Yesterday was a significant day. The sector in which I work put on a huge show of newly found digital awareness. My Twitter timeline nearly melted.
As Shirley Ayres correctly observed:
This , just one year after the 2012 Northern Housing Consortium Social Media event – which was the first mainstream housing conference to promote digital.
So , with such success behind us, why am I still talking about business needing to change?
Because we can never stand still. Brian Solis describes our present as a “time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organisations to adapt.”
Despite the huge strides we have made over the past year – our pace of change is still not fast enough.
Let us use Google as an example.
Earlier in the year I was travelling abroad – which involved needing to arrange transport via ferry between a couple of islands. As I was sitting on the beach I got my new camera out. And it’s a Smart camera.
It has Google Now on it, an intelligent personal assistant for the Android operating system.
And the home screen , which I’ve never used before, is all about me. It tells me the time back in the UK. The best places to visit locally. The exchange rate. It tells me the next fixture of the football team I support. And , most significantly, it tells me the timetable of the ferry I need to catch. Even though I never searched for it.
Never used before. But it’s predicting my behaviour and offering me a solution to my problem.
Housing Associations, the Police, Social Care providers and the NHS – to name just a few – hold incredible amounts of data about people. Imagine if they used it like Google Now to solve peoples problems?
These are 3 immediate challenges I think we have to face up to in order that our organisations become “digitally social” :
1: Leadership and Skills
We still have some managers in positions of influence who don’t acknowledge digital as important. I still hear daily examples of organisations who block access to social media or don’t believe in making sure their employees have the necessary tools to do the job.
With the current pace of technological change this is about the single most destructive position you can take as a leader. Not promoting a digital work-style for your employees is to severely curtail their personal development and to put your organisation at risk of extinction.
I love the quote that Vala Afshar used to explain why his companies latest position is to be offered exclusively by social media “(We are) a social company looking to hire candidates that are customer focused and passionately engaged. (We are) looking for builders – relationship builders.”
If your company isn’t looking for those. Why not?
2: Innovation and Collaboration
The role for many public service organisations is to actively mainstream the innovation that is already out there. There are loads of innovators and entrepreneurs who just need a route to market. Some of them may already be employed by you.
This requires mind shift on behalf of organisations who think inside out. The best stuff could be going on outside your organisation not inside it – we need to get out and grab it. This has significant implications for the way Information Technology is supported and developed. IT has done a very good job for years of keeping people from accessing data – it now needs to let people in.
For housing this means delivering services around the person. Tyze is a great example of an innovative person centred community network that links neighbours, friends and professionals.
We haven’t cracked digital just because we have a Facebook page.
3: A new Customer Relationship
The biggest challenge I think we face is to reimagine the relationship with the public in the context of digital and social technology. It isn’t about just moving our services from offline to online. It’s about using the digital platform to think how the relationship could be enhanced. Thinking customers are going to flock online to pay their rent and view repairs is starting from the completely wrong position.
That’s why at Bromford – we are focussing on a completely new deal for customers, supported by digital innovations from a specialist team, partner developers and innovators.
We need to add value. Solve problems for customers – not ourselves.
Look at Google. They are trying to solve everything.
We could too.
[The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute Of Housing South East Conference 7th March 2013]