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UK multifamily data

The Future of Data Standards for Multifamily Housing

Data standards are getting a lot of attention in the housing sector and, as a result, a new housing data standard has just been launched in the UK led by HACT – a housing industry advocacy and innovation group.  The project confirms the housing industry’s interest in identifying opportunities to reduce costs around service sharing, optimize housing investment holdings, and to facilitate mergers by providing greater transparency and comparability of operational data and reduced business integration overheads.

The effort to develop a multifamily data exchange standard in the UK has started to build those connections and demonstrates the power of collaboration on an international scale, and it’s one that can be replicated.

The time is right for further development of standards that fit both domestic and international markets and to cover the full lifecycle of investment, ownership and management of multifamily and social housing portfolios. The surge in activity around data standards reflects high investor interest in multi-family investments in most local, domestic and international markets. High housing prices and rising mortgage interest rates indicate would-be buyers are staying longer in the rental market. Cap rates have been falling and the number of international transactions is increasing. High demand for transparency and better data, advances in technology, and greater awareness have brought standards to the forefront of the housing data world.

UK-based housing data exchange standard

The housing community in the UK launched the first phase of a data exchange standard – The HACT Housing Data Standard Powered by OSCRE. The standard was developed in a collaboration between HACT, an innovation and advocacy group in the housing sector in the UK and OSCRE International, a real estate standards development organization, in partnership with 17 of the UK’s leading housing associations. While HACT and OSCRE are leading the effort, the more important takeaway is the collaboration taking place between organizations that share their perspectives on the critical value of data standards.  This is a model for collaboration that enables an organization like HACT to focus on industry issues while working in partnership with OSCRE to develop and deliver a new standard in only a few months.

Using the existing OSCRE data model for multifamily housing, and some earlier work conducted by CORA in the Netherlands, the team of housing industry professionals developed the balance to include a data dictionary, schema, use cases, and a physical data model.

What does the new Housing Data Standard contain?

The Standard focuses on two high-priority data exchanges that were established by a consensus of the participating housing partners, including:

  • Initial Tenancy Application, which enables a local authority or referring agency to send an initial tenant application to the housing management or leasing team; and
  • Repairs – provides information from asset management to guide repairs.  The standards will contribute to reduce time when a unit is vacant, and can be used in other parts of the unit lifecycle, while providing for more flexible and agile contractor engagement.

The standard also includes a Customer Data Model that includes the people and organizations that interact with a housing association. This data model can also be implemented by a leasing or property management company. The data model will grow as the data set is expanded, contributing to improved customer data quality and supporting a single view of the prospective tenant, while helping to mitigate risks associated with poor data quality. The standard also provides more rigorous treatment of data for General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), improves data quality that can mitigate downstream negative impacts, and makes it easier to consistently analyze process and financial data.

Andrew van Doorn, Chief Executive at HACT called the launch of the data standard:

A watershed moment for how the social housing sector goes digital. It demonstrates the willingness of our sector to fully embrace a digital future and drive greater insight through the data we collect and use. It lays the necessary foundations to move us from a sector characterized by ‘bad data’, to one that places standards at the heart of our data processes and governance.”

What’s next in this collaboration? In 2018, HACT is expected to expand the number of participating partners and will continue to collaborate with OSCRE to build out additional critical aspects of the standard such as income collection, development handovers, repairs, complaints, and customer care and support.

Benefits for implementing these new standards

Housing organizations implementing the new standards are expected to see lower total cost of data and technology, improved data quality, accelerated data modeling, and cheaper/faster systems implementation. Software firms in the UK are also exploring implementing the standards.

The effort started in the UK is a project that can be replicated elsewhere with industry partners willing to collaborate. The benefits of an expanded set of standards and data model include:

    • Lower total cost of ownership: A common approach to data definitions across housing systems – such as tenant data – would decrease the cost of bringing together profiling information. The use of a common reference data model reduces total costs associated with data aggregation, systems integration, and migrating between systems and business partners, and helps in rationalizing overall systems spending and investment.
    • Improved data quality: standards and data governance go hand-in-hand as means of improving data quality.  Implementing data management practices along with a standards-based data model provide the level of rigor needed to improve data quality.
    • Accelerated data modelling and systems implementation: The standards provide a starting point for data mapping and data modelling exercises, accelerates project start-up, increasing consistency, and laying the foundation for automated exchanges with business partners and other associations.  No need to start from scratch with the data model.
    • Industry performance and benchmarking: a common set of data standards/definitions enable more effective benchmarking and other performance comparisons.
    • Lower transaction costs:  Housing authorities can plan ahead and reduce transaction costs when working with multiple other authorities and business partners.  This level of integration is relatively difficult at present.
    • Innovation: For housing organizations, standards reduce barriers and costs of innovation and opens the door to faster introduction of connected home/IoT technologies. For new technology providers, there’s no longer the need for a unique data environment and common APIs become more viable and harder to resist.
    • Bring together data on tenants or assets quickly and easily, across multiple systems, and use it to drive more effective business decisions. Enable more effective data sharing with other public services and participate in the growing policy interest in this space;
    • Flexibility: greater freedom to move between and integrate technology platforms – creating a more functional market in housing technology and data insight – encourages software firms and service providers to emphasize value other than proprietary systems and data.

    A look at the future and the next steps for your organization

    Standards will continue to evolve to address the full extent of data exchanges across the asset lifecycle and between stakeholders involved in multifamily housing assets and portfolios. Collaborations will continue. While there is no single standard that covers the full spectrum of housing investment and management, the collaborative approach between HACT, its partners and OSCRE is replicable and the industry has a lot to gain from this approach.

    There will be more discussion and action in 2018 around data standards for multifamily housing. Some of the social housing organizations involved in the UK standard project are moving ahead with implementation. For your organization, there are a few easy steps worth taking right away: First, take a hard look at your organization’s data to identify the issues and start to address them. Next, assess your current data strategy and data governance capabilities. Finally, join an industry community on the subject and collaborate with industry peers to build out the industry-standard reference data model.

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