Having been involved in one of the first roll-outs of a digital Inclusion solution within the UK some six years ago, I have watched with interest to see if there have been any changes in the way that communication providers, local authorities, Scottish Government and housing associations approach the delivery of these solutions to ensure that their tenants living in housing stock receive as much opportunity through the use of digital technology as anyone else.
My thinking, since a child, has always been to work from the final-goal back the way to the method that I would take to reach that goal. I take a similar approach with digital inclusion solutions. My priority is also answering the key questions:
- what do we know that the tenants want to experience?
- what do we want the housing officers and stakeholders to experience that will make their lives/jobs more rewarding?
- how can we work back to the technology as the enabler to allow these enhanced user experiences to be met?
Fibre connectivity is vital to the foundation building block of service dwellings. The fibre connectivity creates the ability to share the bandwidth between buildings where possible to keep capital expenditure on connectivity to a minimum.
Then we need to look at the wireless environment and again answer some key question:
- how can we best deploy it?
- what functionality do we provide through it?
- can we cater for health and education services through this infrastructure?
- or can we add solutions to this infrastructure to allow all of this to take place to ensure people have an improved quality of life through being digitally connected?
The answer in all cases to these is a simple ‘Yes, anything is possible’, as long as we take a consultative approach with the key stakeholders and tailor the technology and solution to the desired customer experience outcome.
The results that we have seen in the past from a social impact point of view have been incredible and it has proven that by deploying the correct technology and solutions that it can have a long and lasting impact on people’s lives.
The feedback from tenants is that having access to the internet makes them feel more connected.
For some that is a connection to the outside world, and for others it is a connection to the digital resources that we mostly take for granted. For the more mature demographic within the tenant population, they feel that having access to the internet made them feel part of modern society and allowed them to keep in better contact with their friends and family.
A percentage of tenants now look after themselves better as well as knowing more about their health thanks to accessing health and fitness resources. Tenants had used the internet to seek work and used these applications as proof of finding work when applying for universal credit.
For our younger demographic, the ability to connect and access educational resources like the other children at their schools, enabled them to improve their grades and confidence levels at school.
Those engaging in adult learning too will use similar educational resources to gain qualifications to help aid them in their journey to employment. These are all things that I have a strong view in, that everyone, no matter what their social circumstance, should have full digital connectivity access in the UK.
For the housing associations and council housing workers, we see a different set of results.
Housing Associations and Councils saw tenant engagement grow through using digital resources. It allowed them to devise workshops, groups, competitions both from an educational and fun approach, to instigating inclusiveness as part of using the digital technology to run some of these programmes. It allowed the associations to move services like repairs, payments, allocations, services and complaints online, which freed up the housing officers time to be more visible to the tenants, providing more productive support to the inclusiveness programme. This resulted in a real positive shift in the increased interaction between the housing officers and the tenants.
The main commercial benefits to the housing associations and council landlords were that they were educated and empowered with the tools to allow them to analyse data from their estate to target market services or tailor future programmes for the tenants.
The immediate financial impact was that by engaging, encouraging and educating tenants to pay rent online, they were making a real saving on the transactional cost of processing payment of rent invoices from £15 over the counter to only £0.90p online: a £14.10 saving per unit.
One customer, who will remain anonymous, had circa 5,000 units within their estate and the rent run was on a monthly basis. The transactional cost saving to them was £846,000 per annum, albeit it took them 4 months to encourage everyone to pay online.
This is something that not a lot of people think about when looking at the financial model and the return on investment that can be initiated through deploying ultrafast connectivity and a wireless environment within their housing stock, but it is an almost immediate saving which is invaluable to the associations.
Funding has always been an issue for housing associations to install the equipment that is required to realise such savings and I feel that there is further discussion required between council and government stakeholders to address this challenge, albeit as most will know that here has been funding made available just recently through the ‘Power up’ initiative.
There is also the further socio-economic impact with people gaining employment which results in tax creation for the government, providing the ability to re-invest in other services.
Children engaging in educational resources has the further impact of increasing grades across the country enabling graduates to go onto further education and beyond.
The ability for government services to be accessed by the tenants, allowing tenant participation and access to government services, and therefore creating a more inclusive system for all.
For a lot of communication providers the mindset is only about getting a fibre circuit in and some wireless access points, however, for me, I think we have a duty to see it through to the other end and this is a commitment that I and Scottish Wireless will always make to the people that consult with us.
We will not only deploy a cost-effective solution, but we will offer training and support to both employees within the organisations and their tenants.
We will also help the housing associations to utilise data to market their resources and services in ways that they see fit. This isn’t and should never be about providing a fibre network and leaving associations and their tenants to work it out. It should always be about engaging collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure that everyone benefits from the digital resources being made available to them.
I strongly believe that we all have a duty of care to help with this.
For further information or to arrange a meeting with Peter please contact him directly at: [email protected] or call # 0754 932 7108.
Scottish Wireless fibre backhaul and superfast network system throughout the building provides building owners with the opportunity to open up a Catalogue of Services for prospective and existing tenants – plus the release of additional revenue streams