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Baker Homes Blog

Four observations on social landlords and technology

Posted by John Stapleton on 16/03/16 14:00

In the world of social housing, ‘technology’ and ‘innovation’ are too often only associated with things like data management and customer interfaces – in other words, Information Technology. But there is a world of possibility out there. Tom Jarman of your Homes Newcastle, and John Stapleton of Baker Homes, identified four areas where social landlords could consider it differently.

Needless to say, increasing efficiency and reducing costs is a big topic on the agenda of asset managers and directors. Technology provides the attractive opportunity of combining innovation with growth. One of the themes discussed at the most recent SHIFT conference was Building Information Modelling (BIM). Information is power, as they say. BIM can enable better design, cost certainty, and smoother delivery. It regards information as a contract deliverable as much as the product is a deliverable, feeding into more effective operational management. It also demands integrated information systems and collaborative working – but this is what we should be doing already, right? Given the cost pressures we are under, and the erosion of grant and rental income, we have to be much better at taking advantage of technologies like BIM, and appreciate their role as carriers of cultural change.

Second, ‘smart’ housing, such as the Space Hus development in Blyth, in the north east of England. It is interesting to see the design assumptions built into this, given that it wasn’t directly commissioned by the social housing sector but was developed in the private sector as a concept then offered to clients in the social sector. Technology has been used to design it (BIM), produce it (offsite manufacture) and underpin features in the built product (e.g. wireless capability, Nest thermostat). This, alongside its low energy demand, means that it connects very closely to the sector’s objectives, not least around digital and financial inclusion, as well as demonstrating how housing might develop as a younger generation moves into the rental market, often with radically different expectations around comfort, communication and technology.

Third, let’s actually take a step back and consider future energy systems and what they might look like. There are compelling reasons why the future shape of energy infrastructure should be considered from a ‘square one’ approach. The growth of microgeneration, the age and capability of existing infrastructure, energy security and the need to decarbonise the grid all mean that energy generation and distribution systems are likely to undergo significant change. The sector will need to engage with this and decide what capability and adaptability needs to be built into new developments and refurbishments, because significant changes will emerge within the lifecycles of investments and within the scope of 30-year financial models.

Finally – and here’s a bit of a curveball – technology needs to be considered from the aspect of recruiting and retaining talented young blood. Your people now expect to be able to access documents from any location using cloud based systems. ‘Millennials’ cannot understand why somebody would look through multiple systems for key information and why somebody wouldn’t have full mobile access to systems and be able to directly access them on-site as well as feed into them. They understand the possibilities of technology. What is needed is an environment that can build on that, rather than be shoehorned into established systems, each iteration stripping away another layer of enthusiasm and innovation.

Viva la revolucion.

Topics: Housing Associations, Technology, BIM

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