Issues relating to data quality, IT systems integration, digital expansion and cyber security are covered.
Housing associations collect, process and hold significant volumes of data that are required by different functions through the data's lifecycle. Frequently, similar information is held on multiple systems – for example, many organisations use different systems for tenancy management, asset management, repairs/maintenance, service charges and finance.
Organisations have difficulty managing the quality of data on disparate systems as data is collected and used for different purposes across various functions, resulting in significant manual intervention and challenges when a ‘single version of the truth’ has to be obtained. IT functions also need to stretch their resources to support a large disparate portfolio of systems, which in turn costs money.
The concept of data ownership is becoming increasingly popular – which proposes that a responsible business owner is assigned to own the data throughout its lifecycle and ensure its quality (completeness, accuracy, relevance). This is then supported by better integration of IT systems.
The pressure to cut costs means that investing in technology to address current inefficiencies is a challenge for housing associations; however many recognise the benefits of doing so. Housing associations are now undertaking or considering IT systems integration projects, either by consolidating existing systems or investing in a larger, more powerful system to replace several smaller ones.
Expected benefits typically include increased automation of business processes (leading to greater efficiency), improved controls and data quality. However, business process change requirements should always be evaluated when considering the implementation or integration of IT systems. Otherwise, there will be continued inefficiencies that do not allow the envisaged benefits to be fully realised.
Many housing organisations are evaluating their digital strategy and increasing their online presence. In particular, this has focussed on self-service offerings to enabling tenants to carry out rent account management activities online (e.g. paying charges) which provides opportunities for efficiency savings as self-service reduces the load on front line staff.
In expanding their digital footprint, associations have to be aware of the expectations and requirements of the stakeholders (e.g. investors, customers and suppliers), as well as the capacity of the business systems to cope with changing processes, in order to develop a platform that is efficient and sustainable.
Cyber security remains a pertinent topic, as seen by the large scale cyber-attacks in recent times. Cyber criminals target sensitive corporate, financial and personal information which if compromised can cause major strategic and commercial damage. This could result in critical system down-time or exposure of sensitive information with severe consequences of financial and reputational loss, and potential legal implications.
Given the increased exposure to cyber threats through online services and mobile working, it is important for housing associations to put in place adequate business and IT controls to detect and prevent these threats from developing.