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Asset Management: Technology changes everything

Software and modern information technology is offering social landlords the opportunity to turn asset management data into a powerful business tool

 

IN daily life and in business, the digital revolution is leaving little untouched. For social landlords, technology and the software that brings it to ‘life’, offers some profound opportunities to revolutionise their asset management, as Housing found out when it talked to a few industry insiders.

“Social housing landlords are facing the increasing challenges in terms of compliance, health and safety and risks,” said Mark Holdsworth, business development director at Civica. “Having a real-time view of asset management and compliance has become a necessity for social landlords if they are to manage their responsibilities effectively.

“Modern systems can flag issues by exception and deliver complex information through simple dashboard views. They also allow the focus of effort and resources in the most effective way as well as highlighting clearly where urgent intervention is needed.”

But it’s no longer enough to have office-based systems; mobile is a must. “Modern web-based systems are allowing access to asset information via a phone or tablet when out on site. This allows third party contractors to access key asset information, such as asbestos data, but also information about residents to help deliver a better level of service when carrying out on-site activities.”

Modern technology means data – lots of it, potentially – and depending on how it is handled, it can have a profound effect on business functionality. “The best systems on the market have intelligent profiling and smoothing capabilities based upon previous data trends and different future scenarios to allow effective profiling of asset spend,” said Holdsworth.

“This is becoming increasingly important for social landlords to develop effective business plans for both lenders and potential future partners. Data from asset management systems is becoming increasingly important in terms of giving a joined-up service to tenants, informing repairs processes and ensuring efficiencies.”

If data is king, as Coastline Housing’s head of technical services, Mark England put it – “then validation is queen”. The organisation has stepped away from five-yearly stock condition surveys and embarked on a rolling approach to gathering data to gain a more accurate understanding of its stock’s requirements.

“This more granular information has enabled the development of detailed planned maintenance programmes in the longer term, driven by lifecycle replacement and a whole-life cost approach to major works. This smarter budgeting enables the ‘sweating of assets’ where safe and functional stock components can be maintained beyond their planned life and the savings ploughed back into improvements,” he said.

“Another benefit of this high quality data is that we can identify the less viable homes. These are properties which we do not see as having a long-term place in our core stock and would include homes in flood plains, hard-to-heat homes, high maintenance homes, and those where a lot of investment will be required in the near future.”

Coastline put its contractors to good effect in the implementation of its rolling stock conditions survey, getting them to gather data as they go about their routine operations in its stock, rather than the periodic conditions surveys it previously undertook. But with the advance of technology, everyday household appliances and gadgets are on the verge of becoming ready made data harvesting tools.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely billed as the next big leap in the digital revolution, so it might seem a little esoteric when it comes to down-to-earth things like asset management. Not so, according to Ian Napier, co-founder and commercial director of Switchee, which has created what is said to be the first ‘smart’ thermostat for social housing.

“The introduction of IoT devices in social housing allows landlords to access previously unavailable data,” he said. “Remote home environment monitoring can provide live readings of factors such as temperature, humidity, air quality or even motion. These present in-depth profiles of how a property functions. The data can be analysed to create further layers of insight, for example to provide building and welfare KPIs such as mould risk, thermal profiles, heating system diagnostics, void alerts, or fuel poverty alerts.”

Analysing the data gathered in this way could help social landlords plan more effectively and efficiently, and indeed take a more proactive rather than a reactive approach to managing their assets: in essence, a remote diagnostics function.

“For example, humidity and temperature data can be monitored to identify properties at risk of mould growth,” said Napier. “Mould damages properties, can have serious health implications for tenants, and becomes increasingly expensive to remedy if left untreated. Early detection using IoT sensors can result in proactive and cheaper repairs.

For Peter Watson, former executive director at L&Q who now runs Engage Property Technology, there’s an area of asset management that housing providers often overlook – and that’s the resident.

“If you have a happy community of residents that you are properly engaged with, then the task of management becomes easier and cheaper to deliver,” he said. “The world is changing and so are the expectations of the growing number of people who rent. In this connected age, residents expect more and demand more. With the UK rental demographic growing exponentially in size over the past decade, there is considerable potential for ‘self-service’ software solutions – alongside asset management software – to positively transform the market.”

The concept of focusing on the resident as a customer is something familiar to social landlords, but it’s something that the private rented sector is also now embracing, he said. Good relations are fostered because the ‘real-time’ connectivity offered allows for an interaction that fosters a sense that “something productive is being done” and “nothing is lost in translation”.

“In this way, the landlord becomes part of the community rather than a distant and transactional entity; relationships are improved and the task of asset management is simplified,” Watson added. “It makes good business sense on a number of levels: potentially costly issues are dealt with in a prompt and effective way and engaged customers are more likely to be cooperative and keen to remain in a property.”

 

This article first appeared in the February/March 2017 print edition of Housing magazine

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