What does the housing sector have in common?

Jonathan Cowie 240x260
With the housing sector going through what is regarded as the biggest change in a generation, there is a danger it fragments and Boards focus on their own business plans at the expense of where we have a common agenda.

Whilst the funding models differ between RPs, ALMOs and Council owned housing, there are two key areas that all housing providers are trying to address – how far can they use their assets to build more homes and what standard of service should they offer? Whilst a huge amount has been written about the first, there is more of a dilemma about the second.

Having joined the sector six years ago from the private sector (telecoms and IT service) and moving from the RP sector to lead CityWest Homes last year, as an ALMO in the heart of London, I understand that we need to be mindful that our customer’s expectations are radically changing. It’s interesting to note that 78% of UK GDP is generated by the service sector and over 70% of UK employees deal directly with customers. Yet our ability to recognise what is truly important to our customers and match this in our delivery is way behind that of many leading public and private sector organisations. Having just reviewed the Institute of Customer Services latest service trends and expectations of customers across every sector, our sector mirrors the same expectations in not only what we deliver but how we deliver it – yet we have some catching up to do.

The Board also needs to play an increasing role in understanding and trending what is important to customers and how this is measured, alongside what this means in investment. Most customers want the ability to get what they need in a way that suits them – yet we make it extremely difficult to do this well. The acknowledgement that we have underinvested in IT, data management and trending analytics is now becoming crucial, as they are key enablers to both improve and simplify service, whilst reducing our cost to deliver.

As an ALMO, we have a great opportunity to not only work with our different customer groups to define what is most important, but we also have a clear vision set by Westminster City Council and an opportunity to use our resources in a far more integrated way to better serve the local community. We believe we can add more value by being creative in the long term (we have an extension to our contract to 2023) and demonstrating how the skills and resources of the organisation can drive greater value. To support this we asked Altair to work with us to define our future operating model to build on the high satisfaction we have today, whilst acknowledging the changes in expectations we are all experiencing. The result is a clear design to simplify how we operate and deliver, making it easier for our customers and reducing our costs significantly. This is not just about strengthening the digital agenda but reinventing how we deliver and own issues, in the way our customers see it – how it affects their home and community.

Whilst there are significant challenges ahead for the sector, the opportunities are also exciting, and as a critical enabler to the growth of the UK economy, we should not be viewed any differently from other sectors driving economic growth.

Jonathan Cowie is CEO of CityWest Homes. As Westminster’s leading housing manager, CityWest Homes manage over 21,000 homes, which includes 9,000 leaseholder homes, 12,000 social homes and the communities which they are situated in.

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