Places for People Chief Data and Information Officer Norma Dove-Edwin has revealed how the organisation is planning an ambitious transformation programme to underpin a more innovative data-driven strategy across its many businesses.
Speaking at the 2017 CIO Summit, Dove-Edwin explained how the property management company, which also has businesses in development, regeneration and leisure, was refreshing its strategy from the bottom up based on real insight and information of the organisation's assets.
"We are driving our whole vision and strategy, it's all about the information and insights in order to run our business, and then that will translate into the technology and all the lovely, wonderful things we'd like to do in the cloud and how we'd like to change the culture and the pace of our organisation," she said at the May Fair Hotel in London.
Places for People has seen a vast increase in complexity through mergers and acquisitions, a key driver of the company's growth but not without its own challenges.
"Our CEO is very determined that he wants to grow our asset base, but we also have a huge social conscience. So, we're not just about growing, but basically we want to increase our social value in terms of the property market," Dove-Edwin said.
Property management strategy
Dove-Edwin, who joined as Chief Data Officer in July 2017, discussed the importance of a having a structured strategy and how the use of information and data has benefited the organisation in several ways.
"Our purpose is really to be a big player in the housing market and to actually add social value by building more houses in the affordable housing sector, but we also want to change the way people look at houses and build and buy houses," Dove-Edwin said.
"We even have a fund management company, where we go to investors and we raise funds," she added. In doing so, this shows the way Places for People has taken on different ventures in transforming its method of business.
Dove-Edwin explained that the company keeps an overview of asset data at board level, and that this helps to drive its digital transformation agenda.
"Where we want to get to is, we want to drive it through the information, so the brief and the board and the chairman is very clear. They want to have information at the group level, in order to understand where we are in terms of our asset base, and what asset base we have that we actually own.
"That's a key aspect for us and one end of the scale of our business. The other end of the scale of our business is obviously the customer experience. We have customers across the sector who live in all our properties who want to have, and need to have the same kind of experience that they get from the retail sector or the banking sector," she added.
The Information brief
Dove-Edwin said that an information brief was put together from the early stages of refreshing the business strategy.
"Our challenges were that we didn't have the information of the insights in order to run our business, but we have grown massively through mergers and acquisitions.
"The affordable housing, the private sector, construction companies and financial companies, we've brought most of those companies so they've all come with their own culture, their own ways of working, their own technology and their siloed mentality," she said.
As part of the information brief, Places for People welcomed companies from these various sectors which come on board with their individual projects.
"So, if you're setting up a project within our company, I will be along there with my information brief and the details of how you will partner with me," she said. "There are probably about 12 that operate within that space, who all do their own thing and will tell you that their process for income collection is unique and must be done this way.
"We all collect income at accounts receivable, we all need to get money in and it's really quite the standardised process and that's what we're looking at of how we do that. They will then agree some common process and we'll look at the data that drives those common processes.
"Then we will look at the technology that will drive and support those business processes and that data to make us more operationally efficient and effective."
Dove-Edwin highlighted that it was important to have a group strategy, to assist in gathering the necessary data and information needed across the business.
"We are driven by the group and the group strategy. That is the first point of where we want to start and then that will feed into the data that we need to collect and we need to have as the basic building block," she said. "Once we have that building block, it's a bit like through the periodic table we can then do anything.
"We can then generate any insights and any information if we all have the basic building blocks of what that property is. That is where we need to get to, to be able to manage our assets and to be able to deliver a good customer experience," she added.
This also paved the way to business partnering, a method which was deployed to develop communication and strategic objectives in the organisation.
"The whole idea to us about business partnering is driving that conversation and being at the heart of the conversation. One of the things that we have as part of an IT department, along with finance, is that we have visibility across the entire organisation," said Dove-Edwin.
Dove-Edwin said that since embracing business partnering, the mission was to then find a way to bring everyone together in a formatted structure.
"Through the business partners, we are then going to drive through the governance, where we will then be able to bring all our entities together, or wrap some of our entities together within what we call the innovation work stream, where we can then start to talk about data information and technology," she said.
Chief Data and Information Officer Dove-Edwin, who previously worked in executive IT roles at British American Tobacco, Shell, Unilever, HBOS and BP, explained that these entities include those dealing with cloud solutions, core IT and a group section which looks at Azure in the cloud.
"A key part of it is actually the governance and how we manage that, how we share knowledge and how we leverage the expertise that we have within the organisation and how we understand and listen to what the business actually really want and what they actually need to run their business.
"So those are my objectives in order to deliver the goal and now a vision of simplifying where we are and delivering insights and information to the business. Everything else works at the foundation level, which is terrific."