Red Olive is working on a new solution for housing associations that need to complete their annual SDR submissions. As part of our research for the new product, we spoke to a data expert with experience of completing the submission, Kevin Whittington. He has been working in data for 25 years, in a variety of roles from developer through to head of department. Red Olive met Kevin when he was working with Yorkshire Housing as an independent expert brought in to lead the preparations for their SDR submission. We caught up with him to ask what he thinks would make the SDR submission a lot easier.

In your opinion, what are the three top challenges for housing associations when it comes to the SDR submission?

 “It is a very laborious process to pull together the information you need to complete the SDR submission. Firstly, the data is often not in one place and is not as clean as it should be. That is not out of negligence – it’s just that different people interpret fields in a database in a different way. Secondly, within many housing associations, it is not always the same person or the same group of people that do the SDR submission each year, so there is a learning curve for the individuals involved to get up to speed. With only two months to complete the submission, you don’t have time to waste.

A lot of housing associations keep their departments quite lean to release more money for the development and improvement of housing. This means that more often than not, the people who are doing the submission have a day job as well and aren’t dedicated to just doing the SDR. On top of that, there can be communication challenges between departments when pulling together the information that you need for the SDR.

The third thing I would say, is that every year, the regulator puts in something new, or amends something and where it has probably switched one or two words, that changes the meaning and the information required.”

If you are ahead of the game with how you are storing and using your data, would it make the SDR submission a lot simpler?

“I think that that there needs to be more effective investment in automation ahead of the preparation for the SDR. For the majority of housing associations, it is a manual job to get all the information together and the reconciliation involves somebody going through a spreadsheet and checking each property to make sure it is in the right slot. When you are talking about 10-20,000 properties, that becomes a massive undertaking. Getting your data sorted out in advance so that you know exactly what belongs in which category would be a massive help and a huge time saver. Just implementing a general data warehouse is probably not sufficient for doing the SDR, because the information you need to run your business and what is needed for the SDR submission is quite different. The way that this information is presented is also quite different too.”

Are there other benefits for getting your data in order? Is predictive work a consideration for housing associations?

“Absolutely. I have been in data for a long, long time. What I have found is that if you don’t have a good framework and a good foundation for your data, everything you do with that data is flawed. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have everything organised and in place at the base level. That enables you to do forecasting predictions and accurate reporting.

With better data quality, you can empower different people and teams to do the reporting they need. You have confidence in the accuracy, knowing the data doesn’t need any manipulation. You don’t have that reassurance with manual reporting. If you get your data right in the first place, it means that the business can produce whatever reports it needs to support its decision making, which can save massive amounts of time and is far more efficient.”

Is a dashboard that shows you real time information an ideal solution?

“There were a number of times when I was working at Yorkshire Housing where one of the directors would come to me and say, ‘I need to give such a submission to the regulator’, or ‘we need to discuss something at the board meeting’. It was on me to manage all this data compilation and it was a manual grind. A proper dashboarding solution could be done by whoever needed that information, would enable up to the minute reporting and it would be more compliant too.”

You have worked with Red Olive previously on a project pre-SDR submission at Yorkshire Housing – what were your thoughts about working with the team?

“I found Red Olive to be very professional. The team really understands data, how it works together and how to get the best out of the data that we had. The team I worked with was very approachable, very friendly and I found it very easy to work with them.”

For some data projects, sometimes there is an element of communication alongside the data project, bringing an organisation together with a lot of explaining and hand holding along the way. Do you feel that Red Olive can help with that as well?

 “Part of the work Red Olive does includes building a roadmap of what they will deliver. Being a data professional, I found it very easy to follow but some of my colleagues needed a little bit more help and Red Olive was able to talk at an appropriate level for the audience, which was really helpful.

I think that it is important to be able to produce an SDR anytime, rather than just in time for submission. That way, you get forewarning that some of the numbers are changing and you can do something about it before you are in that very tight pre-submission window. The means proactively getting the data in the right condition and making sure that it is all available in a central system, rather than in people’s own personal spreadsheets.

If you are thinking that this sounds ideal but you could with some help, speak to Red Olive. It is a company that can definitely be trusted and has a lot of integrity, which means you can share more with them as a team than a lot of other companies because they will deliver what you need, not something that is just going to give them a lot of work.”

For a better understanding of the data you hold, and how it can help drive your business forward or for more information on Red Olive’s new solution to assist with the SDR submission, call Red Olive today on 01256 831100 or email hello@red-olive.co.uk