This month I've invited Jamie Angus, he's our Head of Communications to share his thoughts about why we need to be getting more people using the internet...
Last week saw the publication, probably for the first time, of a detailed state of play of the UK housing sector when it comes to delivering digital services.
The reality, which the self service report draws out, is that clunky IT systems, a lack of credible data on accessibility for tenants and a reluctance to promote a service which is far from Amazon-standard is holding us back.
But what strikes me the most is that as a sector we still haven’t nailed down why we’re doing this. We haven’t constructed the narrative as to why this is so important.
It reminds me of a great blog by Kate Bentham (@katebentham) where she refers to Channel Shove rather than Channel Shift.
We’ve all seen the transactional costs data and in a time where financially, we’re scrambling to strangle the last drop of value from every penny spent, we can see why online is such an attractive proposition. But if you go to any estate in Wolverhampton, or indeed any estate across the country, and tell tenants that going online is great – it’ll save us a fortune, then you can probably guess what most reactions will be. And this feels like the challenge we’re grappling with.
But the truth is, and this is the message which needs to resonate with tenants, they risk getting left behind if they’re not online. With Universal Credit on the horizon it’s never been more important that tenants, especially those of working age, get ready by being online. The stark reality could well be that no internet access equals no Universal Credit payment. I of course over simplify, but when you think about the message of missing out, it fits better with the raison d’etre of social housing. By not being online, tenants are missing out on job opportunities, financial savings, better energy deals, the chance to connect with friends and family. All of a sudden, the digital agenda ticks the moral boxes of financial and social inclusion, fuel poverty and social mobility.
At Wolverhampton Homes we’ve been grappling with the challenges of Channel Shift. It’s been an uncomfortable process but we’re making progress. And, in fact, although we may not have shouted the loudest, our statistics are credible and show we’re up there. The Yorkshire Housing report pretty much states there are no real pioneers yet. Yes, some are better than others at promoting it, but as a sector, we’re still finding our feet – but think of the potential if we all worked together to nail this.
In Wolverhampton, with a tenant-base of 23,000 – nearly 6,000 are signed up to our do-it-online account. Last month, we had nearly 1,000 active users logging-in to either make a payment, change their details or book a repair. Interestingly, our repairs booking system (although it’s far from perfect) is fully automated into our back office systems and allows tenants to pick a time which suits them. No e-forms which go to a customer service advisor to manually input; it’s fully automated self-service.
But we know that for most people they’d still pick up the phone. As proud as we are of our website and its mobile-responsive design, booking a repair online isn’t sexy enough to drive thousands of tenants there.
It’s a long digital road ahead, and although the technology will no doubt improve, if we can’t win the hearts and minds of tenants and colleagues then it’s going to be an arduous journey.
But we can and will win the debate, we have to, our tenants have got too much to lose if we don’t.