Digital transformation in the housing sector: What does it mean for residents and communities?
Bev Wright, Managing Partner of Local Government & Third Sector Practice at O2
I recently spoke at Social Housing: Connecting our Business and Social Objectives with Technology – a one-day event cohosted with HACT (Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust). It brought together industry experts from across the housing and digital sectors, and focused on how we can use technology to help residents and communities to thrive.
Enabling effective connectivity
I discussed connectivity, and how 5G has the potential to create an integrated infrastructure that connects businesses, industries and communities. Connectivity through 5G is at the heart of O2’s digital housing vision, and could benefit housing associations, their residents and the wider community:
- 5G could make new homes more efficient with the potential to employ Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications to automate services and utilities
- 5G could benefit the elderly and vulnerable, enabling sensors to alert carers and loved ones of potential dangers and unexpected behaviours
- 5G could help to tackle loneliness, enabling video connections that can bring families together and help people to live more safely and potentially stay for longer in their own homes
- 5G could drive predictive and smart housing maintenance, replacing fixed servicing and emergency repairs with maintenance only when it’s actually needed
Tackling the digital divide
Whatever the potential of 5G, we need to recognise that universal access is still some years away, and requires substantial investment as well as collaboration between government, and both public and private sectors. In the meantime, we must address digital exclusion, and provide every community with connectivity to benefit from the digital transformation that is taking place.
Matt Spencer, Head of Public Sector Sales at O2, spoke about ways to make mobile connectivity affordable for everyone, regardless of income or location. The Shared Rural Network (SRN) will be key, and looks set to become a reality now that it has government backing. It will increase all-operator geographic coverage from the current level of 67% to 92%, partial not-spots will almost all disappear and over 3,700 square miles of the UK will get 4G coverage for the first time.
Addressing digital exclusion
It was refreshing to meet and hear from a range of organisations that are developing solutions to address digital exclusion. A great example is We are Digital, and their application WAD, which enables housing providers to deliver digital inclusion training to digitally excluded residents. It aims to improve access to the increasing numbers of digital services that social housing organisations offer, as well as the more general benefits of being online, such as employment, access to benefits, or cheaper shopping.
At O2, we also look for ways to equip communities with the learning and skills to help them to benefit from connected services. Last year, for example, we partnered with Leeds Libraries to deliver a secure, managed tablet lending service – a project that not only provided valuable digital training, but enabled people to access a whole new world of digital, with genuinely life-changing impacts. We also worked with Digital Birmingham, and their Social Housing Digital Champions, to run digital skills workshops in social housing communities, as well as in some of the city’s most deprived schools.
Technology to improve the customer experience for residents and staff
The focus of the afternoon deep-dive session was on technology to improve the customer experience for housing residents and staff. We heard from Fuzzlab, a tech start-up that develops AI assisted chatbots and virtual agents for social housing organisations. They enable tenants to access services via self-service, reducing call volumes and freeing up contact centre staff to deal with the highest priority tenants.
Another start-up, Okappy, is a workforce management platform that plans, manages, schedules and tracks building projects. By bringing head office, engineers and sub-contractors together, it saves housing providers both time and money, and improves transparency for residents.
Whatever challenges the housing sector faces to deliver digital transformation, the event highlighted the importance of partnership and collaboration. It is by working collaboratively and sharing challenges, ideas and information that housing providers and digital investors can better understand the needs of residents and find innovative and long-lasting solutions.
Can O2 help? We support digital inclusion projects across the country, so if you are a housing association, local authority or social housing organisation then we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch to find out how we can support your organisation, or please contact me on LinkedIn.