Over the past few years we have seen large amounts of coverage in the mainstream media of the ‘threat’ of AI, and how in the near future there will be no need for humans in the workplace with robots taking the roles of people. Headlines including ‘Automation replacing millions of jobs’, 'Are robots competing for your job?’, '9 human jobs that have been taken over by robots', have all appeared over the last couple of years in well-respected publications, giving the impression that a global robot take-over was imminent.
However, such scaremongering comes at a huge cost, say nothing to the fact that it is fundamentally untrue. The headlines above actively reinforce some people’s opinions on the threat that comes from technology and associated fears over its implementation. This in-turn means that companies can become reluctant to adopt new innovative technology that has real potential to make a huge impact to businesses, especially those in the social housing sector.
Overcoming this fear, that seems widespread across the public sector and social housing, will be the key for organisations over the next few years, to match employee and customer expectations, helping to ensure adherence to current and future regulations as well as freeing up the workforce to focus on other key areas of the business.
Embracing the Centaur World, we live in
Despite the headlines above we do not live in some futuristic world where there is no need for human intervention. We actually live in a Centaur World where technology and humans co-exist, and rather than seeking to replace one another, they are actually interdependent.
Technology cannot work without people, and fundamentally, in today’s world, people cannot work without technology. There is no threat from technology, rather it can provide huge benefits to the housing sector. Therefore, overcoming the ‘fear of the unknown’ that remains in the housing sector on the implementation of new technology will be absolutely crucial over the coming years.
Financial fear of technology ‘failure’
Alongside the fear of robots taking human roles, the financial consequences of the perceived failure of technology, particular in the public sector has also lead to reticence from some in adopting new solutions. This has been somewhat heightened by the increasing media attention on high investment technology ‘failures’.
However, technology failures are very rarely due to ineffective technology. There are a number of factors that are more common reasons for technology being perceived to fail. For example, how effective the implementation has been within an organisation and how staff and management have bought into and engaged with the technology during the procurement process.
Bringing employees along the journey of digital and technology transformation is key for success. It demystifies the technology and highlights the benefits it will have for all involved. In too many cases companies start on a transformation journey but pause it when they come across obstacles. Starting the process again can be difficult.
Stalling transformation journeys are usually within an organisation’s control
A recent McKinsey report How to restart your stalled digital transformation shows that most stall due to reasons that are within an organisation’s control. Its survey showed that a misinformed transformation strategy and a lack of clarity on the strategy are the two hardest challenges for organisations to overcome, once the process has begun. Therefore, getting this right from the beginning of the process is crucial for success.
We have seen several recent examples of where organisations have 'forced' new technology on their workforce with a negative impact. Not only is this bad for employee engagement, but increasingly the press is on the lookout for such stories meaning that a poorly managed technology implementation process can end in further financial and reputational damage.
Ensuring that employees are on board from the beginning means that the ‘fear of the unknown’ that new technology can bring with it is automatically taken away.
Budgetary pressures adding to the problem
Alongside fear, an additional factor that impacts the housing sector in particular, when it comes to embracing new technology, is budgetary pressure. The sector is under more pressure than ever before, having to stretch budgets across a huge number of areas. Therefore, making a decision to rip and replace legacy technology is one that doesn’t come lightly for most organisations within the sector.
A considered, gradual approach to the implementation of new innovative solutions is a workable and in many ways preferable approach, for the housing sector. It allows organisations to ensure that the workforce is fully bought into the process and avoids the risk of a large up-front cost.
Technology has never been better placed to make a positive difference to the housing sector
The housing sector, like many others, is experiencing a real shift in the expectations of employees and customers (tenants). Both are ‘customers’ of other sectors and as a result are now used to and expect a very different type of service than the housing sector is used to providing. Ordering a product from Amazon, receiving it the next day whilst receiving regular updates as the order progresses is now the standard service. Employees and customers do not distinguish between Amazon and the service they receive from their employer or housing provider.
Technology plays a huge role in helping housing providers to bridge the gap to the ever-changing expectations of their various audiences. Constantly reviewing how technology can play a part in meeting such expectations will become increasingly important over the coming months. Indeed, we are increasingly likely to see regulation being introduced to help ensure that businesses have a workplace practice that reflects modern expectations and customer experience.
Do not separate technology from people
The key in overcoming any ‘fear’ that remains within the sector and/or workplace is not to separate technology from people. One cannot work effectively without the other, working together, technology and humans make a powerful force that can make a huge difference to the housing sector.
By not separating the two, businesses can quickly demonstrate that instead of taking jobs, most technologies can actually free-up staff to focus on other key areas of the business, by automating processes that would have otherwise taken up huge amounts of manual time. This automation can also play a role in helping housing providers navigate an increasingly complex regulatory landscape, ensuring that organisations are always on the front foot when it comes to evidencing compliance, a task that when in the hands of humans alone, is long and often mundane, which leaves the company at risk.
The Centaur World we live in should not be scary
It is clear that technology can make a real difference to the housing sector, when implemented in line with employees and customers. Overcoming the fear of the unknown that resides within some organisations, by clearly communicating strategy and benefits to key stakeholders from the outset is crucial. Too often technology is forced upon workforces, which means consciously, or unconsciously workforces will contribute to its failure.
The Centaur World we live in should not be a scary one. The positives are very clear, and even a gradual implementation that takes into account budgetary pressures and employee engagement, can make a real difference to housing providers in an era that will see considerable challenges in the sector.
Chris Proctor is CEO of Oneserve