Like many others I value the benefits that technology brings to the way we do business and how we interact with our customers. Recently I took part in an early morning consultation from home using Blue Jeans - a very useful app for conferencing when people are in different places.
It made it easy for the team at Derwent Living and me to discuss changes to our intranet. It was as if we were in the same room.
We also make great use of the system at board meetings when members are unable to be at head office. It means meetings can continue to go ahead when they would have been cancelled and allows us to get together at much shorter notice.
More recently I’ve started making use of Twitter to support Derwent Living’s social media activity. It also allows me to keep up-to-date with the sector, and the day-to-day goings on of key people and organisations.
Is it worth it?
But is all this use of technology necessary? Our research at Derwent Living suggests that around 75% of our customers have internet access, often via a smartphone. Similarly, I saw recently that half the UK population now has a tablet. This all suggests that we have to up our game and that a good digital offering is key to engaging with customers and doing business well today.
As an organisation we have worked hard to adapt to our changing environment and culture. There are now so many exciting and useful resources to explore as opportunity and need arise.
I was delighted when we launched our app for smartphones and tablets back in 2012 as we were one of the first housing providers to do so. It has been a great success for us with nearly 1900 downloads, and we now receive hundreds of reports and enquiries every month through it.
We have used social media for several years now, and also optimise our content for different devices. I know from experience how frustrating it is to use a website that won’t adjust to your phone and I’m glad that doesn’t happen when people use our websites.
Since 2012 we’ve had a secure interactive site, MY Derwent Living, which customers can use to manage their account and tenancy at anytime. Last year we took things a stage further with the introduction of MY Community which allows customers to engage in discussion with each other on our services and other housing related topics.
As a housing provider we want to give customers opportunities to be involved with us so that can help to continuously improve our services. Our approach to involvement is to focus on quality over quantity and the digital work we’re doing is opening up more avenues.
These things are all part of the digital jigsaw and help us to remove the geographical borders that can sometimes reduce engagement amongst residents. As Derwent Living’s stock is scattered over a large area this presents a real challenge. Our various website offerings, social media, texting and the app have allowed us to involve customers in all of our local authority areas. We’ve also seen the average age of those getting involved go down from around 60 to 40. This gives us a more representative view of the people who are actually living in our properties.
Building on our heritage of innovation
Our digital work allows us to engage with many more people and give them additional options alongside traditional methods. That’s really important. But we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re going to continue to grow our digital involvement agenda and are about to launch the next version of the app.
As well as activity aimed at involving customers, we are also looking at ways to work smarter internally. A major mobile working project has just been given the go ahead, which when implemented will mean that front line teams can spend more time with customers and less time completing admin work back in the office. The new software product which works alongside Derwent Living’s housing management system will allow customer details to be checked and contact management tasks to be completed whilst out and about.
As we celebrate Derwent Living’s 50th anniversary this year we want to use our heritage to inspire us moving forward. The people who set the ball rolling in 1964 would be amazed at how things are today. But they knew about innovation and using available resources to meet people’s housing needs. I’m confident that they would welcome the changes we’ve made and the importance of today’s digital offering.
Better efficiency and value for money
I couldn’t finish this blog without reminding myself how important the digital revolution is to efficiency and value for money. We are all under pressure to maintain good services and do as much as we can with less money. Derwent Living has made excellent strides in recent years dramatically reducing operating costs, but we still need to do more and using new technology can help us to achieve greater efficiencies. It’s something that I believe in and is very much part of our value for money strategy for the Regulator.
You can follow me on Twitter @Derwentchair and follow chief executive Peter McCormack @Derwent CEO