Brett Sadler

What if Google did Housing?

googlesearch

Everybody has heard of Google, right? Whether you are a fan or not, I’m sure you will have used some of their products before, if not today. For example, how many times have you heard ‘just Google it’?

Bearing in mind that Google have their fingers in a lot of pies, from their main Google Search offer, to Android and then to Google(x) products like self-driving cars and Project Loon, it is interesting to think what would happen if Google did Housing.

At this point I have to point out that Google are already dipping their toe into the Housing world. Maybe not in the bricks and mortar side, but through Ancoris they have effectively entered the Housing market, offering their Google for Work package to help Housing organisations improve their working practices.

But, I do wonder what would happen if Google actually built Houses, or even ran a Housing Association? Google’s famous ‘Moonshots’ are where they have a company culture that encourages experimentation and the free flow of ideas – the bigger the better.

I know what you are thinking, that’s fine for Google, they are a multi-national company. Yes they are. They have 50,000 employees worldwide, have a reported 2million applicants per year for their jobs, with a 1/500 chance of getting a position. But one thing I really do like about Google is that they see a problem and they try to fix it, but they don’t just do this incrementally. They work on things that could change the world. It may not always work out, but I for one really like this mindset. Too much of Housing is set in the past, based on old working practices and concepts that have just not moved with the times.

Maybe this blog has turned into a plea to Google, or for someone like Google, to have a go at sorting out one of the UK’s (worlds) biggest problems – Housing. I for one wouldn’t bet against them.

 

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Crowdsourcing Ideas

Have you ever heard of this? I have used this quite a few times in the past and have had successful results pretty much every time.

The premise is simple. Instead of the traditional method of having a specific question you want a view on and just searching on something like Google, you post the query on one or more social media platforms and wait for the responses. The responses are much more current and you are often able to query them further.

Here’s a quick example. I decided recently to post the following query on Twitter and LinkedIn:

Twitter07-03-16

And within a short time, these are just some of the responses I received:

Twitter07-03-16_2

And from LinkedIn:

LinkedIn07-03-16

If you have a decent network who interacts and comments, I can’t recommend crowdsourcing information enough!

 

Digital Innovators Network – Part II

y lab

This is the second installment of my Digital Innovators Network blog posts (you can read the first one here).

The second meeting of the Network was held last Friday in the Shared Resource Centre in Blaenafon, South Wales.

The theme for this network  meeting was Open Data, something which I had heard of but knew very little about. I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning that the vast majority of the network attendees had very little experience or knowledge of open data!

So to the day itself. The day took the form of a training session by the Open Data Institute and the main trainer, Ben Cave, really knew his subject matter. The acid test for me was that, despite starting my car journey at 6am that morning, I was fully awake and engaged throughout the day (no small feat!) and was still buzzing with ideas after the 3 and a half hour drive back up North. I came away with a better understanding of open data, how it can work, some of the pitfalls, the need to use a license when offering open data and some wider considerations around the use of open data.

The two stand out quotes from the day for me were:

  • ‘Data is a means, not an end’.
  • ‘Don’t think of data purely as numbers’.

A few other interesting things to point out:

  • Members of the Digital Innovators Network are predominantly sharing/networking through Slack. This is the first time I’ve used Slack properly and I have to say it is working really well (and saves on excessive Emails!);
  • There is a really wide range of digital representatives in the network, including health, local authority, education, welsh government, housing associations and third sector;
  • I can already tick the ‘learning new skills and knowledge’ aim for being a network member.

In terms of open data, I would have to confess that despite having the full days training around this, I would need to do a lot more reading around the subject before I could suggest an open data project within my organisation. Thankfully, the Open Data Institute have a lot of handy information on their website, including the really useful ‘Open Data in a Day‘ slides.

For one thing, I will be keeping a look out for any open data project successes from the Housing sector, as this will certainly help bridge the gap between the idea of open data and the results it can give. This also ties in with a much wider conversation going on currently within Housing and beyond about the use, relevance and validity of the data we hold.

