The 5 ‘Digital’ Conversations Every Leader in Housing Needs to Be Having Today

This week’s Golden Marzipan Breakfast Briefing focused on surviving the digital revolution. Dr Alan Brown, Professor in Digital Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School joined us to share his insights on the significance of the digital revolution and its challenges.

Dr Brown has spent almost three decades focusing his work on agile approaches to business transformation while also studying the dynamics between technology and business innovation in today’s ever-changing digital economy. He now helps startups and established organisations in their transformational journey, coaching and teaching them to effectively manage the new challenges they face when dealing with technology.

Also, Dr Brown thinks it’s more important than ever for housing associations to initiate a meaningful conversation on digital transformation. But, as he pointed out, “most of the frustrations in the digital world are caused by a lack of communication“. That’s because there’s more than one “digital’ conversation to be had”. He advocates there are five digital conversations that leaders should be having. Therefore, housing organisations will benefit from prioritising and organising their thoughts around these key areas as a useful framework to structure the digital conversation.

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Dr Alan Brown shared his advice on how to foster and implement digital transformation successfully for your housing organisation.

These are Dr Brown’s five conversations on digital that every leader needs to prepare for:

1. The Technology Conversation.

The tech-enabled conversation has to be initiated by bringing up questions surrounding the right use of technology, which may include topics like finding new software solutions. So, it might be “we need to upgrade the tech” or “some other vendor wants to sell us this and it’ll be twice as fast” or “this thing we were going to implement is going to be three times the cost”. We’ve all been there and had these conversations.  

The focus of these technology conversations is around the language of “efficiency and automation“, how do we do what we do today faster, more effectively. You’ll use the traditional language of business such as ROI, managing, and measuring the improvements in your organisation in fairly traditional ways. This is the typical conversation people have on ‘digital’ but there are others.

2. The Digital Touchpoints Management.

Digital touchpoints and how to handle them are another area to discuss. According to Dr Brown, it’s about having, promoting, maintaining, and measuring effective interactions in the use of social media and other digital channels.

As Dr Brown mentioned, this can be a tricky area of communication since digital reality now “is a completely different world and language for many of us”. He continued by saying that it’s vital to learn the language around social media channels and how these interactions work differently. And, “there isn’t a panacea. You’ll have to have a set of questions and ideas on how to handle these channels properly”, he pinpointed, “while also having traditional success measures in place.”

Another key point to cover here is channel shifts. “Our touchpoints can be measured in terms of the costs”, he said, “without losing the quality of interaction and the human touch“. People still need to have someone there behind the phone or the website chat to help them find their way.

3. Implementing New Business Models.

The third conversation you want to promote is “to get talking about new business models using digital technologies. Because we have all this data, we can now do this, we can create a new opportunity. Finding new opportunities to promote a new way to offer your services, to sell your data, to also interact in new ways, and to create new value.”

But, what’s a business model? In this context, a new business model comprehends “a new set of business interactions“, as Dr Brown pointed out. “It’s about knowing and having the right value proposition, taking into account its delivery costs, talking about the interactions, and having new insights about how to present it to stakeholders so we can make it profitable and sustainable. And, as new digital technologies come your way, you may be reorganising things in quite a different way.”

4. Having Data-Driven Insights.

The use of data itself is more important than ever and, consequently, it has to be taken into account as another key conversation to have. We’re living and working in “real-time environments, recording things electronically, and seeing what’s happening on a minute-to-minute basis”, as stated by Dr Brown. That’s why having realistic conversations about data and its collection is a major topic to discuss.

It’s necessary to clearly understand the implications of data storage, its collection, its use. and also, its ethics, liability, and the legal aspects of data. We have to talk about “What are we doing with it? what should we do with it? what are we allowed to do with it? and what do our stakeholder want us to do with it?”. According to Dr Brown, there have to be strategies in place to help teams understand these issues and avoiding making wrong assumptions and decisions about data.

5. The Social Transformation.

Last but not least, the social transformation factor comes in. Effective social transformation and its implications for your organisation are real and your response has to be strategic.

It’s about constructive social transition, “The world is changing”, continued Dr Brown, so “how are we leading in times like these, how do we think about ourselves? And, what kind of things matter to us, how do we position ourselves, and how do we think about ourselves in terms of being responsible and organised for a digital future?”.

A Constructive Approach to Digital Transformation

So, how do these five conversations structure your approach to digital transformation?

Essentially, you need to build a digital skill organisation that looks beyond just the technology and into all five areas.

First, think about your teams. How can they help with these areas? Where are their skills? Who could be responsible for driving conversations and developments in these five areas? Dr Brown was keen to stress how important it was to start capacity building through education on these five. Both for yourself in a broad sense, for them in a detailed sense, and for the entire organisation.

One of the ways to do this is to increase the mandate and the skills base within your ICT team. Rather than just re-badge ‘ICT’ as ‘digital’, you need to encourage a broader footprint and influence from your ICT team to say “your job isn’t simply to ensure we have the right PCs and we’re updated on our virus software. Your job is to help us understand how we can use those new technologies to begin to change the ways we operate. To help us effectively improve what we do and give value to our clients.” They also need a seat at the decision-making table to help you understand how it fits into the broader business strategy.

The second option is to have a parallel team that sits alongside the ICT team, labelled something like ‘digital transformation team’ and appointing a chief digital officer. The idea of this is not to create a shadow ICT team, but it’s a team that can address these five areas from an organisational perspective, really focusing on driving value for our stakeholders.

Finally, when you identify gaps, or you don’t feel like you’re having an intelligent conversation equally across the key areas you need to call in experts from outside the organisation to help engage and support you to shape your response.

Regardless of what route you take in creating that broad digital organisation, you need to always be asking yourself three questions:

  • What value is required by our stakeholders in a digital world and how do we increase it?
  • How do we build trust through these digital channels?
  • How do we understand and manage risk in a digital world?
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There is hope! Golden Marzipan can help deliver digital transformation programmes for your organisation.

Digital Transformation at Your Fingertips!

Do you need to have more conversations around one or more of these five key areas? Then, call Peter at Golden Marzipan for an informal chat. Our team of advisors have broad experience in delivering digital transformation and we’d love to talk about how we could help you today. Contact Peter at

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