Data: Support and not the solution

Last week, global initiatives to introduce algorithm-based predictive governance have come under fire for not delivering the savings and efficiencies promised, while also highlighting that the roll out of digital self-services can leave the most vulnerable behind. For most organisations, digital transformation is inevitable but how can we embrace data as a support tool rather than a catch-all promise of progress?

It is forecast that data analytics will deliver personalised experiences for citizens from across the wide array of public services we are entitled to in the UK; customers in healthcare, social housing and beyond will come to expect entirely tailored services. The UK social housing sector however, is yet to reach digital maturity as a whole, with some organisations seamlessly integrating data analytics into their decision-making processes, some choosing not to adopt them at all and others jumping into big-data projects while lacking a clear strategy of how to utilise the resulting data.  Adoption of an analytics tool needs to begin by defining what valid benefit it holds to those it impacts and then the impact it will have on the organisation utilising it. Prioritising the former delivers long-term purpose to the latter.

“Decision makers are used to making judgments. Any CEO understands statistics at a gut level, because that’s what they do every day. They may not know the math behind it, but the idea of collecting evidence, iterating on it and basing decisions on this is intuitive for executives.”

Paco Nathan, Director, Learning Group with O’Reilly Media.

Housing associations and local authorities hold a huge amount of data, which when organised in an appropriate, intelligent and engaging way, can have analytics applied to give a more detailed explanation as to what is happening. Managers can then use this fuller picture to answer key questions to support their organisation; Why did it happen? What will happen? And what can we do to make something happen or not? Before data is brought into the heart of decision-making processes there are three steps an organisation should consider.

Define your purpose

What are the core goals of your organisation? It is easy to get carried away or overwhelmed by the promises big data could achieve for your bottom line. However, without an organisation-wide understanding of the company’s vision and how data can fit into that, analytics could well fail to capture the bigger picture.

Set specific outcomes

Work out the specific problems that you need to solve in order to achieve the core goals of your organisation. These could be questions such as; How can we recover 50% of former tenant arrears before it becomes statute barred? Who in our organisation is at risk of fuel poverty? Who owns a second home and is committing fraud? It is in approaching issues that have clear outcomes like this, which means data requirements shrink from collecting absolutely everything in case it could be of value, to collecting specific information to answer specific problems.

Assess your internal capability

In order to gain value from data, employees at all levels – from CEOs to customer service – need to know how to work with it quickly and effectively. Any investment in software services needs to match with in-house skills training.

Data is only part of a solution, however; teams needs to have a clear idea of what they wish to achieve and then how to implement data to support their intuition and decisions. The digitisation of a process should not mean that the decision made is computerised when the impact is thoroughly human; data should be utilised to bring complex information to decision-makers as quickly and concisely as possible to provide and sustain an evidence-based approach.

For housing teams, the very human skill of interpreting the data and evidence and piecing it together is what can make a difference. A single piece of showcase data can easily dazzle a user but by asking the question, ‘so what’ you can uncover the real insights.

“The key to helping is early intervention, the sooner we can engage the more likely we are to find a solution. Once debt gets out of control it gets much, much harder.”

Stephen Evans, Director of Charter Housing

With the colder months and Christmas on the way, it’s likely most of us will overspend. For some, a little overspend may mean reigning in spending in the weeks following, while for others, this could mean being led into the hands of threatening loan sharks. The ability to predictably analyse which tenants are at the highest risk could prevent customers approaching dangerous debt.


Charter Housing in Wales teamed up with Housing Partners to utilise the data sets of 40,000 residents to identify those at most risk of falling into dangerous debt. “Illegal lending is an ever-present threat in our communities, and the effects on people’s lives can be devastating,” said Stephen Evans, Director of Charter Housing. Tenant debt is something we take very seriously, it can cost people their wellbeing and homes, and unfortunately January is always the most difficult time of the year in this area. In the past, Charter has often had to help people pick up the pieces of Christmas debt, but this year we decided to try a new proactive, data-driven approach, InSight, to identifying those at risk of debt and loan sharks. For the first time we combined our own data resources with data and intelligence gathered from external sources, to build a picture of a tenant’s financial situation, including factors that are likely to cause debt.”

Using TAIM’s InSight, Charter identified 570 residents at risk of financial crisis, 14% of their tenants. “Understandably there’s still a lot of sensitivity concerning data and privacy, but InSight isn’t about playing ‘big brother’ with our customers. Much of this data is already available publicly, but not in one place, and we’re making sure we take a careful, measured approach to ensure we help those who need it the most. InSight combines external data from hundreds of sources, many of which are unique to Housing Partners, with the social landlords’ own information, so the provider is able to see and crucially, act on, all the relevant information. Social landlords are having to consider new, more commercial approaches to protecting income.

In short, data is only as useful as the way in which it is used; the organisation of that data, delivered to the right decision-makers, either to achieve long-term strategies or short-term goals is what matters.  The key to success is in the interpretation of data through all levels of an organisation, with senior level decision-making requiring the fortitude and vision of the individuals within a business to make change happen. The job of data is to support and enhance that good quality decision-making.

If you want to know more about how Housing Partners are supporting sustainable tenancies in the social housing sector through our  InSight, HomeSwapper and Housing Jigsaw solutions, please get in contact.