Definitely food for thought!

 

Are you up for the Digital Challenge? Five takeaways

digital_vortex

As anyone who regularly reads my blogs will know, I have been pushing the digital agenda within my organisation and wider for some time now. Safe to say it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.

I am by no means an expert and our organisation has by no means cracked the digital nut (although we are getting there), but, I can happily report that we are at least trying to crack this nut and that we will continue to try. An example of this would our Digital First project we have been running which has been a great success and we are now moving towards a more ‘business as usual’ approach to digital.

So, here are my top five takeaways for anyone who is either new to digital or wanting to further digitally develop within an organisation:

  1. Create some digital momentum: This obviously takes some time, but if you can get enough people on board, you can start to tip the balance towards digital being viewed as mainstream, core business, rather than a bolt-on.
  2. Digital resources: By this I mean you need some people power to do the work required to focus digitally. This helps in being able on the road to gaining digital momentum.
  3. Network with the wider digital community: This is really important, as there are other orgs and people already doing a lot of this. As the saying goes, why reinvent the wheel?
  4. Sell the digital vision: This is an interesting one, as this will to some degree differ depending on who you are talking to. For example, highlighting the savings from going digital will work a treat with someone from Finance, but a more customer orientated approach will be needed with someone working in customer services.
  5. Become a digital champion – I have done this within my own organisation, which means I can always point to some digital fact, figure or example to try and ram home the point of needing to be more digitally aware.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope these are of some use to you.

Please leave a comment below on what your digital takeaways would be!

 

Digital Innovators Network – part 1

y lab

Just before Christmas, I applied to be a member of the new Digital Innovators Network and a few weeks into January I received the fantastic Email telling me I was in!

Firstly, a bit of new about the network. The network is run by Y Lab, which is a NestaCardiff University partnership to act as a bridge and broker, connecting policy makers and public service practitioners with research and innovation expertise. The network is an experimental process, drawing together a cohort of leaders, expert in their sector, with a diverse range of skills and experiences. The network also forms a part of the Digital Innovation Fund launched by Welsh Government of £250,000 to boost public service capacity in developing digital services across Wales.

So, on a very wet and windy Friday in January, I caught the 5.15am train from North Wales down to Cardiff for the first network meeting. After being dropped off by the taxi driver ‘somewhere nearby’, I made it just in time for the start.

The first speaker was Bill Sharpe from Independent Futures Research and Consulting. Bill started off by saying he wrote his first computer programme nearly 50 years ago and spent fifteen years working for Hewlett Packard corporate labs in Bristol, before setting up his own consultancy. Bill talked about his ‘three horizons model’ of innovation, illustrated below:

3horizons

If you ever hear someone asking whether you are a H1, H2 or H3, then this is the model being referred to (hint: as an innovator you would much rather be a H3).

This then led on to a talk by Matt Lewis, Senior Architect at the DVLA. The DVLA are a UK wide digital innovation success story and Matt led us through how they reached where they have today. Below is one of the slides:

dvla

What struck me most about Matt’s talk was how the DVLA had radically changed their business focus, not on a big bang approach, but rather on a number of continuous digital innovations, as shown in the above slide.

After some time networking over lunch with some of the other network members which included representatives from the Police, Arts Council for Wales, Councils and third sector organisations, we then had a workshop run by The Social Innovation Partnership on theory of change. The basic aim was to get everyone thinking about what their potential digital innovation funding application aim would be. The outcome was that most people were not really clear what the end goal was, but rather new what the next stage would be.

So now as a network, we have gone away to have a think about potential projects that we would like to put forwards to the Digital Innovation Accelerator funding, in order to initiate our own innovative project. Like everyone else, I went away thinking this was a fantastic opportunity to apply for some funding towards doing something truly digitally innovative, but of course, I need to flesh out some ideas first. The network itself offered a chance to talk to people outside of my usual sphere of contacts and to learn what their challenges and successes have been.

