2013 – Do we need a new operating system?

Windows 95

My first post of 2013 has been slightly delayed due to holiday. I love holidays. Not because they get me away from work but because it’s where I can put work into focus.  The further away I get from Bromford and the UK the greater clarity I get on the things that need to change. It’s a great way to put things into perspective and get inspiration. And you get a January tan.

So please forgive the holiday excesses of this post, which was written on a flight back from Singapore with a wine in one hand and an eye on the remake of Total Recall. (Which is absolutely appalling by the way, save yourself the time.) I’ve also blown my usual “Keep a post to 500 words rule”. Normal service will resume shortly.

Singapore is interesting. You will probably get more inspiration from 24 hours there than from any trade publication , sector conference, or benchmarking club you spend time on this year.  Singapore (where someone actually said to me “We solved homelessness and unemployment”) seems to run on a whole new operating system. A kind of iOS 6 to the UK’s Windows 95. The normal rules don’t seem to apply.

Flicking through Twitter whilst I was away it also struck me how much innovation is going on right now. The use of digital to bring together the disconnected. New services and initiatives in housing , health , financial literacy and job creation springing up on an almost daily basis. And these are not just being developed by a few enthusiasts but becoming mainstream provision.

In Africa. And Asia. And South America.

But not the UK.

The young and the hungry seem to be achieving things faster than we can.

I love the UK and I love the sector in which I work.

But is it time for a whole new operating system?  What our businesses do , and how that business is done, surely needs upgrading?  Because at the moment – they just can’t move fast enough.

Our existing OS is often run on Board Meetings and Business Plans and Budget Approvals and Risk Assessments – all things that are 20th Century constructs and need re-imagining.

So. Let’s make a start.

  In December I posted that 2012 was the year that the housing sector went social. By that I meant it had dipped its toes in the waters of new technologies and ways of communicating – particularly social media. And , all things considered, I think it made a pretty nifty start. But no-one in the sector has gone digital. New websites , Twitter accounts and fancy infographics certainly. All are more relevant and engaging ways of communicating.  But has anyone truly redesigned their business for the connected customer?

The big accepted issues in 2013 for the housing sector are welfare reform and the lack of affordable housing supply. However I don’t think that looking back in 20 years time we will agree on that.

2013 will be remembered as the year in which customers started leaving us behind. Operating faster than we can.

We are lucky. We have never lived in a time where our communities can become truly connected with each other and everything.  There are 5 million people living in social housing in the UK  and many more receive care and support services. Everyone of them will be able to connect with one another , lobby us for change , run our services , provide support for each other and create jobs that don’t exist.

The way our business operates can stand in the way of that.  Or we can step aside and facilitate the ascension of the connected customer.

I don’t underestimate the task ahead. It requires a huge mind-shift by organisations and stakeholders. Many have not considered the impact of the connected customer/tenant/user/patient. Some , dinosaur-like , are resisting adaptation and are soon to face their own personal Ice Age.

What sort of things could we be doing?

  • How about we give up our websites and make them open source to users? See if they could do a better job than us?  (I’m guessing they can)
  • What if we let communities design their own hubs – letting them join health , housing , and care in the way they would like to see them work? (Rather than how we think it should operate)
  • Why don’t we let tenants design and run a choice based lettings and transfer system that works? (enabling actual choice ,rather than an illusion of it, could be an early goal)
  • What if people could swap providers of services (support, work programme, care) and design their own as easily as I can edit my basket on Amazon? 

None of the above are particularly innovative. Certainly none are impossible. The only barriers to any of them happening are us. You and me.

This is my first post of 2013. It’s my personal resolution that by the end of the year we will have real examples of how we have used digital not just to engage users , but to fundamentally reshape what we do.

I’d love to hear what others think. Do let me know. And Happy New Year!


13 thoughts on “2013 – Do we need a new operating system?

  1. Really enjoyed this post, Paul. I agree that it should be the people who help shape the services that are provided to them, we shouldn’t just give them a voice (words can very easily be mis-interpreted – or at worse; ignored) so instead give them the tools to sculpt a fresh, and in some cases radical, approach.

