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Going back to basics on data management will help housing providers move ahead

The Housing Ombudsman identified good information management as the closest thing the sector has to a ‘silver bullet’. Yet gaps in the data continue to hamper the vital work providers do. In this article, we explain why adding a new IT system won’t help, but that better strategies, processes and training will.

Good information drives the right action

In every sector, poor information management results in poor customer service. Even the smallest data gaps translate into repeated questions, bad timing and missed opportunities. For social housing providers in particular, these gaps can have far-reaching consequences. Taking the right action comes from knowing what’s needed, but it’s impossible to act on what you don’t know.

In its recent ‘Spotlight’ report, the Housing Ombudsman identified poor information management as a “recurring theme” and likened getting it right to a “silver bullet.” It warned that without better data management processes, providers might struggle to meet their obligations under the Landlords and Tenants Act and potentially see the introduction of ‘Awaab’s Law’. So what can housing providers do?

Giving staff information they can rely on

One of the report’s recommendations is that staff have easy access to information that helps them identify “patterns, themes and potential shortfalls”. Using technology is vital to achieving this goal, because you can’t achieve that with paper, but the sheer number of systems might be making it hard.

If different parts of your business use different systems and databases, does a member of staff in one area know that a tenant has made multiple complaints to another? Does every system use the same spelling of a tenant’s name? Is everyone looking at the same data?

What housing staff need is a single, accurate 360-degree view of the tenant and their home. But without a solid strategy to guide the way, adding new IT systems could just add to the risk of duplicate records.

Developing the right data strategy

Having the right data management strategy is essential for long-term success. It should encompass data governance, integration, quality and security. It should define who is accountable for, and has ownership of, data management processes and policy. Without it, information might be unavailable, shared with the wrong person (for example sharing personal information about a former tenant with the current one) or stored out of compliance with GDPR.

The data strategy must align with the provider’s goals and objectives. It should also act as a roadmap to ensure staff have access to the right information when and where they need it. And it should be backed up with the right processes – and the right training – to avoid any costly consequences from poor data management.

Supporting the right response

It’s clear from the Ombudsman’s report that there’s a long way to go. When they spoke to complaint handlers, 88% said that poor information, like missing reports or incomplete repair logs, had undermined their responses. A similar picture emerged for tenants, with one having to explain the same problem 15 different times.

Adding a new IT system won’t fix those problems, because the fundamentals needs fixing first. So while it may be tempting to reach for new technology to solve the information management problem, it’s data consolidation, not proliferation, that will help the most.