As a lab, we’ve always been on the sharp end of shiny objects. Be it our infamous drone or the 360 degree camera we’re currently exploring for use in ‘virtual viewings’ (if it survives all the times I keep dropping it - I’m fairly sure Samsung made them slippy on purpose...), we’re the team to explore how interesting new tech might improve the business in the here and now, and long into the future.
We’ve seen a welcome rise in the number of smart devices that record and relay property information back to us, along with apps that aim to automate out entire business functions - like call handling and reporting repairs. Our inbox has been brimming with new products from talented developers we haven’t had time to fully evaluate, until now.
Our test and pilot methodology makes picking up the wrong piece of connected technology or intelligent apps relatively risk free, but it’s best to avoid hunting for the wrong technologies in the first place, right? So, how are we going to choose which tech to test?
In our experience, working with other housing associations or local authorities doesn’t necessarily make a partner suitable for us. A couple of years ago Bromford took the bold decision, when facing the considerable uncertainties of universal credit and end of lifetime tenancies, to deploy our localities approach - investing more in our customers when other housing providers were throttling back. The outcome of which is a better, more supportive personal relationship where essentially our Neighbourhood Coaches become ‘smart sensors’ who are not only identifying issues with the property such as damp and condensation, but tackling the root causes such as financial difficulty and lifestyles from whence it manifests. Generic sensing technology drops down our agenda, while we acknowledge it can genuinely benefit other housing providers.
More pressing is a new target specified by our contact centre teams - a 75% reduction in call volume, the main cost saving being amount of colleague time spent handling calls and assigning actions and lesser need for big, hefty offices. We might achieve this by:
Minimising repairs volume and eliminating repeat visits
Providing alternative digital methods of communicating with us - be it for repairs, housing issues or otherwise
Using AI’s to help resolve calls where they are necessary
To me, investigating tech/digital pertinent to the areas above strikes a good balance between immediate value to the business (and therefore buy-in, which we have struggled to achieve for smart sensing technology), and progression towards more innovative, futuristic approaches. Taking on opportunities that balance short-term and long-term aspirations is key for our new technology plan, for which the areas look something like below (it's basic, but it's a start!):
Stacked alongside this is a rudimentary ranking system based around cost/time efficiencies that can be demonstrated, current standalone system support with future integration, state of development and collaboration, ability to trial low scale (important!), uniqueness of the solution and whether or not it opens up interesting networks and partnerships. The idea is that we can prioritise, scope out an opportunity and evaluate it within a three month window - starting imminently.
This isn’t just an update - we’re genuinely looking for feedback on our approach to getting new technology into test. What sort of prioritisation do you use? What tech are you currently investigating? What have been your biggest barriers and challenges?
Hit us up on the comments or, even better, on our twitter @BromfordLab
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Hartland joined Bromford in 2014 as the designer for the brand new Innovation Lab, using his background in product design to develop an innovation pipeline, accelerating new ideas through testing and piloting.
He likes drinking too much coffee, third person narratives and trying to impress people with scars.
You can follow his adventure travel blog at Badventuring.com