A new survey of housing association senior managers has found that they’re slow to catch up to customers’ expectations around digital services and start benefiting from the efficiency gains of digital.

A new survey of housing associations has revealed that the sector is lagging behind on digital. Shedding light on the digitisation of housing associations, Capita IT & Networks, in association with Inside Housing, investigated how housing associations were interacting with their customer tenants.

The survey focused on digital trends from both customer experience and a business perspective, with 240 respondents including managers, directors, heads of service and chief executives within housing associations, ALMOs and local authorities.

Increased digitisation has raised the bar of customer service expectations, with customers expecting to be provided information immediately through text, email, or ‘self-service’ tools, the study shows. For charities and housing associations, meeting these expectations includes upgrading internal IT systems and investing in new technology to service users better.

Housing Associations lagging behind corporate counterparts

The survey results show issues from both the tenant and business vantage points. In terms of the relationship with tenants, it appears that the housing sector lags corporate counterparts in digitisation. The investigation showed that nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) predominantly contacted housing associations through call centres or by phone.

23% of respondents found that digital, in the form of email, text messaging and live chat, was gradually coming more into the mix. However, Ian Gibson, senior business development manager at Capita IT & Networks, argues that this simply demonstrates that more needs to be time in terms of genuine, sustained digital transformation.

Still using a myriad of IT systems

There was also some consensus that the housing association sector was behind the curve when it comes integrating new digital systems. Over 75% of survey participants noted that they used between one and five systems to manage their perspective of customers; a fifth then also juggled more – between six and 10. Surprisingly, 3% used 11-20, while for 2% it was a whopping ‘more than 20’. For employees, this may create a confusing view of customer situations.

Mr Gibson said: “the fact 25% of organisations say they use six systems or more is scary. And I would guess that, for those saying they use one to five, there will be very few where it is just one.”

Slightly over half of participants felt their HA was using data ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ effectively (12% and 44% respectively), with slightly fewer (8% ‘very’ and 39% ‘somewhat’) feeling the same way about data.

Advantages of IT investment clear and present

In terms of overall digital strategy and implementation, the vast majority felt that this was generating practical day-to-day improvements. The advantages included easier storage, collection and acting upon data (13%); better understanding, support of and reaction to the needs of tenants (19%); cost and efficiency savings (13%); and, for employees, the ability to be more mobile or flexible in terms of office location.

Finally, answering the question of whether housing associations are implementing digital solutions quick enough, it appears that most still use phone centres and calls to interact with tenants. While customers have general expectations of service, vulnerable tenants may still prefer to use phone rather than email, text or chat services.

Via Green, C., Digitisation still a challenge for housing associations, Charity Digital, 2019