Digital Pioneers

Some fantastic stories of digital use across the Scottish third sector. Read on to be inspired.

Grampian Housing Association

Grampian HA describe the steps they're taking to become a digital organisation.

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Important: Opinions expressed by Digital Pioneer interviewees are their own and don’t represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Neil Clapperton, Chief Executive of Grampian Housing Association tells us more…

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Tell us about Grampian Housing Association!

Neil: Grampian Housing Association is a leading housing association based in the North East of Scotland. We have 3500 tenants and shared owners. Beyond being a landlord we also provide other services of advice and support.

Tell us about a recent digital change you have made

Neil: Technically Grampian HA has been using IT for around 30 years but these systems have been very clunky, helping us do what we have always done! We have only thought about digital in the true transformational sense over the last two years.

We brought in a new CRM (customer relationship management) and housing system called QL in 2014. It has a number of connected modules which handle different aspects of our work e.g. invoices and contact with contractors. We have also introduced back office systems like the Citrix platform which enables employees to work remotely – this is being rolled out as we speak. For remote working we have invested in tablets which will allow for real-time assistance to tenants from across our communities, saving time and travel. We also invested in back office functions and upgrades so that finance and HR had scope to change the way they did things. It is an ongoing process for both back office and for frontline services, and one driven by the need to stop paper shuffling and focus staff time on things that matter.

Here are some example images of Grampian Housing Association’s QL Contractor system, allowing them to work more efficiently to fix issues in tenants homes.

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What motivated you?

Neil: A number of things really. We were left with a backlog of investment after a failed merger. Then one significant trigger for me was when I talked to the CEO of East Lothian Housing Association, who had been exploring the potential for moving their services on-line. All this spurred me to think about running a truly 21st century service with a model of management to empower staff, ultimately saving money and allowing us to reallocate resources where they’re most needed, which is helping tenants and other customers.

How did you go about it?

Neil: First we made a big investment in IT and then developed a digital strategy, which really happened the wrong way around. What we needed to achieve is staff buy-in, and despite some teams embracing change with great enthusiasm, this has been inconsistent. For this reason we’re constantly in conversation with our teams to ensure they know that this is a process of change which will improve the service, their day-to-day and give more flexibility to their roles. We’ve also had an away-day where we shared our vision with the organisation and what it would do for them.

Developing and implementing our vision has been ongoing from the beginning of 2016 and could take around 5 years.

Who was involved?

Neil: You could say everyone in our organisation, but it is important to have champions. We recruited a new Director of Housing & Property Services, Angela who has been key in effecting this change. Some very focused managers in finance, corporate services, housing and property played a role. One transforming moment was the recruitment of a business analyst, because a proper redesign of processes and services should be at the heart of this.

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What’s been the impact?

Neil: The benefits from the changes we’ve implemented won’t fully be felt for a couple of years and are incremental. These will be seen, experienced and felt team by team as we work at each particular service. 70% of our staff are in frontline operations and some won’t benefit just yet but the back office teams are largely there. It will free up staff time, resources and change some job roles – not involving redundancy but just switching responsibilities around and making the most of valuable staff time.

It’s all a bit like a Rubik’s cube but the most important thing is maintaining trust. Ultimately it will impact on everyone in the organisation and it’s an ambitious agenda.

Any challenges?

Neil: Yes. I learnt how important communication is between you and your staff, which can be challenging but well worth it. While implementing change we need to encourage our staff and prevent them from feeling defeated; to understand and acknowledge the difficulties they’d encounter but equally highlight the end gain.

Any advice?

Neil: The thing I learnt from One Digital Senior Leadership programme is that it’s about the people and not the kit. It’s about buy-in and digital inclusion – which as a housing association we see a lot of. But digital exclusion isn’t a barrier, it’s more a challenge.

I would advise others to get their vision right from the start. Look at your customer first and engage with your staff before buying the technology. They have to love your vision in order to get through the rough times. I wish we had approached managers to look at their processes long in advance. Two years ago I wish I knew then what I know today.

What’s on your digital horizon?

Neil: My broader vision is to:

  1. Maximise digital transactions and get our tenants to self-manage their access to services. Get rid of phone / face-to-face interactions where unnecessary with 80%+ done online;

  2. Devolve and empower local teams so that they are mobile, becoming self-managing themselves and to reduce our need for a traditional structure and office space, saving money and improving satisfaction.

What’s digitally inspiring you at the moment?

Neil: As mentioned earlier, East Lothian Housing Association is at the cutting edge, and you can also learn from what the private sector is doing with online services e.g. online banking. This is an example of a service that genuinely makes life easier and allows you to do things when you want to, 24/7.

In a different part of the third sector, social care, I’m inspired by national provider Cornerstone . They are adopting the Buurtzorg model, creating a flat, semi-autonomous hub and team structure. I would love to do this; it opens up the possibility of improving wages for some, providing more flexible working and allowing people to retrain and develop their skills. IT underpins this model and I urge people to have a look. As an organisation we are 40 years old and as result very hierarchical - this was before the real age of computers so I expect much change to come.


Thanks to Neil at Grampian Housing Association for sharing how they’re using digital in the third sector. We hope you’re feeling digitally inspired after reading it. Don’t forget to share it with your networks to keep the inspiration flowing and tell us what you think @digiscot using #digiscotpioneers.

If you’d like to help spread some more digital inspiration across the third sector then get in touch with us @digiscot and [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you and share it with our networks!