The M&A indigestion pill: Developing trusted data in a fragmented housing landscape

16th March 2020

How will mergers, consolidation and collaboration test housing providers’ ability to drive value from data? Effective data management can ease the burning indigestion a fragmented data landscape causes.

To quote Heraclitus, “The one constant in life is change.” This is unquestionably true of the social housing sector, where providers are reacting to continually changing external pressures, legislation and customer expectations with consolidation, collaboration and continued diversification in service delivery.

Yet achieving the complete and accurate view of customer, property and household data necessary for effective service delivery, often presents an expensive, lengthy and resource intensive exercise that jeopardises the ability to realise the full benefits of M&A.

Below, we’ve taken a look at the trends impacting social housing providers and how better data management can support them through these.

Why is the data landscape becoming more fragmented?

1.    Continuing mergers and consolidation

As mergers and collaborations across the social housing sector continue, in turn the application and data landscape providers have to manage is becoming further fragmented. The need to effectively manage multiple and often more complex datasets, either across group structures or consolidate data in single systems, is creating a significant ‘IT headache’ for many providers and this only looks set to continue:

Around 28% of providers plan to consolidate or merge to achieve their strategic priorities”1

Civica has completed more than 30 successful acquisitions since 2009 as part of a strategy to bring complementary skills and technology into the company: we understand the value of effective data management in the M&A process.

2.    Diversification: more than just social housing = more data sources to contend with

Compounding the challenge of consolidations are the complex business models many providers actually operate, including diversification of tenure, plus care and support services and commercial activities. With an increased regulatory focus on governance and, in particular, those organisations with more complex governance structures, it is more vital than ever that data works effectively to deliver insight to the right stakeholders at the right time.

Housing Associations already generate 22% of their income from non-core activities, such as community-based work, care and support; as well as non-social housing lettings and sales”1

As customer demands have evolved and the sector has matured, housing providers have continually embraced new opportunities to expand the services they deliver to their customers, other providers and organisations. These services have frequently challenged the capabilities of traditional sector best-of-breed applications, or more often than not require providers to implement specific point based solutions to support these. In turn, these solutions generate extra silos of information, and duplicate records for the same individuals and properties, which providers must then manage. What’s more, providers see further service delivery diversification as key to their future success:

40% of social housing providers plan to focus more on commercialisation and development of new income streams” 1

3.    Digital transformation

The need to drive increased service delivery savings in the face of welfare reform and economic uncertainty, customer pressure to channel shift in-line with technology (smart phones, social media, IoT) and the move towards ‘24/7 services’ is testing the capabilities of many providers’ digital approaches.

The customer’s expectations for digital experience are being continually raised by the tech giants and online retailers. The bar is rapidly rising and organisations who do not maintain a high-quality self-service digital experience will be operating at a significant disadvantage.

It’s now crucial to ensure that complete and accurate customer and property data underpins digital service provision, and that any changes to records (i.e. a customer updating contact preferences) are synchronised with back-end systems and across departments.

50% of social housing providers plan to use digital transformation as the key driver to achieve their strategic priorities, to modernise service delivery to customers and unlock significant savings” 1

4.    Collaborative working

Multi-agency working and controlled data sharing with other providers and broader public sector bodies (social services, police, NHS), is now becoming a reality for some providers. This looks set to increase as more providers diversify into areas that necessitate collaborative working, particularly Social Services and Care provision. Controlled access to shared customer data for joined-up service delivery is increasingly in demand.

5.    Big data and external datasets: more sources, more volume, more to manage

The advent of big data has expanded the variety of sources providers are looking to exploit as a part of their ‘360 view’ of customers and properties, beyond the narrow confines of the core housing system, to include broader data sets that they may hold internally by other means as well as wider datasets, such as partnership data, credit data etc. The volume of data and its veracity are further challenging the providers’ ability to deliver a complete, accurate and shared view of data for insight. For many providers the ‘360 view’ is now much broader than just the data they directly hold.

74% of social housing providers say that they don’t completely understand their communities’ digital needs” 1

What are the risks from not managing data?

The fragmentation of customer and property data continue to pose substantial risks for housing providers, including: 

  • Asset compliance and regulatory standards: Disconnected asset information spread across multiple systems and subsidiaries undermines Executive oversight of compliance, potentially risking Governance ratings. Regulatory Standards reporting is reliant upon complete, quality and timely information
  • Digital first adoption at risk: As providers push more services online to reduce costs and respond to demand, many struggle to ensure the data in their digital platform which customers access is synchronised with the data in core systems. In turn this undermines adoption and providers risk failing to realise the savings planned
  • Benefits realisation through mergers: The ability to accurately merge datasets and teams in a timely fashion will jeopardise efficiency savings and introduce potential compliance risks
  • Optimisation of resources: Complete and accurate data is essential to ensuring high rent recovery rates. The insight it provides can also help to reduce void and re-let times, improving overall asset management and stock optimisation
  • Safeguarding and collaborative working undermined: The effectiveness of provider’s ability to safeguard both vulnerable customers and staff will be impacted by their ability to maintain an accurate “household View” and share associated alerts. Collaborative working approaches (both internally and with partner agencies) will necessitate controlled access to one shared customer record
  • Diversification and service redesign: Poor quality data can easily undermine the design, delivery and targeting of new or redesigned services 
  • GDPR: Ensuring data is securely held, justified and readily accessible upon request to avoid penalties and reputation damage.

The ability to harness fragmented customer and property records, turning disparate data into a corporate asset that underpins service delivery and powers trusted insight for decision making, will undoubtedly be a key factor in which providers thrive. What’s more, the influence and impact of these trends on the provider’s ability to ensure complete, accurate and shareable data is only likely to increase.

MDM is inevitable, regardless of when and how you approach it. It’s quickly becoming a strategic necessity for digital business.”2

Developing trusted and connected data

How are social housing providers looking to exploit data management capabilities to overcome these challenges and take back control of their data? Merging datasets often presents an expensive, lengthy and resource intensive exercise that jeopardises the realisation on anticipated benefits.

Effective data management can ease the burning indigestion a fragmented data landscape causes, supporting providers to ensure an on-time and accurate on-boarding in a number of areas: 

  • Insight: rapidly integrating all data sources to ensure enterprise wide insight on performance and compliance – no more mashing spreadsheets in dark rooms
  • Data quality: Rubbish in equals rubbish out. Data management tools enable organisations to interrogate and fix data quality issues, standardise terminology, resolving duplicate records and ensure the best possible data product is on-boarded. In doing so, legacy data can also be easily archived
  • Enrichment: Where records are incomplete or inconsistent, they can be enriched using broader data assets or exploiting access to third party data providers (i.e. Credit Reference Agencies or the NLPG)
  • Automation: Reducing the time and cost of data migration. Further, mitigating the inevitable risk of human error when ‘knife and forking’ data
  • Agile approaches: As the data bridge between systems, data management tools support organisations to synchronise data across systems, enabling phase based and agile user migration whilst ensuring service delivery continuity – without the need to double-key data.

For those organisations undergoing mergers who don’t plan to rationalise their IT systems, the need to integrate these incremental data sources to ensure Executive oversight is equally of paramount importance, and makes data management an essential tool.

Organisations looking to transform their IT systems by moving from sector ‘best-of-breed’ to CRM or ERP platforms will also share many of the requirements above.

Further reading

1 Civica changing landscape for social housing report.

2 How to get started with master data management. Gartner.

8 ways to stop data disasters disrupting digital transformation

A data management guide for social housing providers

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