This entry in our Future of Housing guest blog series has been provided by HACT, the Housing Associations' Charitable Trust. HACT is the sector’s ideas and innovation agency. It is developing a UK Housing Data Standard, the aim of which is to revolutionise how UK housing uses data and designs digital processes in the future. It has been authored by Neil Tamplin, IT/Digital Delivery Manager at Valleys To Coast.
On Tuesday 16 July I took a trip to Shoreditch, London, to hear how people were starting to implement the UK Housing Data Standard within their services and products.
This blog post is a quick rattle through of some key points that registered in my brain from that meeting. To give you a little more, you can find the speakers notes from the day on the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) website.
What have standards ever done for us?
Imagine that we didn’t have a UK standard for the humble plug. Instead, every housebuilder picked their design of plug socket based on what they thought was best for the eventual homeowner.
As a prospective homeowner, you’d have four options for making your array of electrical items (which might each have their design of plug) work with your lovely new house.
- Throw everything out and buy all new electrical items that fit with the plug sockets.
- Spend a few hours browsing online retailers looking for an array of converters to make your electrical items work with your plug sockets.
- Hire an electrician to rewire some or all of your house to accommodate your electrical items.
- Do a mixture of the above based on how critical each electrical item is and how much it’ll cost to get it working.
Fortunately, we don’t have this problem because in the UK we use plug type G.
It ensures that any electrical item you buy in the UK works with any electrical socket. This saves an awful lot of time, expense and waste for all involved as we’ve all agreed on a recognised standard.
Does social housing need a standard for data?
For all the reasons above. We expend far too much valuable time and energy converting or interpreting data so that it can travel between people, teams, systems or external partners.
Standards are not a new thing. As Doug Silverstone, Head of Data & Analytics at Thames Valley Housing Association, pointed out during his talk, we already work with standards regularly, but we don’t think about them that way or actively manage them.
For example, you may use some form of standard to do the following:
- Send data to a local council.
- Import data into your finance system(s).
- Exchange data with external repairs operatives.
So really, we’re just talking about being more intentional about how we use data and in what format. In that sense, the UK Housing Data Standard does an awful lot of the leg work for us. It’s doing the hard work to make things simpler.
Who should adopt the standard?
It would be brilliant if all technology suppliers working with social housing adopted the standard. It would make a huge difference in joining up service delivery both inside and outside our organisations. That’s me, a potential customer, saying I’ll buy your stuff if you make service delivery easier not harder.
For new entrants to the sector, it’s hugely encouraging to start seeing support for the standard from the get-go. If you’re building a new product, it’s a faster route to market to have a ready-made data standard for your systems. Why reinvent the wheel?
For incumbent technology suppliers, most are in the middle of their product roadmaps and so, pragmatically speaking, it’s going to take time to change direction. I’m sure that would speed up if the standard received a notable groundswell of support.
It’s also worth acknowledging the elephant in the room. The data standard will make migrating away from products and services easier. And while it’s not an overt strategy, customer lock-in is a pattern that has been utilised by some of the less progressive suppliers as a way of retaining customers.
We (those who work in social housing) don’t have direct control over these things. But we do control where the money is spent and what we procure. We’re going to need to create the conditions for something different from the norm to happen.
As a buyer of technology, when I see someone using the UK Housing Data Standard, it indicates to me that this is a technology supplier that:
- Understands the value of open reusable standards.
- Has confidence in their product or service.
- Is happy to work with other systems and services that we may already be using.
- Is going to be far more compatible with the principles of GDPR.
Essentially, we have to make the UK Housing Data Standard a competitive advantage. That means making it appear as a requirement for suppliers to participate in housing tenders. Perhaps as a ‘nice to have’ to begin with but working toward a point where we can specify it as ‘essential’.
What can we do right now?
We have to start iteratively implementing the standard into whatever work we’re doing right now. That means looking for opportunities where we might apply the standard to generate some learning and build capability.
During the same event, Chris Lees, Technical Director at Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE), talked about the different patterns for implementing the standard. This helped clarify how this might practically work in the medium to long term. The pattern below about implementing the standard at the interface level made an awful lot of sense in the context of where we are at on the digital maturity curve. (Other patterns are available!)
Rather than trying to convert all existing systems to be natively compliant with the UK Housing Data Standard, instead, reconfigure the interfaces. That would ensure that while data is in transit, it’s in a compliant format. As we have the opportunity to swap systems out, if we’re fortunate enough to find one that is standards-compliant, it’ll automatically speak the same language as the rest of our interfaces. Rinse and repeat until you’ve replaced all non-compliant systems.
The rallying call to action
In his wrap up summary, Rob Wray, Chief Innovation Officer at HACT, perfectly framed the sector’s challenge for the future.
We are good at describing the problem without doing anything about it.
Let’s change that!
Here’s a real tangible way of making things better. We can achieve change through the aggregation of thousands of small things that anyone can do every day.
If you have:
- Visit the HACT Housing Data Standard page.
- Mention the HACT Housing Data Standard to someone else.
- Retweet the HACT twitter account.
- Register to download the HACT UK Housing Data Standard.
- Think about how you might use some part of the standards in your upcoming change projects.
- Post some thoughts on Twitter/LinkedIn about how you might practically use the standard.
- Talk to your team about how you might support the standard or incorporate them into the work you are doing.
- Get in touch with one of the other UK Housing Data Standards supporters to see what they’re up to.
- Write a blog post about how you might start using the standard.
- Arrange a call with HACT to see how they can support you to get started.
Thanks to HACT for putting on the event and thanks to the speakers for sharing their experiences.
Do you plan to carry out any of the suggested actions above? Maybe you’ve already done so. If that’s the case, we’d love to hear what you made of the HACT UK Housing Data Standard or to read your blog post about using the standard. Tweet us with your views and links at @CPCatapult using the #FutureOfHousing hashtag.
This article originally appeared on the HACT blog and has been reproduced here by kind permission.
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This blog is one in a series and is part of our new Future of Housing programme. Find out more about our work in this area by visiting our new Future of Housing knowledge hub.