital 🙂

For next years study it would be interesting to understand what level of engagement with the digital/social agenda is evident at the board level. Traditionally HAs have a board skills matrix that covers property, finance, law, housing management and maintenance, people, customer service… I’m firmly of the view that a board also needs a ‘futurologist’ who gets digital. Without it, they’ve got a massive blind spot.

Responsive design.

Unless our customers are markedly different to anyone elses (I doubt it), the sector is seeing a massive increase in web visits via mobile devices. And that’s for a site that’s not yet been optimised for mobile (its not bad on mobile, but not as good as will be come Feb and we do the responsive design work). It would be great if the 2014 index could give some indication on how widespread responsive design has been embraced.

And the rest…

I’m dead excited about open data.  I’m dead excited about co-creation – I wonder if the Index could be co-created with customers in the future?  I’m dead excited about social platforms inside the organisation.  I’m dead excited about organisations with porous boundaries.  Can we co-create great online customer services that can be white labelled and used widely through the sector?  The big IT suppliers to the sector are pretty universally woefully.  I just dead excited generally.

2014.  Bring. It.  On.


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Anne McCrossan January 11, 2014, 9:42 pm

    Thanks Jayne, it’s very good to read how the report is fuelling plans for the next year, we definitely have plans and will roll in these suggestions, they’re great points.

  • Liz Haworth January 14, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Thanks Jayne – as you say we face similar challenges and there must be scope to work collaboratively to achieve more as a sector. One of the key challenges for us is integrating a customer centric front end with back office and often “woeful” housing management systems. The big providers are not keeping pace with the digital self serve agenda and are slow to develop their own offer. As a sector, do we need to use our collective clout to put pressure on our IT providers to keep pace?

  • JayneHilditch January 14, 2014, 1:45 pm

    Liz, yes, yes and yes again. Collectively we impact more impact. Let’s talk 🙂

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