26 March 2019

Working together with other housing associations is the way forward in the sector. Sharing good practice, experiences and information within the digital sphere not only benefits us, but more importantly supports our customers.

When I joined the social housing sector I was really excited to explore innovations that I could introduce to improve how we work with our customers. I thought that in this non-profit sector housing associations would be working closely together to learn from one another, understand best practices and collectively hold our service providers to account. It makes sense doesn’t it? In this digital space, we’re not really competing for customers so our ultimate aim is to demonstrate value for money and put our customers first.

But I was wrong!

I used to work for an international retail company with a huge digital presence, so I understood there was a need to protect our customer base and ensure they would continue using only our services. But I couldn’t understand why housing associations were not working together and why they were so cautious with each other, hesitant to share ideas and collaborate. There were a few out there who were willing to meet and discuss their services, but once I started asking for more detailed information or questioning some of the information they were giving me, I was often advised that it was confidential or they would get back to me.

My knight in shining armour was Katrina Robinson MBE, a solicitor. Being dramatic as I am sometimes, I created a theatrical post on LinkedIn, asking if anyone out there would be interested in working together to improve our digital services collectively. Did something already exist within our sector where social housing providers actually worked together?

Katrina saw my post and told me about a number of other forums where they benchmark against each other, share ideas and actively work together in other areas, such as the Tenancy Fraud Forums and in House Legal Teams.

So why wasn’t this happening on the operational side of social housing?

It was at this point I made contact with the speakers at a digital conference. I went straight to the chief executives this time, because I wasn’t going to hang about any more. A few more posts on LinkedIn and Twitter were picked up by several other housing associations: Yarlington, Clarion, North Devon Homes, Paradigm and Home Group, who all responded. Finally I’d found peers in the sector who understood the benefits of not going it alone and being open and honest with one another.

We had our first meeting in late February with a collective vision to create an online platform to share ideas and work on a clear agenda for future meetings. We want to encourage more housing associations to take that brave step, open up, talk to one another, be honest about your successes and failures and join us in becoming pioneers to work collaboratively across our sector. We all agreed – it’s our customers who come first!

The outcomes from the first meeting highlighted that as a group we’re much stronger and could work smarter. There was much enthusiasm and an obvious appetite for housing associations to hit our digital transformation targets collectively. We agreed on several principles and challenges we all face, no matter how diverse our digital strategies are, we had common strands of introducing new innovations, encouraging customers to use digital platforms and supporting each other in transforming our digital services.

If you are interested in joining the Digital Housing Forum please email Bicram directly at bicram.athwal@pahousing.co.uk

Bicram Athwal

Bicram Athwal – Digital Customer Engagement Officer, Paragon Asra Housing

Bicram joined PA Housing in October 2017 in a newly created Digital Team. The skills he learned working for a major international retail chain are proving very useful now he’s working in the housing sector. Bicram is driven by improving the customer experience and believes app development based on customer feedback and usability testing is the best practice in enhancing digital services.

Working together is the future of the social housing sector