SOLD-OUT EVENT: Incremental Transformation in the Housing Sector with Dynamics 365Oliver KontisApril 17th 2019
We hosted a Housing Event, partnered with Microsoft, on the incremental transformation in the Housing Sector with Dynamics 365. This sold-out event was attended by those within the Housing sector who were keen to learn more about the transformations Dynamics 365 could make to their organisation. We also spoke about Microsoft Azure, Social Engagement and our own compliance tool, complyThing.
Last week we welcomed representatives from Housing Associations across the country to our sold-out Housing Event at Microsoft’s Paddington office in London, where we explored the capabilities of Dynamics 365 and new cloud services available through Microsoft Azure, and more specifically the application of these to the Housing sector. From a systems perspective, the Housing sector currently finds itself dominated by a few key players which command high cost and offer little flexibility to suit the demands of a landlords can be harnessed by Social Housing organisations to achieve this.
The principal theme of the event was pioneered by our Business Architect, Mike Eckersley, who spent over 12 years in Senior IT positions within the sector before joining cloudThing: “Within Housing, organisations must pick and choose where they spend budgets as they simply don't have the resources to go after 'transformation' as an end goal in itself, and nor should they. By lowering the risk of innovation through smaller ongoing investments, this means that housing providers are free to test what works and what doesn't quickly without the worry that jobs are on the line if something fails.” Among our guests, who had travelled from far and wide (including those from London, the Home Counties, Wales, and the North of England), were organisations who were finding themselves at different stages of their own transformation projects. Particularly noteworthy was the broad spread of professional disciplines represented at the event – from IT, Customer Service, Finance, and Housing Operations, to Repairs and Maintenance – all of whom were keen to discover how Microsoft’s technology stack could drive their departments forward.
During his first session, Fran Thomas, our Technical Director, asked the audience about their experience with Dynamics. The numerous responses generally fell into one of three common categories:
“I’ve heard of it but never seen it...”,
“I’ve seen it but not deployed it...” or,
“I’ve deployed it but could do more with it...”
So, what was evident was that our attendees were familiar with the concept of Dynamics and were keen to see it in action and explore its features further.
Our morning session sought to showcase how the existing areas within Dynamics can be used to guide existing procedures within Housing providers, for example Field Service for stock maintenance or Project Service Automation for improvement programmes. Of the six demos that were run throughout the morning, all were created and built in one day or less, which offered some peace of mind to our visitors who may have had concerns about the timescales associated with transformation. This also would have given them some validity and understanding to the grand claim of seeing immediate business value through incremental improvements.
After enjoying a Microsoft-provided lunch, Ed Yau and Greg Roberts, cloudThing’s Predictive Science and Data experts, spent an hour demystifying Artificial Intelligence. Here, they offered valuable and practical demos of Azure’s AI and machine learning capabilities in real time through a self-serve repairs chatbot, as well as an insight to Power BI. A common sentiment among attendees during our predictive science session was frustration at AI being continually discussed as a way to take their respective businesses forward without an agreed-upon direction or sector-specific roadmap for its implementation. There is unfortunately, among the public, a serious lack of clarity on what technologies and capabilities are genuinely available and those that are a mere matter of Sci-Fi. AI is now commonly used as a catch-all term for stats-based machine learning techniques for prediction, and despite using modelled data and demo instances, our Data guys were able to provide some inspiration for how services such as customer engagement, repairs, and monitoring stock condition could be automated through predictive science.
What we learnt from this discussion was that organisations of this size have vast amounts of data that aren’t being harnessed as much as they could, and this largely boils down to a lack of know-how. As can be the case with any sector which typically tends to recruit from within its own boundaries, Social Housing organisations will need to lean on external partners for inspiration and enlightenment on what is possible and how best it can be achieved. We gathered this from the numerous questions posed by our guests which ran along the lines of, “Could I do [X] if I wanted to?”, and our response, more often than not, was “Yes! Why not?!”
Lastly, before a friendly period of networking, the audience were shown real-time conversations and mentions of their own organisations over social media platforms, using Microsoft Social Engagement and its reporting capabilities. On top of this, they were also given a first look at complyThing, cloudThing’s purpose-built data inventory and compliance management app. Even a year on after the implementation of the GDPR, it would seem that many enterprises (and not just within Housing), are still daunted by its overhanging cloud. This is exactly why we have built an app which sits on the Power Platform to make treating data in compliant fashion as simple as possible and aiming to reduce human error as best as possible.
Returning to the partner value-add, it has been sincerely gratifying to receive such warm and positive feedback across the board from our great guests who have recognised the talent within our ranks. Time will tell how much Dynamics will take a hold of the Housing sector, but the early signs are promising and there are already significant buy-ins from some of the country’s larger organisations. Many Housing Associations will already have ties to the Microsoft eco-system with the likes of Office 365 and SharePoint, but simply aren’t aware of the additional technology that can be used as part of their existing licenses. Certainly, there is work to be done to empower organisations within the sector to redefine how they achieve long term transformational strategies. However, what we hope to have achieved from our event is to have instilled confidence into those that attended, that by working agile, failing fast and finding what works for their unique organisations, Housing Associations can make best use of their resources and focus on progress as a constant.
Keep your eyes peeled for more events held by us!