The Battle Against Digital Disruption

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A friend of mine – a Housing Association resident – has just received her shiny new smartphone.

  • It’s got a High Definition display more advanced than a TV that just four years would have cost over £1000.

  • It can be controlled without actually touching it. It tracks her eye and wrist movement and stops playing video if she looks away.

  • It automatically scrolls down a document when she has reached the bottom of the page, intuitively following her gaze.

  • It keeps her in touch with news, local information and her community via an ever present blend of her social networks.

She is a digital citizen.

And she is resident of an analogue housing association.

The association has a website – but she says it doesn’t look good on a mobile phone, which is her primary way of dealing with the world.

  • She can interact with the landlord online but it’s essentially an email form. She says it’s quicker just to phone someone.

  • Her landlord sends her post and an occasional newsletter. She finds this both funny and wasteful.

  • The other day she received a paper survey despite giving them her email address three times. The survey asked her if she had a mobile phone, even though she had been using one to deal with her Housing Officer ever since moving in.

Welcome to a new breed of resident. Residents who live digital lifestyles that are completely out of sync with the operating system of the landlord.

This is what Brian Solis has described as “Digital Darwinism” – a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of organisations to adapt. Solis points out that in ten years a failure to adapt to change wiped 40% of the Fortune 500 companies off the map. They vanished.

But that couldn’t happen to a housing association could it? Bricks and mortar are different, surely?

Social Housing is at a pivotal point. It’s fighting on two fronts. The struggle to adapt to a life without subsidy on one hand, the battle against the threat of welfare reform on the other.

But there is a third fight that cannot be ignored: The digital revolution that is transforming the expectations and behaviours of customers.

At the moment many organisations think this is the lesser of the three threats. Some don’t even see it as a threat at all. Many hide behind statistics that show that many social housing users don’t have internet access. But high percentages do have access and have good digital skills. And that figure is growing every day as the cost of mobile devices plummet.

In the meantime:

  • Our customers become ever more digitally adept – overtaking many of our colleagues. (I believe there are as many digital illiterate housing staff as there are tenants)

  • Our Housing IT Systems become old and monolithic. (In this sector it’s not about who has got the best Housing system – it’s who has got the “least worst”)

  • Our Customer Relationship Management systems struggle to adapt to the social media age. (CRM was built in a time when people thought customers could still be managed. Check out your Facebook page – you’ll see that they can’t. They say what they want)

It would be insanity for a Housing Association not to have a plan for how it will survive in a world without subsidy. It would be suicidal for us to not to have a Welfare Reform strategy. But I speak to many people whose organisations have not even considered what digital transformation looks like. Not considered a world where customers will always have better technology and communication abilities than they do.

You need a plan. And it has to be one of your key strategic priorities with the right ownership and the right level of resourcing.

I advised my friend to get in contact with her Housing Association and offer to help them as she would be a great resident contributor.

She went on the website but couldn’t find a social media feed – her preferred way to engage with organisations. So I helped her decipher the housing jargon and suggested she look for a “Get Involved” section.

She eventually found it.  Tucked away at the back end of the web.

It said “Under Construction. Coming Soon”.

 

(This post originally appeared on housingassociations.org. Image and quote via James McQuivey)

  1. Paul hi,

    ‘Failure to adapt’ is only a realisation when it’s too late.

    Terrific article. This is a wake-up call for all Housing Associations, especially coming as it does from your insight of the social housing landscape.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Anne – I do hope our collective posts and voices serve as a wake-up call. Whatever your sector – no-one has the luxury of 6 months of talking about a project anymore.

      Reply

  2. Agree with every word – although I must say HA can’t win as they are fighting battles on two fronts. Resistance to ‘digital’ tools from both outside and inside the organisation. I’ve had a conversation recently with someone who was not happy to say the least about having to go online to sort out an urgent problem. ‘Why should I do that? I don’t go online, I don’t know how to, why can’t they do that for me instead like they used to?’

    *bangs head against desk*

    Reply

  3. Interesting point Mandy. I wonder if that’s because we have largely been very reactive to customer need? There will always be those ahead of the curve and those who are last to be convinced. Let’s keep sharing our successes and we’ll soon convince the doubters.

    Reply

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