This month we spoke to Nick Harris, CEO at Stonewater Housing Association about its digitisation process, the use of artificial intelligence in the future and how gaining efficiencies can help to fill the housing shortage.

How has/is technology playing a role in helping integration for Stonewater?

We made an early decision when we became Stonewater to bring the business onto a single housing and asset management system because we believed that this gave us the best foundation to deliver consistently strong services; and for our digital ambitions.  Achieving full integration in less than two years has allowed us to create the right organisational structures to deliver the best for our customers, and then to focus on continuing to improve how those services are delivered.

Roll forward 10 years, how do you see the use of technology/digital changing for Stonewater

We are realising that 10 years in a digital world where technology is developing so quickly is quite hard to predict.  Our aim in the foreseeable future is to make sure that our customers can access our services digitally in a way they would expect to do with any other service they will be using in their lives.  For us that means truly end to end self service, that benefits both the customer and the way we work.  So, we have focused on making sure our internal processes are digital too.

On the horizon we can see AI becoming more important for us; for us this is likely to be how AI can add knowledge to our business as a supplement to what our people contribute.

Our main focus as a business is to address the housing shortage by increasing the number of homes we develop each year.  So technology as part of a solution to build homes, and then enhance how customers live in those homes, improving digital inclusion, managing energy use, and sustainability, will become the norm.

We won’t forget that some of our customers might be less able to access digitally based services either; this is an important part of our digital journey with our customers and our charitable foundation Longleigh is already supporting training with residents in our retirement living homes.

What will be your biggest challenges in the next two to three years?

Our main focus is on tackling the housing shortage, so that we can support more families and individuals to have an opportunity to have a place they can call home.  That is important for our customers too, so that their children and grandchildren can look forward to a future where that basic human need is available, and affordable.

We want to run our business efficiently so that we can build new homes and continue to invest in current homes and services.  Digital will help us achieve that efficiency so that we can invest in homes and services that are important to our current customers, and our future customers.

We also want to be one of the best places to work.  I don’t see it as a challenge because the people who work for Stonewater have already shown they are agile and ready for change, but I don’t forget that our people are really important to continuing in our success and that we need to engage everyone to be the best equipped and developed we can be.

How is digital helping you to engage with and involve your customers?

Our customers have busy lives – we all seem to now!  We have put more effort into developing digital ways for our customers to engage and feedback to us on how we are performing.  We are very proud of our customer hubb (help us be better) which provides an online community for Stonewater customers, and via which we consult with customers on services, strategies and policies.  Customers increasingly use social media to contact us, and we have a dedicated team within our Customer Contact Team to keep that conversation going.  We also have a great Customer Scrutiny Panel who use Yammer to carry out a lot of their meetings and discussions, which has meant that the Panel has active representatives from all areas that Stonewater work, from Yorkshire to Dorset.