Thoughts from ‘Implementing the HACT UK Housing Data Standard’

On Tuesday the 16th of July I took a trip to Shoreditch to hear how people were starting to implement the UK Housing Data Standard within their services and products.

This is a quick rattle through some key points that registered in my brain. Speakers notes are available here:

What did standards ever do for us?

Imagine that we didn’t have a UK standard for the humble plug. Instead, every house builder picked their own design of plug socket based on what they thought was best for the eventual home owner.

As a prospective home owner you’d have four options for making your array of electrical items (which might each have their own design of plug) work with your lovely new house.

  1. Throw everything out and buy all new electrical items that fit with the plug sockets.
  2. Spend a few hours browsing Amazon looking for an array of converters to make your electrical items work with your plug sockets.
  3. Hire an electrician to rewire some or all of your house to accomodate your electrical items.
  4. Do a mixture of the above based on how critical each electrical item is & how much it’ll cost to get it working.

Fortunately, we don’t have this problem because in the UK we use plug type G.

It ensures that any electrical item you buy in the UK works with any electrical socket. This saves an awful lot of time, expense and waste for all involved as we’ve all agreed on a recognised standard.

Does social housing need a standard for data?

Yes. For all the reasons above. We expend far too much valuable time and energy converting or interpreting data so that it can travel between people, teams, systems or external partners.

Standards are actually not a new thing to us. As Doug Silverstone (MTVH) pointed out during his talk, we already work with standards on a regular basis, but we probably don’t think about them that way or actively manage them.

For example, you may use some form of standard to do the following…

  • Send data to a local council.
  • Import data into your finance system(s).
  • Exchange data with external repairs operatives.

So really, we’re just talking about being more intentional about how we use data and in what format. In that sense, the UK Housing Data Standard does an awful lot of the leg work for us. It’s doing the hard work to make things simpler.

Why would <insert supplier name here> adopt the standard?

It would be brilliant if all technology suppliers working with social housing adopted the standard. It would make a huge difference to joining up service delivery both inside and outside our organisations. That’s me.. a potential customer.. saying I’ll buy your stuff if you make service delivery easier not harder. 🙂

For new entrants to the sector, it’s hugely encouraging to start seeing support for the standard from the get go. If you’re building a new product, it’s actually a faster route to market to have a ready made data standard for your systems. Why reinvent the wheel?

For incumbent technology suppliers, most are in the middle of their product roadmaps and so pragmatically speaking it’s going to take time to change direction. I’m sure that would speed up if the standard recieved a notable groundswell of support.

It’s also worth acknowleding the elephant in the room. The data standard will make migrating away from products and services easier. And whilst it’s not an overt strategy, pain of exit is a pattern that has been utilisted by some of the less progressive suppliers as a way of retaining customers.

We (as people who work in social housing) don’t have direct control over all of these things. But we do have control over where money is spent and what we procure. We’re going to need to create the conditions for something different from the norm to happen.

As a buyer of technology, when I see someone using the UK Housing Data Standard, it indicates to me that…

  1. This is a technology supplier that understands the value of open reusable standards.
  2. This is a technology supplier that has confidence in their product or service.
  3. This is a technology supplier that is happy to work with other systems and services that we may already be using.
  4. This is a technology supplier that’s going to be far more compatible with the principles of GDPR.

Essentially, we have to make the UK Housing Data Standard a competitive advantage. That means making it appear as a requirement in tenders, perhaps as a ‘nice to have’ to begin with but working toward a point where we can specify it as ‘essential’.

What can we do right now?

We have to start iteratively implementing the standard into whatever work we’re doing right now. That means looking for opportunities where we might apply the standard in order to generate some learning and build capability.

Chris Lee’s (OSCRE) talk about the different patterns for implementing the standard really helped clarify how this might practically work in the medium to long term. The pattern below about implementing the standard at the interface level made an awful lot of sense in the context of where we are at on the digital maturity curve. (other patterns are available!)

Rather than trying to convert all the existing systems to be natively compliant with the UK Housing Data Standard, instead reconfigure the interfaces. That ensures that whilst data is in transit, it’s in a complaint format. As we have the opportunity to swap systems out, if we’re fortunate enough to find one that *is* standards complaint, it’ll automatically speak the same language as the rest of our interfaces. Rinse and repeat until you’ve replaced all non-compliant systems.

The rallying call to action

In his wrap up summary, Rob Wray (HACT) perfectly framed the sector’s challenge for the future.

We are good at describing the problem without doing anything about it.

Let’s change that!

Here’s a real tangible way of making things better. We can achieve change through the aggregation of thousands of small things that anyone can do every day.

If you have…

5 mins

10 mins

  • Register to download the HACT UK Housing Data Standard:
  • Think about how you might use some part of the standards in your upcoming change projects.
  • Post some thoughts on Twitter/LinkedIn about how you might practically use the standard.

30 mins

  • Talk to your team about how you might support the standard or incorporate them into the work you are doing.
  • Get in touch with one of the other UK Housing Data Standards supporters to see what they’re up to.

1 hour

  • Write a blog post about how you might start using the standard.
  • Arrange a call with HACT to see how they can support you to get started.

Thanks to HACT for putting on the event and thanks to the speakers for sharing their experiences.

Credit for the micro actions to Kitterati from this amazing One Team Gov blog post that started a global movement.

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