Data has been an ongoing challenge for housing providers for many years. Housing dedicates hours of conferences and workshops to decrying its inadequacy and many projects have stumbled and failed as the promise of insight through data analytics falls short of expectations. At the same time there is more and more focus on customer insight and data driven service provision but despite the grand ambition and new service areas those working to harness the benefits of data are still struggling.

HACT have had first hand experience of this. Back in 2013 we attempted a Big Data project just as ‘Big Data’ was in its ascendance on Gartner’s Hype Cyle. Microsoft were keen to demonstrate that its new Azure platform could be used for social good so HACT in partnership with 16 housing providers sought to bring together large and dispersed housing data sets in the cloud for the first time. The results were terrible- data scientist spent months cleansing the data only for the team to come back and declare a new type of data had been discovered – alongside good data and bad data there was a third category – housing data.

We learnt from this experience. Our grand ambition was constrained, as with the rest of the sector, due to the quality of data held in organisations and to some extent the culture around data and data collection in housing businesses. Alot has moved on since then but housing providers are still stuck. That’s why we decided that the time had come to take action.


Creating a data standard

Inspired by the success of the Dutch social housing data standard CORA, HACT has brought together a consortium of more than 12 housing providers to create a shared data standard for the housing sector. Drawing on the dutch model as a starting point for a UK standard we have adopted a vanguardist approach to build a functional and implementable standard that will be available for the whole sector to use within one year. Learning from the experience of our Dutch colleagues, we realised that if the project is to succeed it must not become bogged down in endless circular discussion and it must deliver actionable output for the housing sector fast- so that the momentum and credibility needed to get the whole sector and its partners on board can be achieved.


What does a shared data standard offer housing?

The housing providers involved include innovation thought leaders Bromford and Halton Housing Trust alongside sector giants Orbit and Catalyst as well as a range of providers of varying stock sizes and geographies including Viridian, Linc-Cymru and Thames Valley Housing Association. Each organisation has their own specific need for a data standard but all acknowledge the need for a coordinated approach to tackling the data problem in housing.

Working together to map business processes, define data domains and define data definitions saves individual organisations the resource required to individually carry out this task- while housing providers are unique much of their essential activity is similar. A sector led approach shortcuts this initial piece of work that is required for any business transformation activity that hopes to bring with it a structured approach to data.

A shared data standard is therefore a starting point and road map for organisations to use to begin to take advantage of the data they hold.

The approach is modular and pragmatic and housing providers are not compelled to completely throw away their current process and adopt the standard immediately but to use aspects of the standard as they embark on specific projects such as procuring a new business data software or service redesign.

Version 1 of the data standard will include a high level process architecture and map of the relationship between objects that form part of these processes. As the project progresses a focus will shift towards a deeper understanding of processes, relationships and eventually data definitions in specific business areas. This focus will be decided by the project partners and could include personal data, voids or asset data all areas where greater insight could quickly bring returns to the business.


So how might a data standard help in practice

In the short run housing providers can use the standard to understand the data they hold and why they hold it- something that will be an essential component of becoming EU GDPR compliant. Quick wins will emerge around consolidating personal data fields allowing for easier interrogation and analysis and as housing providers take up the standard we expect the market to begin to deliver software compliant with standard. This software could initially function as translation layer between existing processes and definitions and the sector data standard, enabling data sharing and the easy integration of new software modules with existing business systems; this opens the door to innovation in software that has so far been lacking in the sector.

Existing housing data system providers are also taking an interest in the project and it is our intention to bring along all the relevant sector stakeholders including technology providers and contractors who are all set to benefit from common data descriptions.


How can I get involved?

We are still recruiting housing providers to join the vanguard and develop version 1.0 of the standard. If you are about to embark on improving your data and want to join the sector initiative to tackle the issue collectively then get in touch.

If you’re a technology provider interested in how you could use the standard in developing tools for the sector or if you are contractor working with the sector and want to find out how you could benefit from the standard then we want to hear from you!