Digital · Email · housing · tech

Are you on a Digital Journey?


Last week I spoke at the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru’s Housing Conference in Cardiff with Nick Atkin, Group CEO of Halton Housing on the subject of ‘The Future of Housing Technology’. This is a great subject to cover, not least because there is so much more we could be doing as a sector to catch up and embrace the future.

What were the key messages?

During our session, the main messages included:

  1. Digital is here, whether we are part of it or not: Generation Z are connected from birth. To gen Z customers and staff, being connected is a part of life, much like breathing. It is not an optional extra.genZ
  2. Going digital can save an organisation money in the long-term: Organisation’s like Nick’s have shown that moving tenants onto digital platforms saves organisation’s money. Fact.
  3. Tech is cheap and everywhere: I have blogged about it before, but the ultra cheap and better than its price £30 UbiSlate tablet represents so much. I called it a game changer in my blog post for a reason.
  4. The mobile device is key: We talked in our session about people always being on their mobile devices. You only need to walk down a busy street to see how many heads are down looking at their phones while walking (this guardian article calls them smartphone zombies). Scary, but true.

What about NWH?

My North Wales Housing CEO Paul Diggory was sat in the audience during the session and reflected that it was nice to see all our digital accomplishments in one place, including:

  • One-page Digital First Strategy;
  • Reviewed, renamed and relaunched My NWH (tenants portal);
  • Digital annual reviews for the past two years;
  • Recently launched Email Charter.

What I find amazing is that, despite the above, I feel we have only really scratched the surface of what we could do digitally. But at least we are on our digital journey. For the leading digital organisation in the Housing sector, look no further than Nick’s organisation, Halton Housing. They came number 1 in the Visceral Connected Housing Study 2015 (again) for a reason.

Final thoughts……

The Q&A session at the end of a session is always interesting. One question which really struck a chord, was whether as a sector, Housing looks far enough into the future at what the next digital/technological developments will be. The short answer is, definitely not.

Bear in mind that as a sector we are still generally getting to grips with everyone being connected, the networked individual and the 24/7 offer, we are not even close to fully future gazing about what is possible.

Another key point is that there is a lot of interest in the sector around digital and technology. The conference session was packed out and attendee’s seemed genuinely interested and engaged in what we were saying. So much so that a few conversations around digital technology in the Housing sector continued on much after the session finished. We need to harness this interest for the good of the sector, share our successes and failures, and continue the debate.

So to the real question: Is your organisation on a digital journey yet? If not, you might just get left behind……..

For more details on the above points and move, copies of our conference session Prezi’s are embedded below:

And here’s Nick’s:

Digital · housing

The Digital Inclusion Blues


I’ve been ‘drafting’ a Digital Inclusion strategy for what feels like an ice age (for the record it’s been several months). I’ve had countless conversations with people, both face-to-face and via Twitter about the subject, I’ve also attended workshops and I’ve read tons of digital inclusion strategies and statistics.

So why the difficulty in writing a Digital Inclusion Strategy? For one thing, the picture is ever changing. The pace of technological change is fast and constant and not a week goes by without a new technological advancement that could be applied to #ukhousing.

Another challenge is that there is just so much to do to tackle digital inclusion. For the DI Strategy I’m writing, I’m trying to cover lots of different sections within our organisation, with a wide range of skills, experience and ages. This is just not easy. One answer for one group of tenants isn’t going to work for another. This leads to a really lengthy strategy, which I hate. I really want to keep this as short as possible, otherwise no-one will read it (including me). There’s also the challenge of rural vs coastal, the sheer availability of reliable and affordable internet access and mobile blackspots. You just are not able to connect in some areas.


A third challenge is that to some degree we are all working in isolation. We have social housing tenants, private tenants and owner occupiers, many of which are suffering from digital exclusion, but we don’t always offer the same things to everyone. My DI Strategy for example is aimed at our tenants and customers. There’s no real mention as yet about the many tenants and owner occupiers who aren’t our direct customers accessing what we are looking to offer. Sure, I’ve had some conversations and meetings with other social landlords, but nothing has got off the ground about this (although I haven’t given up on this!).