Watch this space for more news as the network continues!

 

The Power of the Apprentice

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I was lucky enough to be a mentor for the first ever Welsh Apprentice Challenge, run by Community Housing Cymru at their Annual Conference in Cardiff in November 2015.

When I was asked to be a mentor, I jumped at the chance. It sounded like an interesting opportunity and represented a chance for me to be challenged and stretched.

The truth is that being a mentor for the Welsh Apprentice Challenge was an absolutely fantastic experience. The challenge itself involved 15 apprentices, nominated from Housing Associations across Wales, the opportunity to develop a campaign from scratch to recruit more young people into a career in Housing. I was one of three mentors with five apprentices in each team.

Here are three things I learn’t over the few days:

  1. Apprentices have an amazing amount of enthusiasm: They are not constrained by their previous experiences of working in Housing. They have a can-do rather than can’t-do attitude which is infectious.
  2. If you want new ideas, employ new people: I was amazed that in the first 20 minutes of meeting each other for the first time, the team I was mentoring had introduced themselves, come up with an idea and how they would action it.
  3. The improvement over just two days was staggering: It was amazing to see how the apprentices grew in confidence over the two days, from being really worried about speaking, to speaking confidently as a group to over 100 delegates.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the idea my team and the other two teams came up with, as they will be covering in an up-and-coming issue of 24 Housing Magazine, but suffice to say that all three campaigns were very compelling, having been well thought through and executed.

The feedback from the apprentices is that they thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and I am certain that they have all gained skills and experience that will be really useful for them in their ongoing Housing careers.

I only wish I could have bottled up their enthusiasm and ideas for myself!

A Taste of the Google Culture

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I was lucky enough recently to visit the Google offices in London, through a Housemark Digital Futures event.

So, what can I say about my visit to Google? If I could sum it up in just one word, it would be amazing.

The visit itself was everything I hoped it would be. I got to hear from Lyndon Fraser from Google for Work, along with Duncan Farley and Dan Sullivan from Ancoris (who are a Google for Work partner organisation) who held a quick interactive session in Google’s ‘Tech Talk’ Transformation Lab. I also got to meet up and network with other housing staff with digital responsibility, including Paul Taylor and Tom Hartland from Bromford Labs who gave a presentation in the afternoon on ‘how to build an innovation lab’.

As we were not able to look around the offices (as if was felt it would be too disruptive), we got to look around the 9th floor of their offices, complete with a ‘Green Room’, their on-site Gym, ‘La La Library’ (which was genuinely quiet enough to hear a pin drop, despite several staff working in there at the time), outdoor space which wrapped around two sides of the building, a big staff cafe called ‘Cafe Royal’ which was absolutely packed with staff and a massive room called ‘Google Town Hall’ where they hold staff meetings of 100 staff or more.

Other things I noticed include:

  • The offices were bright, light and colourful;
  • They clearly do things differently to most organisations;
  • They have a very clear ‘Google’ brand to everything they do;
  • They all dress in casual clothes at work, but no-one was scruffily dressed;
  • Staff who work at Google are actually referred to as ‘Googlers’ (and refer to themselves as Googlers);
  • The food for Googlers is ‘free’ and covers breakfast and lunch;
  • There were various staff snack points throughout the offices with all healthy free snacks;
  • The main cafe even had two staff serving ice cream for Googlers;
  • Googlers have the freedom to go wherever they want in the building and use any of the collaborative rooms (as long as they have their pass);
  • We even saw a Googler using one of the Sleeping Pods, presumably catching a quick power nap!

It’s always hard to describe the culture of an organisation, but the Google culture was pretty much as I expected, albeit from one day’s visit.

It felt like an open, exciting and inspiring place to work, with a core focus on working collaboratively, not only on digital and technological solutions and advancement, but on keeping the solutions as simple and user friendly as possible.

