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Housing and care industry must get ready for digital

More than half of housing associations plan to move to digital systems, but suffer from a lack of support and understanding, according to a study

Only one-third of housing providers are taking advantage of digital systems, mainly because of contract lock-ins and resistance from the organisation, a survey has found.

The study, published in a report by the Housing Learning and Improvement Network and digital care systems supplier Appello, which surveyed 80 senior executives at retirement housing providers and local councils, found a widespread lack of support and investment in digital technology for the sector. 

The report, Fast forward to digital care, said: “While there is consensus over the need to go digital, it represents a sea change for today’s housing providers.

“Many of the telecare systems deployed today have not changed over the past 30 years. These systems are largely still analogue-based and are frequently incompatible with modern, feature-rich digital systems.”

The housing and care industry still largely operates on analogue systems, and the survey found that 34% of respondents said their organisation needs better education about the benefits of digital care because there is often a lack of support around digital transformation. 

Another key barrier is contract lock-ins with current suppliers. “Nearly one-third of respondents (31%) said the contract they had with their existing supplier was the chief reason for not going digital,” the report said. 

“This reflects the fact that some suppliers don’t offer digital services, while others want to sweat their investments in analogue technology for as long as possible.”

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Last year, Computer Weekly reported that retirement housing and care provider Housing & Care 21 had decided to stop working with suppliers that did not offer digital systems. Its chief operating officer, Tony Tench, said at the time that the supply chain had long been hesitant in offering digital products because it had “been doing very well out of flogging analogue systems”. 

Tench added: “The restrictions on analogue systems have been around for a long time, and people are saying digital isn’t really ready. We took the view with our board that we don’t want to use analogue any more. It’s time for the sector to get to grips with a digital world.” 

However, the sector now appears ready to adopt digital systems and some have made significant improvements. The survey found that 56% of housing associations and providers were planning to move to digital systems and 84% agreed that digital systems were critical for the sector’s future success.

Housing Learning and Improvement Network director Jeremy Porteus said providers “do grasp the transformative impact that telecare delivers for the health and wellbeing of residents, but many seem uncertain how urgently they need to respond”.

He added: “In some ways, it is remarkable that there is any debate about the move from traditional, analogue-based telecare to digitally enabled solutions. We have been talking about an empowered, discerning and demanding new generation of consumers for more than a decade now.”

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