How digital innovation is transforming property repair management

Workman engaging with digital process by touching screen

Housing associations have long played a key role in providing affordable homes for families and supporting local communities across the UK.

They own or manage almost three million homes (1) and yet they face a growing set of challenges to ensure a high-quality portfolio in the face of increased legislation and diminishing revenue.

In England alone, housing associations spent more than £5bn on repairs and maintenance in 2019/20 (2) and it has been estimated that it will take at least this much again to ensure all social housing complies with the Fire Safety Bill, which was introduced following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 (3).

The social housing sector is also under pressure to meet the legally binding net zero target by 2050 (4) as well as achieving a C rating on Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) across all ‘fuel poor’ homes by 2030 and every home by 2035 (5).

All of this comes at a time when the Government announced a 7% rent cap for 2023/24 (6) and published a white paper (7) designed to empower tenants and increase scrutiny of processes within housing associations.

One of the key messages from the white paper was a need for an increase in the transparency and accountability of social landlords across several areas including building maintenance, complaint handling and repair updates.

It is against this backdrop that we are talking to more and more housing associations and social landlords about why embarking on a digital transformation journey can deliver a much more efficient and successful approach to their maintenance and repairs activities while ensuring the tenant is right at the heart of the interaction.

Central to the whole ethos of housing associations is to provide the best possible housing and service for their tenants and so any digital transformation programme has to ensure that it is delivering what tenants want.

As we have seen during the pandemic, people are becoming increasingly tech savvy and web literate and are far more comfortable engaging via a mobile app or through a website – more than 70% of us now do our banking online (8) while almost two thirds of people are now doing at least some of their weekly shop digitally (9).

By using digital solutions, housing associations can provide their tenants with an end-to-end experience that gives the tenant more visibility through the entire process, providing them with the right information at the right time and offering them much needed reassurance that their issue is being dealt with in a timely manner.

Increased technology utilisation helps to create time and space for those managing the repair and maintenance process, enabling them to refocus their efforts towards those with the greatest need.

From an operational perspective, a digital platform can simultaneously engage with all relevant stakeholders in the process, reducing the need for time-consuming task switching while also ranking both the quality and availability of suppliers and providing additional insight into service delivery.

In our work with clients, we’ve found that organisations value the support the platform can provide on job prioritization to ensure that the most serious enquiries are attended to first, rather than automatically dealing with the most recent enquiry, reducing the risk of serious issues going unresolved and ensuring any issues raised by vulnerable tenants are quickly identified and dealt with.

It’s important to recognize though that the journey to digital transformation rarely runs smoothly. Progress can be hampered by several challenges including lack of internal technical resource, the complexity of integration with legacy systems, the impact on stretched resources of training employees on new systems and the costs required for implementation and ongoing maintenance.

For these reasons and many more, cloud-based customisable solutions are becoming increasingly popular. A solution delivered as a hosted SaaS (Software as a Service) on-demand, cloud-based service, will offer significant cost savings compared to traditional on-premise IT solutions and will also enable seamless and continuous upgrades avoiding the build-up of technical debt.

Platforms can be designed to guide the employee through the process with reporting capability to help line managers monitor progress and identify any areas or individuals that might require additional training and support – invaluable insight when managing a large team.

In our experience, organisations particularly value the flexibility a digital platform can deliver – tried and tested APIs* that enable systems to be connected without wholesale changes to the IT infrastructure – creating a seamless, end-to-end process.

As can be seen across many industries, going digital doesn’t mean losing the human touch. A hybrid model combines traditional in-person support with digital tools to deliver consistency, efficiency and accuracy as well as making repair updates and related services more accessible for the tenant. Automating aspects of the repair management process frees customer service teams to focus on the areas where they add most value – personalising the service, supporting vulnerable tenants, and overseeing complex projects.

Strengthening digital capability now will put housing associations in a stronger position to cope with increased demand in the future. Successful digital transformation of areas such as maintenance and repairs will allow housing associations to save money, better utilise their existing resources and ultimately deliver better outcomes for all.