Initial results of our updated Future Gazing Future Shaping – what might the sector look like in 2025 survey are in, and innovation is a key priority in the sector, but few are genuinely challenging their long-established approach to delivering services.
Understandable perhaps. Being innovative or looking to transform carries risk for organisations – risks which need to be managed, and mitigation against failure, which often slows progress. But choosing not to change is increasingly becoming even more risky.
Consider the example of Kodak: in 1975 employee Steve Sasson, invented the world’s first digital camera, which was shelved by Kodak as bosses thought “no one would ever want to look at pictures on a screen”. After further development, Kodak chose not to market the camera in the 1980s due to fears it would put other parts of their business model at risk. Kodak made some money from the patents for the digital camera, but others were able to manufacture digital cameras at scale and build market share. In 2012, largely due to not embracing change, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
There are a couple of pertinent lessons in this story: understand the risk of not doing something (i.e. launching a new approach) and don’t assume you know what your customers want (looking at pictures on a screen).
The housing sector isn’t at the cutting edge of developing new technologies like other sectors – and it doesn’t need to be. But it can make greater use and adapt emerging technologies from others. Take a few examples: voice interaction devices (e.g. Alexa), smart homes, smart devices, GPS technology, 3D printers, drones, artificial intelligence (e.g. Google Duplex), virtual and augmented reality. What if a housing provider in 2025 made full use of these technologies to deliver services?
- What if a contact centre was fully resourced by AI technology (such as Google Duplex)? A customer would call the contact centre and ‘speak’ to the AI technology (which can engage in a full ‘human’ conversation, in any language) about the initial query (e.g. a repairs request). With a link back to the customers home via smart devices, the AI could run initial checks, before diagnosing the problem and coordinating the appropriate response.
- What if smart devices, AI, 3D printers and drones were used as part of a responsive repairs service? Smart sensors are already a standard on many new home devices. By 2025 it will be the norm for these sensors to regularly provide maintenance updates. AI will analyse the data, discern when a repair is needed (ahead of a failure) and will arrange for an operative to visit the property. Drones will deliver required parts or heavy tools, and the operative will have access to a mobile 3D printer to ‘print’ replacement parts on site.
- What if a housing provider contacted customers through a voice interaction device (e.g. Alexa)? A customer could access any information, ask questions, make payment or orders via Alexa. This already exists for some services; there are examples of police forces making updates available to residents via Alexa. Organisations could improve customer engagement through more frequent feedback, providing updates on local activities and remote support on demand to customers.
- Imagine there was true collaboration between housing and other sectors for the development of new technologies? Large car manufacturers are already collaborating with digital platforms such as Uber to develop a service model which combines driverless cars, with an ordering platform; car ownership will be a distant memory. Similar opportunities exist for housing providers e.g. What if some providers collaborated with Amazon to develop Alexa technology to support elderly or vulnerable residents at home? Or, what if housing, the NHS and Fitbit collaborated to develop technology which enabled patients to be discharged from hospital more quickly but still be remotely monitored?
Some of these ideas aren’t particularly aspirational. The technology is already available and being used by housing tenants to access services in many other areas of their lives. But in technological terms 2025 is still a long way off and we can’t be sure what will be developed next. Asking ‘what if…’ as a starting point breaks down the restraints and constraints on imagining what can be achieved through truly embracing progress; and just remember the risk of not doing anything at all. Disruptors like Uber and Netflix have transformed the service offer in their sectors, and left traditional providers scrabbling to adapt. Housing sector disruptors are developing fast. A few years ago, we asked what if Tesco did housing. In 2018, Lidl announced they were to provide affordable housing. Who might be next? The new generation of private registered providers will bring both challenge and different thinking.
Click here to read this article on 24housing.co.uk