Last month, I introduced our Housing Service Improvement Working Group, which spun out of an ambition to kickstart innovative ideas partnering with forward thinking housing providers. As a group we’re keen to explore some challenges in providing good quality services in housing by taking a user-led approach, that is guided by the needs and priorities of the people using them.

So far on our journey we’ve had some really engaging discussions, and I wanted to share some of the outcomes on our current theme of asset management - how we could design intelligent systems to be more proactive when it comes to things like repairs management, rather than reactive as is traditionally the case.

Jem Bowen, Royal Borough of Greenwich Housing IT Programme Manager, is one of the core team members in the group, bringing an intricate understanding of current challenges and ideas. He commented:

“I and other group members from housing organisations have been meeting online with Jo and her colleagues at Unboxed for several months. Each of us has a rich background working with repairs and asset management systems, and these sessions have provided a rare opportunity to explore the core principles involved. It has been so refreshing to discuss and examine these issues together. A brilliant experience!“

The last couple of meet-up sessions have been focused on unpicking what is an asset, who are the users (from primary to tertiary) and what are their needs. Then we started breaking down the stages of an ideal reactive repairs process in a decision tree - moving onto the data needs and dependencies at each stage, and what barriers or difficulties might need to be scoped.

Thinking about intelligent asset management, from proactive repairs to zero carbon

Photo by Pedro Ramos on Unsplash.

It’s important to consider the key data dependencies that a reactive repair will require in order to make intelligent decisions. Planned and regular maintenance works also need information about reactive repairs to be able to plan efficiently and cost effectively. So the systems are intrinsically linked, and data standards critical. By continually drilling down into users’ needs we start to see where improvements can be made.

Our Senior Service Designer leading on the group, Lawrence Richards, says:

“We’ve used these working group sessions to think about the process from a completely different perspective, being resident focused from the start and imagining the service from the initial request and what needs to be in place to make it happen. Being able to think a little more speculatively has meant reimagining the process from the ground up, and identifying where innovation opportunities may lie – something that is often quite challenging when working in smaller work streams within specific areas (e.g reactive repairs, planned maintenance, voids management etc). The outcomes will be blueprints for future processes and ideas to take back and explore when working on smaller projects in housing.”

We feel there’s a real opportunity to move to a more intelligent approach to asset management, flipping from a reactive to proactive starting point. For example, using analytics and grouping types of repairs, we can start to detect patterns and see where AI could play a role in future. This could also empower repairs operatives to make use of the data available when raising a repair request.

Outside of the group I’ve been looking at other connected areas of impact, such as our collective national goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. With such a high percentage of our carbon footprint coming from our homes, this is a challenge hitting the housing sector heavily. Social Housing magazine recently reported that “the majority of housing associations have so far failed to factor in the cost of full decarbonisation of their stock and some could face a similar spend to dealing with fire safety”.

Becoming net zero has a huge influence on asset management strategy, and is something that the housing sector can’t solve on its own. It will take scrupulous planning, the right kind of collaboration and technology, and of course working in partnership with other sectors such as utilities and construction.

Effective asset management and the use of data is part of a much bigger journey. Not just a net zero plan, but of course building safety plans, plus looking at existing assets to improve their quality for residents and look at things more holistically. There will need to be a huge increase in investment over the coming years to meet these plans.

Starting with easy wins is a good position to be in for now, and ensuring that residents are bought along on the journey is crucial.

If you’re currently in the housing sector and would like to join our monthly meet-ups, we’d love to have you on board. Please get in touch jo.oliveira@unboxed.co.

Written by Jo Oliveira