News April 7, 2021

Managing your ‘Data Revolution’

In recent months, MRI software has hosted a series of breakfast briefings to bring together four leaders in social housing technology. In the first of these, they outlined the challenges facing the sector in relation to data and the pressing need for housing providers across the UK to adopt data-driven decision-making processes. The social and economic costs of making the wrong or sub-standard decisions can be high so mechanisms were discussed to place social housing providers in more confident decision-making environments through smart handling of their data.

The four presenters were:

Colin Sales, CEO of 3C Consultants

Michael McLaughlin, Social Insight Lead, HACT

Phil Brining, Operations Director, Data Protection People

Doug Sarney, Director, MRI Software

In much the same way that the miners and drillers of natural resources in bygone eras held the key to fuelling society’s progress, modern data miners and drillers find themselves in a similar position of influence. Ninety per cent of the total electronic data generated by humans have been created in the last two years and modern data pioneers are the ones who can extract value from this data.

The key to uncovering value from data and therefore one of the key features of The Data Revolution is to facilitate the conversion of data into actions via a data-value pathway. The decisions are taken at the end of this process then have an impact on individuals across all areas of human life.

Social Housing providers are no different regarding the vast amounts of data collected, held and available to them on which decisions about their businesses and the well-being of residents are based.

Smart providers are harnessing data correctly and efficiently and using it effectively to build and maintain robust social housing organisations and thriving communities. Conversely, from a service provision, regulation and governance perspective, the repercussions of getting it wrong are high. To give some examples, this can be in terms of reputational discredit; inefficiency; costing jobs and even costing lives as the tragic events of June 2017 have shown.  In the seminars, the ‘data revolutionaries’ revealed the challenges presented by data handling in social housing and the approaches that companies and social housing providers can embrace to deal with them.

Poorly organised data hinders long-term business transformation and seemingly harmless errors can have startling implications for forward planning. For example, Michael McLaughlin at HACT, told of a provider who found, “Twenty per cent of their tenants were 119 years old. This was back in 2019 and what had happened was someone did not have their date of birth when they logged them into the system, so they were given a birthday of January 1st, 1900.”

This is an easily identifiable slip-up brought about by having no option for unavailable data. However, the consequences of this unrealistic number of centenarians could heavily influence the planning of housing provision for an ageing population.

Other data anomalies may be harder to spot and this creates doubt in the trustworthiness of the data. Shaky reliability of information garnered from data will create decision making hesitancy or result in poor decisions being made – ultimately resulting in substandard services for residents. There is also an efficiency hit associated with this resulting in housing providers not running as well as they can.

More seriously, the proven and quite public risks posed to housing providers who get it wrong were listed by speakers as ‘enormous inefficiency, poor service delivery, low customer satisfaction, data breaches, potentially being downgraded by the regulator, reputational risk, the competency of an organisation and potential job losses.’

“When it comes to good governance, the decision will be made based on your data not on expert reassurances. We are reaching a stage where hearing the words ‘prove it’ will be a frequent challenge to management teams.”

Colin Sales, CEO, 3C Consultants

The urgency felt by housing providers to enable their data to work for them as outlined by each of the speakers. Beyond risks, prescient leaders are looking forward to moving information from patchwork spreadsheets and legacy systems to integrated, responsive platforms that can model, test, and facilitate long-term transformation.

Some of the recommendations discussed for RPs to consider in their data revolution projects included: defining your mission; building a single version of the truth; mechanisms for cleaning up existing data; validating data at the point of entry; employing clear analytics and business intelligence and embedding residents’ feedback. The goal for each action is to turn data into decisions to add value.

“It has to be a sector-led process. What is key for that is that we as a sector have to advocate for how we handle our data.”

Michael McLaughlin, HACT

Establishing high standards for good data usage will take some time to implement, as careful and specific attention is needed for each of the facets of a housing provider’s service provision. The approach needs to be proactive, with organisations able to present how and why they collect data and what insights they gain from it, rather than purely implementing data practices reactively to regulation.

“Folks, the data revolution is not only here to stay, but it’s also gathering pace. You can collect all the data you want but if you can’t derive any value or benefit from it, what’s the point?”
Phil Brining, The Data Protection People

On the horizon, The Internet of Things, AI and machine learning have the capacity to transform housing providers. This adoption will have major implications in terms of organisations’ competency, ability to understand data ethics and adhere to standards. One example of this lies in the trading of data and metadata derived from IOT devices.

“Data on its own is actually no good. Data technically is 1s and 0s, numbers held in databases. What we need to do is move it into an arena where we can derive some value from it. Once we have insights, we can make confident and valuable decisions.”

Doug Sarney, MRI Software

To embed data-driven decision-making within the social housing sector, organisations will require a level of comfort with handling and analysing data to instil confidence that the best decisions are being made. Cultural change, assisted by digital competency including the provision of skills, knowledge and tools to all staff is necessary for effecting a vision to build thriving communities.

Now is the time for open conversation and investigation into what is needed to solve the challenges facing the sector and what the sector’s vision is for utilising the data it holds.

If you would like to get in contact to be part of this conversation and share your vision for the data revolution you can reach out to Doug Sarney via

This breakfast meeting was one of a series of webinars the data revolutionaries will be bringing to the sector during 2021, sign up for the next session here.


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