Social housing providers across the UK experienced revenue cuts to an already tight budget. Standards and regulations such as The Decent Homes Standard or the Code for Sustainable Homes dictate that housing providers must deliver good quality homes for their customers. The cuts create an impasse to achieve good quality homes with the current systems in place. A new, more efficient and effective system is needed in order to be able to meet the needs of customers and to compete in the market.

Implemented in

  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Led by

  • Professor Crina Oltean-Dumbrava

Partners

  • Incommunities one of the largest social landlord in England

Sustainability themes

Sectors of activity
Buildings and construction, Energy

Type of initiative
Capacity Building & Implementation, Policy Frameworks & Tools, Research, Analysis, Assessment

Type of lead actor
Scientific and Technical

Budget
250000 US$

Start date
15/09/2014

End date
01/09/2016

Shared by

Crina Oltean-Dumbrava

Professor of Sustainable Built Environment

University of Bradford

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Objectives

The original aim of the research was to create a decision support system (DSS) that Incommunities can use to make better business decisions.
The rationale behind creating a DSS for Incommunities was to enable the company to make better use of the data they collect, to make predictions about stock performance and customers, and ultimately, to be in a better position to work effectively and efficiently in an increasingly difficult climate for social housing providers.
The main achievements include:
• The establishment of a framework for the decision support system, which Incommunities can use in the future to make decisions
• The creation of the Business Intelligence Team that will implement the framework and will oversee the successful integration of the decision support system throughout the company
• Publications and presentations to raise awareness of the work of this KTP project, and to create further partnerships with industry and academia.
• Raising awareness throughout the company on the importance of data quality for a well-working DSS
Initial analysis evidenced data quality within the organisation was not as good as expected. This is a well-known problem in organisations, especially public and non-profit organisations. The analysis of the DSS required access to a range of different data; some of the data was not collected or lacked quality. The approach was therefore amended to incorporate tackling data quality, because poor data quality was seen as one of the major hurdles to better decision making. Ensuring data quality and making sure the right kind of data is collected is now fully incorporated in a new business focused Business Intelligence team. It and led to the creation of a bespoke financial framework that can be used by the company to achieve its aims at offering affordable and sustainable homes in the future. Although it was not the only project strand it aided development of an organisational road map of a Pathway to 2025 and contributed to the analysis of the current market position and organisational performance. Most significantly it led to a change in culture, including the development of a company-wide sustainability framework and strategy seeking to optimise performance outcomes whilst retaining customer led values at heart.The biggest single benefit the project has brought has been the construction of the economic model that allows ongoing assessment of the financial performance of assets that makes strategic decisions.

Activities

This research contributed to the following main changes within the company:
1. Awareness of sustainability and its effects on affordability
This project increased the knowledge among members of staff at the company regarding sustainability and how it affects affordability. In particular, significant decision makers took account of sustainability factors as part of a long-term sustainability strategy and front line staff dealing directly with customers acquired knowledge in terms of helping customers save money through sustainability initiatives. Most prominently, this was achieved through staff training provided by the research partnership, and disseminated projects that highlighted the effects of sustainability on affordability at all levels of staff.
2. The importance of data quality
This project highlighted the importance of data quality, which was effectively communicated to higher management and the ICT department. As a result, there is now an established business intelligence group within the company that deals with creating high quality data. This group consists of members of staff from different departments, which is a great achievement for the project. Rather than leaving data as a task for the ICT department, the real influencers on data are now responsible for carrying out this project. This will lead to better decision making, which was the main aim of this research project.
As a result of the research, segmented data storage systems will be integrated into a single data warehouse, which will enable Incommunities to work more effectively and efficiently.
3. Develop links with academic institutions
A strong collaborative partnership has been developed between the University of Bradford and Incommunities. Workplace students actively raised awareness about data collection across the organisation ensuring skills were transferred into the organisation.
. This project established a new strategy towards data collection and analysis that allows Incommunities
- Knowledge creation through data analysis
- Clear strategic goals within departments
- Better insight into stock and customers
- Increased understanding of data among all levels of staff at the company
- Ability to make future predictions
- Decrease errors from poor data
- Provide better customer service
- More effective business decisions
The research provided a working document on data quality, collection and analysis that is a blueprint for the development of the organisational culture.

Impact and Results

Incommunities now have a clearer picture of income and costs; reduction in costs is as significant a factor as generating income. At operational level Incommunities have made significant progress in managing cost; 2016 saw the £18m repairs and maintenance budget come in line for the first time and staffing costs are better scrutinised than at any time previously. There is a greater awareness of the supply chain and procurement processes have been streamlined to ensure better value for money is achieved; on fuel supplies savings in excess of £150k per year have been made whilst ensuring, as far as practicable, sustainable supplies are used. Assets that are no longer financially viable are earmarked for future changes and investment decisions are evidence based. All this bodes well for the future direction of Incommunities. Tenancy turnover has reduced by 1.5% by targeting actions that helped customers sustain tenancies.
Sectoral funding has been significantly cut by central government in the form of regulatory changes to rent setting policies, restrictions on benefit costs (customer reliance is high) and further changes to capital funding of new build assets.
Incommunities have become a more evidence based organisation in its decision making. The culture around managing the business is now more evidenced based and scrutiny and accountability more prevalent than at any time in the history of the organisation. The changes to the operating environment would have necessitated changes but the fact that this work had started as part of this research meant that Incommunities were prepared to tackle income stream cuts quickly and effectively. Although this brings short-term pain, performance outputs have increased. Incommunities have also undergone a change in the Governance structure that is aligned to the aims and objectives set out in its plan; that Incommunities would become an evidenced oriented business decision maker using the data identified under the project. Incommunities operating model has also undergone significant restructure since the start of the research project; primarily driven by the sustainability alongside funding reductions.
Incommunities is now geared up to deal with tough decisions and embrace the digital economy. Incommunities will offer customer digital services by the first quarter of the next financial year, using data gained through the project. Incommunities is prepared for further challenges should they present.

Next steps and how to get involved

By contacting the Research Project lead, Professor Crina Oltean-Dumbrava