22 / 06 / 2020

What does digital transformation really mean for housing associations?

The phrase digital transformation gets thrown around a lot in the housing industry - but what does it really mean for housing associations in today's circumstances?

Official definition: Digital transformation means to strategically use digital technology to enhance business processes, culture and customer experience to keep up with the ever-evolving market. It’s the process of radically reimagining business with the power of digital on our side – fundamentally changing operations to deliver the most value.

The reality? The phrase digital transformation is overused. Like so many trending concepts and fancy jargon, it’s become diluted to the point where businesses throw around the phrase without really embracing it. This is evident from the fact 70% of businesses have a digital strategy in place, but only 7% have fully implemented them. Ultimately, digital transformation isn’t an aspiration anymore but rather a necessity to keep up with demand. 

The concept of digital transformation has been in existence since the ‘70s, back when businesses started to move corporate records and transactions onto computers. So it makes sense that the definition is fluid – digital transformation three decades ago is a far cry from today, just as much as it will be in another three decades. Digital transformation is the ability to connect people, devices and physical objects – anywhere and pretty much instantly. By 2025, some 20 billion devices will be connected, nearly three times the world population. 

Most organisations will have gone some ways to digitalise processes and experiences, but it’s not a one off project, with technology changing so rapidly it’s an ongoing responsibility. Which is why so many organisations have created specific job roles and even entire departments dedicated to digitalisation.

So for housing associations, what does digital transformation really mean? Considering 63% are still most often interacting with customers over the phone, there’s still a long way to go… 

Cultural change

The concept of channel shift and digital transformation can strike fear into the hearts of many a customer service advocate. Over a quarter of HAs feel cultural resistance to digital strategy being implemented properly. Surely moving contact away from the personal to towards the digital is going to make things worse for customers? Our customers want to speak to a real person, not be palmed off to a sub-standard digital catch-all where it’s impossible to find the information they’re looking for… 

In many ways, this is right – but it’s predicated on the digital offering being poor before it’s even been built. What if the digital offering was so good that customers actually chose to use it and adopted it as their channel of choice? That’s successful digital transformation. You need cultural change for it to ever be successful – everyone across the business needs to be onboard. Dig deeper into how to get employees excited about channel shift, as well as how to empower your tenants to adopt a digital mindset

Improved efficiencies, management & infrastructure

Research carried out by Prodo found that the biggest blocker to digital transformation projects making it past planning to being delivered were IT system limitations. Which is kind of ironic, considering the initial aim of a transformation project should be to get your systems to one point of central truth and efficiency. 

But this is where the problems arise for most HAs – legacy systems, poor or non-existent integrations and APIs are prevalent. A shocking 25% of organisations say they use more than six systems – there’s no way that digital transformation can get off the ground on this kind of foundation. 

There needs to be a significant infrastructure overhaul to ensure all systems can talk to each other, that all data is consistent and up-to-date. This not only supports automation and self-service possible, but improves efficiency of working processes across the business. A modern approach moves away from traditional data ‘warehouses’ and moves towards cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure. Multiple components can be integrated to form a wider data platform, pulling together anything from your CRM or Housing Management System to your ERP. 


Decisions driven by data

Digitising the customer journey can pave the way for increased customer satisfaction, with the freedom to self-serve and access information at a time that suits them. But having all the right data and technology enables call centre staff to make changes and actions more efficiently. With faster access to data, decisions can be made faster. With access to the bigger picture and all the right data, team members are empowered to make better decisions that will lead to a better customer experience. 

And data, when properly housed and recorded, is a goldmine of opportunities to evolve your digital transformation, that will only continue to grow as your organisation does. Data visualisation and business intelligence software can make analysing and understanding your data more digestible, so that everyone across an entire organisation can look at the same configurations and see the same metrics. Data can tell incredible stories, you just need to know how to read it. By proactively learning from what your data is telling you, you’ll be able to make real, actionable differences for residents.

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