Beautiful operational data holds the key to smarter service planning

Housing associations capture a lot of data as they go about delivering their repairs services, but they don’t always exploit it to its full potential, for example understanding where root causes of inefficiencies are. That’s where data visualisation can help.

Something that has always surprised me when I go in to work with housing associations, is how little visibility most still have into their repairs and maintenance activity beyond reports on individual jobs, or at a trade level. Routine repairs may be systematically logged, processed and completed on a case-by-case basis, but there isn’t usually a straightforward or routine way to plot trends and build a picture of what’s going on more generally. There is a gap in management information and reporting beyond the usual key performance indicators (KPIs) that usually fail to indicate root problems.  So, if there has been a spate of water leaks or heating issues in a particular building or estate, repairs service managers are not easily able to spot this and probe further to see if a cheaper solution might be to re-do all of the plumbing at a particular location.

In the digital age, the ability to combine data from multiple sources, analyse and visualise it is transforming the way all sorts of service organisations and asset owners manage their infrastructures and estates. Water boards do this to prevent flooding by identifying priority repairs to ageing drain systems. For local authorities it’s a way to keep the streets cleaner, with targeted measures to combat vandalism, fly-tipping or other antisocial practices in identified trouble spots. Meanwhile police forces are increasingly using data visualisation to optimise their resources, for instance by analysing the common environmental conditions found to foster certain types of crime so they can be more proactive in preventing new incidents.

Making better use of existing assets – shifting to big insights not just big data

The great frustration in social housing management is that lot of the data housing associations could be tracking already exists, if only it could be accessed more readily and viewed in a way that delivers actionable insight. This might involve detecting patterns in data overlaid from different sources, for example overlaying your repairs data on geographical map data, and highlighting possible anomalies or hot spots, with alerts to attract service managers’ attention so they can take appropriate action.

Data visualisation, when it enables targeted, timely responses, can be very powerful in enabling organisations to focus their limited resources where they can have a tangible and immediate impact – and save them money and time spent on situations that have escalated and become more serious because they weren’t spotted earlier.

It’s something we’ve been working on with one of England’s largest providers of social housing, which looks after an extensive housing portfolio. We’ve been helping them consolidate and make sense of its operational data through analytics, so it can put together initiatives to improve repairs delivery, resource planning, productivity, and make its assets work harder.

Outsourcing can obscure the view

Sometimes asset or service blind spots arise because of housing associations’ reliance on subcontractors to carry out maintenance or cleaning work, leaving them with little or no sight of developing problems or clues to bigger trends that are emerging – patterns which would emerge from the data if it could be plotted by block, region, and repairs classification. This lack of insight also extends to their ability to measure and improve productivity – by organising jobs more logically, or prioritising situations that could deteriorate quickly if left unchecked.

Do you think you might have any service blind spots in repairs too?  Reducing waste isn’t difficult if organisations have a clear picture of where to start, and where they could have the most impact, but until now that’s the part that’s been missing. The good news is that it’s a gap that’s relatively easy to address with today’s data manipulation and reporting tools. Digital tools and techniques can help housing associations be smarter about how they manage their resources, enabling greater efficiency and helping to stem financial leaks.

It’s another example of how digital transformation can be grounded in practical purpose – in this case helping housing associations see the wood as well as the trees as they survey the sprawling environment whose upkeep and financial impact they’re responsible for.

If your housing association needs help getting its data together and making more sense of it, please contact Umbar Shakir.


Umbar leads our digital team. She has 17 exciting years’ experience in digital and has delivered end to end digital transformation in a wide range of businesses and sectors, from strategy and portfolio direction to digital innovation and culture change. Umbar is passionate about digital and its power to help organisations and their customers discover new ways of doing business and living their lives.