For a digital techie person like me, it really was hard to leave at the end of the day!

Relaunching the Google+ Housing Community

G+logo3

I am the first to admit that this has been a tough ride. In 2014 I pushed the rise of Google+ as the next big thing to hit #ukhousing on several occasions and blogged about it quite a few times, including my post titled ‘Banging the Google+ Drum‘.

I had evidence to back it up as well. A few years ago, Google+ was well and truly on the rise. Google+ had one of the highest sign-up rates for any social media platform, as well as a very healthy active user %. Up-to-date statistics are hard to find, but Google claim to have 300 million monthly active Google+ users.

Within a matter of weeks of launching the new G+ Housing Community page, Google announced that the person who had helped create and drive Google+ was leaving to work on something else. Almost overnight Google+ lost that feeling that it was going forwards and developing. It had the effect of stopping Google+ in its tracks overnight.

It was a real shame. With launching the #ukhousing Google+ page, it had quickly risen to over 50 members of the group, with a core group of users who were regularly contributing. It really did feel like it was going to happen.

G+Housing_bio

G+Housing

But after Google deciding to make Google+ a pre-requisute for using YouTube (the move had fans for and against this move), they subsequently decided to drop the link. Another nail in the Google+ coffin. Even me, with my glass half-full, optimistic viewpoint had to conceded that Google+ was in decline (it was quoted in the tech news constantly) and I stopped doing much on the Google+ Housing Community page.

So it was with some surprise that I read last month that Google were relaunching Google+ by making some new changes to the platform. This was big news. At first I was dubious – do I really believe that this is happening? Then, after reading various articles on this over a number of days I thought – hey, this really is happening!

So, the upshot is that I have decided to give Google+, and more importantly the Google+ Housing Community, another go. This blog is another step towards this relaunch. Of course, I realise that the power of the community is only as good as its members and its content, but I am hoping #ukhousing will get behind this.

So here is my plea:

  • If you are already a member of the G+Housing Community, then please do revisit it again and become an active member.
  • If you are not already a member, then please do sign up to G+ and become a community member.

I have blogged previously on the virtues of using Google+ and these still hold true today.

 

Hotdesking – good, bad or indifferent?

mobile_office

A selection of my ‘hotdesking’ tech

Hotdesking is not a new concept. It comes in many forms, from the occasional hotdesker to the hard-core, full time hotdesker and it wouldn’t surprise you to read that not everyone is a fan of hotdesking. Some people love it and some people really hate it. Here is just one article about hotdesking from the Management Today website: hotdesking: hot or not?.

My reason for blogging about hotdesking is that, for the past six months I have been sharing my office with one of the Directors (incidentally, I am not line managed by them). The option came up due to the reshuffling of some staff within the organisation. As part of the deal, I agreed to hotdesk from somewhere else in the building every Monday and then from an outlying office every Thursday. This helped me in two ways: 1) I would actually have a reason to hotdesk (it’s hard to justify when your office is sat empty) and 2) To live the hotdesking way of working I have often pushed onto other staff .

First off, the positives:

  • It has been great to get out and about more – I have interacted with other staff much more than I would normally have the opportunity to;
  • I have seen and heard some good and some not so good working practices – learning I can use when the time is right to improve these sorts of things within my teams;
  • I have worked (survived) hotdesking from various locations;
  • Using headphones can block out a lot of everyday office chatter.

grabbag-03_22_2013-2

There have been however a few negatives:

  • As I have a pretty busy role, I have not been able to keep to my ‘Mondays and Thursday’s hotdesking regime’, especially working from the outlying office – this has been much more ad-hoc than I would ideally like and often less than a day a week;
  • As with anyone who hotdesks, my laptop bag has inevitably become heavier and heavier with papers etc. that I need during my working day (this needs culling fairly regularly to keep it manageable);
  • Sometimes it really is hard to have quiet time to work/think when hotdesking in a larger office;
  • Sometimes finding a ‘private’ office can be difficult at short notice.

