Opinion: Housing repairs – why technology is only part of the answer

Glen Ocsko - HeadshotLet’s not get distracted by shiny new bits of technology and ignore the fundamentals of what we need to build says Glen Ocskó, Head of Local Government at Made Tech.

New technology has brought both opportunities and challenges to public sector services – promising greater efficiencies once they’re in place but requiring patience, investment and cultural shifts to make sure we adopt the right tools in the right ways, and for the right reasons.

While most of us are on board with the benefits technology brings to local government housing repairs, we must remind ourselves that technology is an enabler of change, not a deliverer of change.

Build strong foundations first
Budgets, complicated software and legacy technology are at the forefront of challenges for housing repairs teams at local authorities. Councils often use many legacy systems which haven’t been designed to work with each other. Data doesn’t flow easily between these systems and legacy applications often overpromise features and innovation, yet usually underdeliver – and are rarely user-centred.

People are being sold a vision that AI and predictive analytics are going to solve all their needs, but this isn’t the case. If for example, analytics can predict that a property is likely to have mould in the coming months, but you don’t have a system in place to do something about it, then that intelligence isn’t going to be helpful to anyone. These new technologies are not the answer, they are only part of the answer.

Putting people at the centre
We need to remember that humans are and will always be, the most powerful tool we have. If we get people using the wrong technology and it doesn’t solve their problems, their scepticism of innovation rises, and their willingness to fully engage with digital tools lowers.

For example, if you used a website for a service, and that website crashes or is confusing to use, you’re likely to pick up the phone to get the answers you need. And then, you’ve lost faith in that tech. Putting technology in front of your teams and your end users, can do a lot more harm than good.

Let’s not get distracted by the shiny new bits of technology out there and ignore the fundamentals of what we’re meant to be building – which is the best possible services for citizens.

Let’s talk housing repairs
With an online housing repairs service, councils empower their tenants to take control of their housing needs. It can help to provide a more efficient and cost-effective service and can be quickly set up and integrated. It’s important to keep these three vital steps front of mind when creating an online service:

  • Interoperability – this is different to integration – which is joining together two products and making one service. Interoperability is when two or more pieces of technology talk to each other and work together to create something much bigger.
  • Data – this is often seen as the answer to all our problems, but it’s very rarely understood. Getting data right and getting it to flow between systems is the only way to reap its benefits. The success of things like AI and machine learning relies on the right data inputs and flow. Think of it this way, a good chef wouldn’t use bad ingredients and expect to produce great food. It’s the same with data. Bad data in, means bad data out. In truth, we’re at least a decade away from AI being smart enough to fix the problems that people have created. Every product we build today needs data portability – where data can be moved freely and securely.
  • Procurement – the way we procure our housing repairs platforms needs to change too. At the moment, there’s still a tendency to procure one huge system with a very long list of features. Providers are not working towards fixing the problems that need solving. We need an outcomes-based approach to procurement. And this can only truly be achieved when local authorities remove themselves from those big contracts and find the right blend of suppliers who each concentrate on solving their piece of the puzzle.

It all comes down to creating value
In the public sector, we’re often talking about and focusing on solving the big problems. We’re usually thinking long term. This means we sometimes lose sight of the quick wins and the thin slices of value that can make a big difference when they build up over time. There’s no good in having smart speakers in every room if you have mould on the walls and rotten floorboards.

So let’s procure, build and share services to address the challenges shared by all councils, for the future.

See also Glen’s previous piece for How stagnant procurement processes can limit digital innovation


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