Lee Morris, Field Operations Manager at Tunstall Healthcare, shares his insight into how digital innovation can facilitate change across the housing sector.
Around 4.2 million people live in social housing1, yet housing is often forgotten when it comes to integrating services that support vulnerable people. However, it has a significant role to play in improving health outcomes and supporting health and community care services, and making these services as efficient as possible.
As we continue to transition to a world where digital solutions are embedded in service provision as standard, technology providers are having to work even more closely with customers to ensure they are able to effectively integrate and deploy digital solutions into their services.
By understanding the needs of tenants, the housing sector can facilitate change and implement strategies that will generate long-term gains.
The digital transition and education
The UK’s transition to a digital communications network is driving complete service transformation, with the health, housing and care landscape becoming digitally enabled. Housing professionals and other service providers are aware that the transition, and digital enablement, will impact their organisations and the people they support. Therefore, partnership working is key to alleviate concerns, ensure the right digital strategy can be planned and implemented, and the opportunity that the transition presents to improve efficiency and quality of life is maximised.
Technology has historically been seen as an addition to existing resources – a nice to have, rather than a means of transforming models of support which leads to difficulties in integrating technology effectively. By driving cultural change and leading from the top down, we can address any misapprehensions, for example by emphasising that digital solutions are to be integrated as an enabler, not to replace the workforce. Educating people in the benefits of digital can also encompass the value of data, which can encourage creative thinking and working practices.
The more investment that is made into educating housing professionals, the more easily we’ll be able to create a world where it is standard practice to use technology as part of delivering holistic and personalised care and support.
There are compelling benefits to all stakeholders across the housing landscape when it comes to integrating technology and embedding change. This includes the economy, operations and end users.
Collaborative practices will continue to play a crucial role in ensuring technology is deployed successfully to improve population health outcomes. The better that housing, health and social care providers are able to work together, the more that citizens will be put at the heart of decisions made about them and their care. Ultimately if we listen to citizens and understand their everyday needs, we’ll bridge gaps between housing, social care and health to truly realise the successes that can be achieved when change is embraced.
Understanding the barriers that we face and adapting as things change will ensure innovation continues to flourish. To successfully build solutions and embed change, we must understand the issues that are faced by people on a daily basis. The more we understand these challenges, the better placed we are to co-design straight-forward and effective strategies and solutions.
While technology can be a quick win in terms of the ability to integrate it efficiently, it’s important to consider it in the context of individual differences, cross-system objectives, and how it can be used to support sustainable system change. If used effectively, technology can free up the time for the workforce and other stakeholders, enabling them to become more productive in providing support to citizens that need it most.
The aim should be to embed technology so that outcomes are at the centre of all support that is provided, instead of endless form-filling, unnavigable processes and a bureaucracy which sees too many people get lost in the system, rather than receiving the support they need. It puts both power and opportunity in the hands of citizens and communities, providing solutions that are easy and efficient to access.
Digital innovation in practice
Lincolnshire Housing Partnership (LHP) is a £53 million social housing provider managing 12,500 homes across the Grimsby and Boston area with over 25,000 customers, and almost 400 staff. As the UK moves to a digital communications network, LHP has been working to understand the impact on its equipment, services and customers, and evaluate the options available.
The organisation’s focus is on using its Technology Enabled Care (TEC) service effectively to help people live independently for longer, giving them a better quality of life, and maximising the length of their tenancies to enable continued investment. LHP has most recently worked to prepare a strategy for the UK’s transition to a digital communications network, with a focus on auditing existing schemes and equipment and scoping a potential footprint for new technology and service delivery models.
LHP’s approach to digital transformation isn’t simply about buying new equipment; it touches many areas of service delivery, and the organisation has taken a holistic approach to creating a foundation for change with a focus on consultation and cultural change, service transformation and technology investment.
The culture change programme has created a cohesive team which would not have been possible without using digital solutions to enable service delivery to be restructured. The strategy has been created by focusing on outputs, rather than presenteeism, to ensure the right services and processes are in place to deliver the right outcomes.
Remote working has made the service more agile. The ability to work from home means colleagues can cover shifts or peak times more easily as they don’t need to travel, or arrange childcare. This in turn has increased morale, as work/life balance is improved, and aids reduced staff turnover.
The service is also more robust as a result. Unexpected absence can be covered more easily, reducing the impact on both staff and customers, and staffing levels can be flexed according to demand. The new approach has seen average handle time decrease by around 10%, and average wait times reduce by approximately 30% (comparing the last quarter of 2021 to 2020).
It’s widely understood that technology can play a crucial role in transforming housing provision if it is embedded and deployed correctly. It is likely to provide the best route over time to enhancing the capacity of housing services whilst at the same time reducing pressure on the workforce and maintaining high quality services.
There is certainly the potential for better solutions and services to deliver cost avoidance as well as savings to the housing sector. For the benefits of the digital transition and innovation of the housing sector to be fully realised it is important that developers, providers and technology partners collaborate effectively and co-creatively to facilitate change across the housing sector.