Like a lot of organisations, we’ve been gathering some profiling data from our tenants. One area in particular I’m hoping to gain some insight on from the tenant profiling data is on digital inclusion. After asking on Twitter for some suggestions, these are the questions we included in our questionnaire:

  1. Do you have access to the internet at home?
  2. Do you have a smart phone?
  3. Do you access the internet on your phone? (a) on 3G (b) on wifi?
  4. Are you confident in your internet skills?

Now the sheer volume of suggested questions I received was amazing! I decided on asking the above questions as a ‘phase 1’ set of questions; ‘phase 2’ would go into a lot more detail than this. We’ve also been carrying out some more specific digital inclusion questionnaires in our Extra Care Housing Scheme (for Older People) to see if this shows us anything.

This is all coupled with some crystal clear statistics available which include:

  • Latest figures show there are still have a million people in Wales who are digitally excluded. One in five Welsh adults has never used the internet. Source: Wales Co-op, Digital Inclusion: Stronger Communities, 2014
  • 46% of social housing tenants do not have access to the internet within their own home. This amounts to over 214,000 digitally excluded tenants. Source: Welsh Government, ‘Device use and household access, by tenure’, National Survey for Wales Internet Access Figures, 2013

I have had some successes though (well one). I’ve been trialling the £30 UbiSlate tablet from Datawind and I’m now starting to roll this trial out to include some tenants (it’s not much of a success but I’ll take it).

However, I am really pleased to say that I’ve finally come to a conclusion – one which I have really had since I started drafting the DI Strategy. It’s not going to change the world, but for me it’s a really important step in the process.

It’s better to get on with doing something than just talking about it.

Mind you, first things first, I just need to complete and gain approval for V8 of our ‘draft’ DI Strategy……………


(Welsh) Housing Power Players 2014?

ImageThe recent publication by 24 Housing of 2014’s top 50 power players included 5 welsh representatives. These were:

21 – Gavin Smart – Director of Policy and Practice, Chartered Institute of Housing (and Bron Afon Board member)

22 – Jules Birch – Welsh Housing Quarterly Editor and blogger

37 – Robin Staines – Head of Housing – Camarthenshire County Council

40 – Michelle Reid – CEO – Cynan Taff Community Housing

47 – Carl Sergeant – Welsh Assembly Minister for Housing and Regeneration

Interesting enough, at the CIH Cymru TAI Housing conference in Cardiff recently, Michelle Reid queried whether it would be possible for her to remain in the top 50 as part of her new role. I guess next years list will be the real litmus test, but signs are looking good.

This year 24 Housing have also included at top 30 CEO’s list, which include the following Welsh representatives:

14 – Michelle Reid – Cynon Taf Community Housing

22 – Andrew Lycett – RCT Homes

30 – Duncan Forbes – Bron Afon

So, the overall picture shows that Wales does have some representation, but not much. I do wonder whether this reflects the much wider picture of Wales having different legislation and regulation (to name but two), making it difficult for Wales to seep over into England (and vice versa).

OK, so between the two lists there were 8 from and connected to Wales out of 80 listed, but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland? They were even more sparsely represented. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the power player list is a bit of fun really and is certainly doesn’t include a scientifically proven formula, but it certainly fires up some debate about these issues.

The other big issue to come out of the top 50 power players list is the lack of diversity. Only 12 women are listed, the same number as last year.  Grania Long, herself number 5 on the Power Players list for this year, has recognised this by agreeing to put the diversity issue on the CIH Conference debate programme for Manchester. This is after all a much bigger issue than just the Power Players list and has been talked about for some years within #ukhousing.

On a purely superficial level (I can work like this when needed), the list shows me who has some influence in the world of housing. Most of the list are names that we know and recognise due to their hard work within the sector. I also have to agree with Steve Hildich’s comment on his Red Brick blog that ‘you’d rather be on the list than not’.

So here’s to next year’s power player list and seeing whether any of this and previous years issues get ironed out. Who’s willing to bet that there will be an increased diversity in next years list?