Technology in Social Housing: Navigating the Present and Predicting the Future

By Deborah Matthews, Managing Director for MRI Living for Social Housing at MRI Software

It’s 3 years since MRI Software brought together social housing software organisations Orchard, Castleton, and Housing Partners. MRI’s Managing Director of Social Housing, Deborah Matthews, discusses what’s changed since then, both at MRI and across the sector.

What have been the biggest changes at MRI over the past three years?

As MRI’s acquisitions were made over a single year, we initially needed time to consider what strategies we wanted to pursue with our newly combined capabilities, from both a product and people perspective. Since this initial period of review and consolidation, we have moved forward at a phenomenal pace.

Joining one of the biggest PropTech providers in the world was a great place for us to land – we suddenly had access to extensive new technology, knowledge, and experience from a range of different sectors, as well as different territories.

Now, MRI’s social housing division is the organisation’s biggest in EMEA, with more than 850 clients who are supported by an extensive and dedicated team. Within social housing, we deliver the most comprehensive suite of end-to-end solutions so that we can offer clients choices across all their technology needs.

We have been able to continue to support our clients’ existing solutions such as Housing Management, Repairs and Maintenance and Asset Management. As well as accelerating the development of new and exciting solutions such as Allocations, CRM, Safer Communities and Service Charges, which have been brought to market at incredible speed.

How has the inclusion of the social housing software portfolio impacted MRI?

Part of MRI’s mission statement is about transforming the way people live, work, and play, and that impact is felt more acutely in social housing than in any other sector. As a company that works closely with the commercial, private, build-to-rent, and facilities management sectors, the sense of purpose and social benefit that social housing delivers is especially important, and we’ve been able to accelerate MRI’s approach to community connection and promoting social good.

In terms of technology, the solutions we’re developing in the social housing division often have applicability across the rest of the property management sector, too. For example, our CRM solution was built with and for the social housing sector with open design principles to enable us to take it out to the private rental, residential markets and beyond.

How does MRI differ from the other social housing tech’ providers?

All we do at MRI is property management. There isn’t another PropTech provider who can compete with MRI’s breadth of solutions and expertise across every sector in the property management industry.

For us in the social housing division, this offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn from wider industries. We can access technology solutions and strategies from key MRI clients in the private and commercial markets and then integrate them into our social housing ecosystem.

For example, we’re taking IoT (Internet of Things) technologies used within the facilities management industry and applying them to social housing to help tackle critical issues such as damp and mould.

We’re also the first global organisation to have developed a collective AI-first PropTech platform. The sector will soon be hearing us talk more about MRI Agora, a platform that will enable integration with partners, third parties, and even competitors, giving organisations a unified experience and access to multiple solutions through a single gateway – to enable smarter decisions via our hyper-connected data platform, ‘Agora Insights’.

It’s the sort of strategic development we can offer clients across property management industries and one we’re excited to leverage in social housing.

How is MRI supporting housing associations with the challenges they’re facing at present?

There are many challenges faced by social landlords, from managing ageing housing stock, surges in housing demand and supporting residents who are impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. Whilst dealing with these challenges, other key priorities are about creating a resident-first approach, whether by enhancing customer services, improving the safety of residences or being more transparent.

We are working collaboratively with the sector to create innovative solutions that tackle these issues. Using tools like MRI’s new CRM solution helps facilitate a better customer experience, with a focus on achieving first-time resolution.

Delivering better standards of housing and services while ensuring fairness and transparency. Technology can play a pivotal role, and our diverse tech solutions can provide precise and transparent billing, autonomy-enabling tools for field operatives, and customer-oriented apps for self-service – all of which are instrumental in helping housing providers overcome these challenges.

Given the ongoing financial strains on households, adopting a proactive approach is essential, and leveraging AI-driven predictive analysis tools makes it possible to get a clear view of and prioritise those in greatest need. Our solutions, for instance, can facilitate early intervention by identifying at-risk customers so that resources and support are focused on those who need it most.

In the face of escalating homelessness figures, we are supporting local authorities and social landlords through our Housing Options and Safer Communities solutions, that help reduce the challenge for outreach teams in managing mounting caseloads. Audio transcription built into the solution is an example of how AI has been used to help save time, reduce admin, and record things accurately in real time.

Which new technology trends should Housing organisations be looking at?

The biggest shift we’re seeing right now is in organisations moving from a reactive approach to more proactive and pre-emptive strategies. Instead of waiting for a repair to be reported, or for a customer to fall into arrears, technology is shifting to a new approach, giving more information and autonomy to team members within the organisation.

For example, IoT technology can be used to predict when repairs might be needed based on conditions within and around a property, while solutions like Income Analytics can flag people at risk of falling into arrears before they miss a payment.

How does AI (Artificial Intelligence) factor into MRI Software’s product development strategy?

At MRI, we’re not looking to apply AI indiscriminately for its own sake, we’re always looking for situations where AI might solve the problems our customers are facing.

We’re using AI to free up time and enable people to focus more on complex cases, instead of being hampered by manual processes. For example, dictation software, like the voice-to-text feature within our Safer Communities solutions, is a valuable tool that saves a lot of time while working on location.

AI is a powerful advancement in technology, but we’re careful about its application. When designing solutions we take an AI-first approach, asking if a process can be made more effective or efficient by adopting AI services. Where applicable we don’t just let AI make all the decisions without any oversight. We can set up specific parameters to flag more complex cases that need further investigation, making sure these decisions are people-driven, not just AI-generated.

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is high on the global agenda. How is MRI’s technology supporting organisations to meet the operational and regulatory challenges posed by these?

We’re looking at solutions and new features that help organisations make progress against all three elements of ESG.

We want to provide solutions that help businesses measure their environmental impact, including monitoring and improving quality, safety, and sustainability. Operationally, our solutions deliver sustainability with other benefits – for instance, Secure Sign, our digital document-signing tool, not only saves time and money, but it also saved 28 tons of paper, 11 tons of wood and conserved 596,000 gallons of water in 2022.

Clients can take insights from The Resident Voice Index™, an MRI-commissioned research project which has to date collected over 28,000 responses from UK social housing residents on topics that matter the most to them. These insights are freely available to housing providers and policymakers, so the residents’ viewpoint is kept front and centre of decision-making.

Governance is hugely important in a heavily regulated sector like social housing. We’re always working to ensure our solutions help social housing providers meet regulatory requirements, support compliance, and deliver against their goal of providing better homes and safer communities.

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