The Future of Housing Tech Roundtable

By Richard Sage - on 29/04/2014

On Tuesday 22 March 2014 a group of people interested in tech in the UK housing sector gathered together at a roundtable facilitated and arranged by HACT and hosted by Paul Foster at Microsoft. Richard Sage of @BakedIdeas comments on the discussions and outcomes.

 

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This blog was originally posted on the Baked Ideas website, click here to visit the site.

It was a really interesting session. I did a couple of presentations based on my recent posts here and here to seed different parts of the debate, which I think worked ok, although as i hadn’t had as much time as i’d have liked to prep i think i probably waffled a bit too much :(

Anyway, this post is intended to capture some thoughts from the day.

These will focus around the following areas:

  • People
  • Suppliers
  • Data
  • Platforms and Services
  • Manifesto

People

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I find it easy to fall into the trap of being overly sceptical and pessimistic about #ukhousing its lack of innovation, its intertia etc. but roundtables like the one we had are a great antidote to that where you get the opportunity to talk to bright, intelligent, experienced individuals who are really switched on to their challenges and those of their business.

Suppliers

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I don’t think we got too hung up on incumbent bashing, but there was a justified amount of this, although it was rightly tempered I think with an acceptance that ‘customers get the suppliers they deserve’. There is more as individuals and as a community that we can do to get the most value out of our existing suppliers as well as look to other opportunities outside the traditional #ukhousing pond.

Data

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Data was a common theme amongst the discussions. A couple of key points stuck in my mind:

  • The recognition that data is the lifeblood of an organisation and the crucial (but not sole) role that IT/Tech plays in unlocking its value.
  • The desire to de-silo data, to share it more freely and to mash it up with other existing or new data sources.
  • The difficulty of working within the current similar information system architectures that those round the table shared, often related to issues with supplier technology, sometimes even contractual issues. this really re-enforced for me the view that our ambitions as housing orgs are sometimes being constrained rather than enabled by those we choose to partner with.

 

Platforms and services

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There seemed to be a consensus that whilst we ‘do all do the same things’ the individual shape of housing orgs can be different e.g. student housing, leisure centre management, telecare.

I think there was a consensus that the monoliths of the current/past are not fit and that a more flexible architecture where element are composable to reflect the nature of the organisation is the way ahead.

I think in writing about a Platform in my recent blog posts I might have given the impression that i was talking about some monolithic beast. I was not. My thinking in this space is very much informed by this greatpost on ‘Micro Services’ by Martin Fowler (hey i’m an Enterprise Architect I can’t go a whole post without referring to a buzzword!). just as an ideal housing org’s business should be oriented around the service it delivers to its customers, so should its ideal information systems architecture.

Manifesto

Towards the end of the roundtable we touched on the idea of coalescing some of our discussion, our frustration, our aspirations and principles into a document, I think i mentioned the ‘M’ word, but it doesn’t have to be a manifesto, as an Enterprise Architect i’d view it as a collection of architecture principles that clarify what we want a housing technologists. What do we need? what will we not put up with?

I see this manifesto having two important uses:

1) Imagine if a large enough portion of the housing community agreed with, helped improve and signed up to the manifesto? What a great statement of intent to deliver to suppliers to the sector! we would immediately be raising the bar of expectation across the sector.

I find it ironic that, as a sector that seems to spend half its energy chasing some sector/regulator/government standard that we haven’t had the same focus on standards within the technology layer in the organisation.

2) If the #ukhousing community did ever want to do something innovative ‘by themselves, for themselves’ then what a great starting point the manifesto would be? essentially encapsulating the design principles for any initiative.

As to what the manifesto might contain? that will have to wait for another post.

Conclusion

This is just a snapshot (although longer than i intended) on the roundtable. I’ve missed loads including Lucy Glenday from Surrey CC Skyping in to talk about the omni-channel platform that they are building. There are plans for future ones focused around the manifesto. I’d urge those that are interested and those that couldn’t make it to get involved.

I’ll be running a session on the future of housing tech at House Party so please pop along if any of this post has interested you. Hopefully it will be fun and involve making prototypes of peoples vision for housing tech in the future (it might involve cardboard boxes and string(!?) if i can stop writing blog posts and start planning it :))

Also feel free to get in touch, always happy to chat about, well, pretty much anything :)

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