Housing and its evolving relationship with technology

Having worked in the social housing sector for over 30 years I was reflecting with a colleague how much our approach to technology has changed during this time.

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I remember establishing the sectors first Housing and Information Technology Exhibition roadshows (HITEX) back in the 90’s for housing professionals to evaluate in one place multiple IT providers in a compare the market style. These ran for over a decade and pulled together all the main suppliers of integrated housing management systems as well as peripheral companies offering services such as asset management, CRM etc.

It seemed so much easier in those days, a relatively stable market, few new entrants and staff rotating between suppliers like a football transfer market!

Roll forward to the present and we now have very clear lines between these ‘legacy’ suppliers who remain successfully in business and new cloud based ones who see the social housing sector as ripe for disruption. It’s no surprise we are in their sights, a £28bn sector with £10bn annual investment is a big market in anyone’s eyes.

But I wonder how things will develop and how long the appetite to engage will remain

The sector has always had a hunger for new technologies and has always been willing to try it out. But in my view, there is an increasing expectation that technology is only of use if it solves a genuine problem that keeps housing providers awake at night. Too often I’ve seen examples of technological solutions looking for a problem.

Another observation that suppliers, especially new entrants, overlook is that the sector loves to buy, but hates to be sold to. A few years back I was invited to give advice to a couple of global tech companies who felt with their worldwide brand they could immediately pick up clients in the housing space. Despite explaining how the sector likes to buy they ignored insights on how to engage with housing providers and within less than 18 months they had all but exited the market. This was not because their products and services weren’t of interest. Just that they failed to appreciate how housing likes partnerships. All they wanted to do was sell.

So where will disruption in the housing tech space come from? Housing providers invest heavily in their IT systems to make sure they are robust and support business objectives. But as independent businesses they rarely make collective procurement decisions. With over 1,500 registered providers in England alone that is a lot of businesses for suppliers to engage with.

In my experience whenever there has been technological change it has come as a tipping point is reached; when in a relatively short period of time decisions are made to migrate across to these new systems and platforms, cloud may well be one of those. But how much risk patience do organisations have to wait until we reach this next tipping point? The prize is a big one but as for a lot of things in life, timing is everything!

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This article was guest written by Ian Wright, Managing Director at Disruptive Innovators Network.

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