A few other things are worth pointing out:

  • I have been essentially paperless for several years now, but as the organisation I work in is not paperless, I am given my fair share of paper. This proves more of a challenge when not always office based;
  • I have all the necessary tech to make hotdesking a success: laptop, tablet, bluetooth keyboard (for use with the tablet) and smartphone.

So, what have I learn’t from this six months? That it is certainly possible to hotdesk on a more regular basis and that staff seem to appreciate seeing me around more. It is definitely something I want to continue doing. In fact, I am now going to work out how I can hotdesk from other locations more often than I do currently. I also realise I need to keep some flexibility of where I work, depending on work demands and meetings.

I realise this is only my experience of hotdesking in a small way, but I thought I would share my thoughts on this. I would love to hear what everyone else’s experience of hotdesking is, good, bad or indifferent?

One Big Housing Conference #chchousing15

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I hadn’t been to a Community Housing Cymru (CHC) event for at least a few years, so when I saw the agenda for the One Big Housing Conference, I thought it looked worthwhile attending.

First a bit of background. CHC are the representative body for housing associations and community mutuals in Wales, which are all not-for profit organisations. The venue for the event is the famous Metropole Hotel (trust me – if you have been there, you’d understand why its famous). It’s a sprawling hotel in Llandrindod Wells, often jokingly described in Wales as ‘equally inconvenient for the North and South’. For me personally it was a 2½ hour drive from North Wales to get there – fact. It’s also the only hotel I know where there is no mobile signal within the hotel…..anywhere.

And so to the conference itself. If you have never been to a CHC event before, they are very professionally run. Everything electronic (rather than the usual half a ream of papers given at the start of a conference), screens with the latest tweets up on the wall and clearly signposted rooms for each session.

The first conference session was from Andy Crowe titled ‘I’m a Housing Exec, GET ME OUT OF HERE!’, talking about his experience of working on the island of St Helena and the uphill struggles this entailed, although as I tweeted below, its not all work:

St Helena

The thought of ‘what would you do if you had a blank piece of paper’ to create a housing service was certainly a novel one, and Andy really gave a great insight into the challenges of working on an island ‘where a £1 Iceland pizza is for sale for £2.70’ by the time it reaches them and the new St Helena runway has taken 2 years just to bring it up to level ground.

As usual with a conference, the next day saw many people looking a bit worse for ware, but I can honestly say that the 2Macs session (which was up first) was the perfect tonic. The 2Macs were billed as specialists in behavioral change with a session focusing on impact and influencing, utilising drama. I know that most people in the room (myself included) were a little concerned that ‘audience participation’ would be a prerequisite for role play, but my tweet below summed the room up:

2macs

The session itself was really quite brilliant. They were very engaging, talking about a fake housing association, housing manager and a tenant experience, with the audience having to ask questions and comment on how the situation could have been improved. I really can’t recommend them enough and I certainly will be looking to see if we can bring them to my current organisation as soon as I can.

The next session after this was from Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust and the ‘Mr Motivator’ of #ukhousing, talking about all things digital and beyond. This was a high octane session going through the reasons why all organisations should think digital, as well as why organisations should do away with the traditional desk for every member of staff approach (yes, there were some gasps at this statement):

Nick

I could see an awful lot of heads nodding to what Nick was saying. Nick also kindly mentioned my blog in his Prezi (so I had to include him in my review of the conference – it would rude not to). In true style, Nick left the conference in a flash (it was just missing the puff of smoke exit) to get his train back up North. Here’s a link to his Prezi which is well worth a look.

I realise I have only reviewed a few of the sessions at the conference (and there were many more), but these were the three that I enjoyed the most. All in all, a really excellent conference and I for one, am looking forward to next years instalment.

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