Brett Sadler

Big Data and #ukhousing – A Match Made in Heaven?


If you haven’t heard of the term ‘Big Data’, just where have you been? It’s a phrase which is becoming more and more mainstream, used by individuals, organisations and even countries.

So what is Big Data?

In trying to explain what Big Data is, I found this explanation:

‘Ask a chief technology officer to define big data and he or she will stare at the floor. Chances are, you will get as many definitions as the number of people you ask.’

Here’s my stab at a definition:

 ‘Big data is the term used for the collection, processing and analysis of extremely large and complex data sets.’

Some people have been forecasting big data as one of the next big things for quite some time. The ability to use vast swathes of data to intelligently plan and show trends certainly sounds intriguing.


But surprisingly it’s not without its detractors. Big Data could be seen as just the latest fad (I can understand why this seems the case). It could also be said that Big Data (and the companies that use this) are getting suspiciously close to George Orwell’s future vision in his book 1984. It’s also not without its controversy (see the recent issues raised about the National Security Agency in America, spying and their use of Big Data).

So why Big Data and #ukhousing?

For me, I don’t think #ukhousing can ignore Big Data. As #ukhousing organisations, we hold vast amounts of customer/tenant information on our housing systems, so it’s a logical step to look at using this data more intuitively. It stands to reason that we can use this data to better our customer insight, the services we offer, drive down costs and ultimately be a better landlord. I’d go as far as saying it would be remiss of us not to.

Organisations like HACT are championing the use of Big Data within #ukhousing and this blog from Matt Leach gives you just some of the reasons why.

Matt Leach points out some cases in his blog post of #ukhousing organisations that are already using big data to make business decisions.

Of course it’s important to point out that Big Data has to have some limits. Information can be a dangerous thing if it’s in the wrong hands, used in the wrong way or without limits. Just see this link on the Guardian website about the pressure that’s building on the White House to review how it’s using its big data and you see some of the potential pitfalls.

I’d argue it’s a matter of ‘when not if’ #ukhousing embrace Big Data.


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4 thoughts on “Big Data and #ukhousing – A Match Made in Heaven?

  1. Hi Brett another topical and interesting post, great to see ‘Big Data’ talked about in the context of #ukhousing.

    BIG DATA can be little more than a BUZZ word banded around that means little.

    For sure HA`s will have a stack of data dispersed across many databases, i`d like to think most have seen the value cloud based DB`s bring and migrated data up.

    (have any gone 100% Google? be great to find out)

    In reality, this is JUST data, and any org` not using the data they collect for the greater good of informed decision making wants to perhaps go and have a little word with itself.

    For me the term BIG DATA eludes to the stuff that sits outside of our own organisational ecosystems, the rich layer of social data that is coming to the fore, the move for greater access and open data from government nationally and locally (come on Wales! catch up) corporations willing to play ball and open up their data sets, this is BIG data.

    What we then have to do is work out how to use this for the benefit of society in general, a great example i guess is the city jogging patters;

    OK this is a high profile example, more about design than data to be fair, but can be used for geosocial data mining and opens up a whole host of questions in my view around a City, a planners dream/nightmare delete as appropriate.

    These layers of internal/external/social/open government data all combined is BIG DATA, wonderfully rich and one hell of a resource, we then need to innovate and do something with it, and here you go>

    My new catchphrase is “Leeds Data Mill because EVERY city/region needs one”

    Historically i guess you would look to a council to fill some parts of this data jigsaw, yet these new, fresh innovators are bringing something different to the table, who are they? well its us of course, developers, designers, data specialists, interested citizens, social entrepreneurs, why not housing associations? no barrier to entry! after all we are creating all this data, yet councils still have a part to play;

    Its all about the the power of the collective, these are the new factories.

    Ok so HA`s may have a lot of personal data stored, not stuff you want all and sundry looking at, yet still i think BIG data for you guys is very much about what`s happening outside of the garden wall as much if not more than what`s happening within.

  2. chriswdrew on said:


    As with any new “big thing” the best thing the “evangelist” can do to promote the new idea is to be as specific as possible – eg say just 3 examples of how big data can drive down costs, the claim being made here.

  3. Big Data certainly has potential within #ukhousing. Probably one of the most interesting prospects for HAs is how they can use data to improve their tenant services and satisfaction. For example, perhaps data collected over a few years on asset failure could allow them to see trends and implement effective proactive/preventative maintenance. Then, assets would hopefully fail less often and tenants would be happier as a result.

  4. Annemcx on said:

    Hi Brett,

    I think ‘big data’ is being bandied about as a term as much as it is because it makes the point that digital interactivity simply puts us in a different league when it comes to thinking about the insights that numbers can give us. A lot of people have latched onto the phrase ‘big data’ as if it’s a funky badge of some sort, when really I think it’s just a way of expressing this step change.

    Embracing data is a part and parcel of embracing digital interactivity. Crucially it means that CIO’s need to get to grips with having an integrated data strategy. If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend looking at The Shift Index.

    This work makes a good point – that what has been important to the investor marketplace, company stocks, is now likely to be replaced by data flows.

    As everything digital can be monitored and tracked, every organisation is going to become more quantified, and I use the phrase ‘the quantified organisation’ in this context. It will be important to understand the inter-relationships between different sets of data and use the insights derived from them to understand and develop the strengths and weaknesses in an organisation’s capability.

    My own view is that the quantified organisation is going to become as commonplace a thing as it is for us to each to know our height, age and weight or to take our pulse! If we are checking on the health and vital signs of any organisation, it would be mad not use data available and to develop smart strategies towards data, whatever sector an organisation is in.

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