    We are all customers to a range of services somewhere in our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if we could change how our bank account is run? Imagine having a direct influence on car insurance, utility bills, mobile phone contracts – what if we could make these things work better for us (the customer), not just for the provider.

    So, lets not treat social housing any differenly, lets make this one of the first services that is truly shaped for the customer, by the customer – wouldn’t that be amazing?!

    Can you tell that I’m up for the challenge???!!!

    1. Thanks Andy. I think we too often talk about services ‘designed for the customer’ when they are usually nothing of the sort. If you go to Singapore Airport it is clearly designed for the customer in a way no UK airport I have visited is. Digital gives us a unique opportunity to engage and design new services. But as always – there will be people who are up for that or are not. Glad you onboard!

  2. yes absolutely – and I am totally with you on how holidays re-open your innovation and your sense of global perspective…I still have jetlag. I hope that the things you list are not as far off as they feel in a big council and more people lose the fear about controlling things and embrace the possibilities of opening up. When I think about what has happened in music – the record companies could have done something but ignored downloads for too long, everyone organised themselves, people no longer make any money – it would be horrendous if we went the same way. We can only stay behind the times for so long!

    1. Thanks Annie. Eye opening how parts of the world are speeding ahead and we should remember the UK is a very small part of it. I think we are in danger of becoming too inward looking and risk averse. I’m lucky to work for a progressive organisation but I don’t doubt the challenge ahead for changing mind sets. But things will change.

  3. Great post and I agree with what you say about getting out of the country allowing you to really think about and realise what can be changed back at home.

    Giving to and trusting in the customer is a great direction to take, as you say it requires big changes in structure and attitude but its a worthwhile change and one that could reap huge rewards in the future for both the customer and the business.

    Looking forward to seeing these principles in action.

    1. Problem Thom is western organisations have accumulated a lot of baggage over the last 50 years. They haven’t had to fight for customers as aggressively as elsewhere. Expecting customers to always be there (HMV) , assuming income will always be safe (UK housing). We got lazy. Innovation has slowed down compared to those countries I have mentioned. It’s now got to speed up.

      1. True, as I said to you the other day I’ve saw a few people talk about our industry being “bricks and mortar” as if we are immune to the negative effects of complacency and conservative business planning. It’s good that we’re recognising that continual growth and adaptation to market demands is as important to housing as much as it is any other sector.

        1. Incredible that people could think Housing is immune. I remember speaking to someone in India who said “I could build you homes in England for £500”. I laughed at the time…

  4. What a great blog post. This type of insight and forward thinking is so important in driving the development of IT solutions to fit the specific needs of the Housing Sector. The shift to digital will happen eventually – one step at a time – and it’s so important to have a vision of where we are heading and to look further afield for inspiration.

    1. Thanks for your comment I really appreciate it…Only point I would challenge is the acceleration of the shift to digital. I think we will see huge changes over next 12 months as cheap smartphones flood market…

  5. A really convincing case, Paul; especially the bit about when we look back in 20 years, we’ll have long since forgotten about welfare reform.

    I’d suggest that part of that new operating system needs to be a “lightening -up”. Social media is informal and converstational; not labels that apply to a lot of our comms with customers.
    So we need to avoid having a new operating system, with the same dull, bureaucratic systems simply “uploadead”to fit. We need to change the style, length and tone of the content on our new operating system to engender more conversations and come out from behind our “professional” veneer.

    1. Thanks Tim.It’s a good point you make about shifting to a conversational style. New media and social technologies have huge potential to shape less hierarchical and formal relationships. It’s certainly happened in the housing sector with CEO’s like you. As more people use these tools there will be a lot less mystique about “professionals” and how decisions get made by businesses. That’s got to be a good thing.

  6. Having been in IT for over 25 years, it should do 1 thing before everything else.

    It should deliver a set of systems/process etc that enable you to deliver your end deliverable to your clients/customers. It should do this efficiently, cost effectively and be easily maintainable.

    Social media should be seen as a vehicle to get you where you wan to be. its a powerful marketing tool and communication tool not used effectively by most in my opinion and often slighted for its use. You need control of your IT above all.

    Down time should be transparent to the customer, as should minor outages.

    If you believe there are no risks to technology even in housing then think again. More than anything else be it the UK or third world it has to work for your customer.

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