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#Housing2021: a roaring success, with digital platform for DCS!!

Do you remember the infamous Peter Rachman? Well, some say he was a ruthless landlord that profited solely from the dire needs of many and in return for ‘his offer of a place to put one’s head down’, he unashamedly exploited the in/ability of others – largely drawn from across the working classes – who simply sought somewhere affordable to live in London. His well-documented exploits coined the term ‘Rachmanism’ _ which subsequently entered the Oxford English dictionary as a synonym for “the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by unscrupulous landlords”.

Image: Kingsmead Estate, Hackney

Similarly, it wasn’t until 1966 that a world-renowned BBC television play, essentially about homelessness, called Cathy Come Home, [directed by Ken Loach] brought much needed focus on this current day social ill. A first-generation child of the Windrush era, I completely resonate with the poignant portrayal of poverty, destitution, confusion and rejection, all subsumed within a wider context that suggested ‘you are less than human’. Such sentiments have been articulated by the surviving family members of those 72 victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

So here’s the thing, does Rachmanism still co-exist and what are we [as contributors to and custodians of the public sector] actively doing to tackle homelessness in 2021? It’s a question that I posed to both audiences at my recent day trip to #Housing2021, where I presented twice on the day on each occasion asking the following searching question: “has the sector lost its moral compass?”

Image: courtesy of Inside Housing / OMG

Today, there are far too many examples of ‘Rachmanism’ often leading to an ever increasing ‘national’ case load of public sector disrepair claims _ in particular and specifically those residents living in Croydon, a London borough that is effectively a single step away from ‘formal’ bankruptcy. A recent publication by ITV articulated some of the appalling housing conditions that some families are contending with in the London borough today. Whilst it would appear that many are from the working classes, and within that the Black, Asian and minority ethnic [aka BAME] communities, #SurvivingSqualor demonstrates the hazardous conditions that some families are having to live in …………. even in 2021, is truly worrisome. It’s abhorrent that the tax-payer funded machine called social housing can facilitate and evidence such poor living environments. This blatant inequality and lack of empathy, forced me to ask the aforementioned question of my audience during both of my panel sessions at the ‘in-person’ #Housing2021 annual event, hosted by the Chartered Institute of Housing ‘CIH’ and held in Manchester earlier this week.

Image: courtesy of CIH Housing

In fact, I remember being contacted on the 14th December 2007, by the London Borough of Croydon, who had been given my name and that of my ‘once upon a time’ successful small business Urbanis; citing that Mulalley & Co [a previous client] _ as part of their pursuit of another public sector, repairs and maintenance framework contract, had referenced us “as an example of a sub-contractor, who is committed to equality & diversity and reliable staff sourcing”. I was of course happy to respond to their enquiry [seen below], although we were never part of the appointed Supply Chain on the Croydon project.

LB Croydon - Equality and Diversity - recvd on 14 December 2007
Download PDF • 33KB

The legacy of which I believe is still in place today, where they are currently delivering a fourteen (14) year, £210m repairs contract; see below.

Mulalley wins £210m repairs contract _ News _ IH - 04.01.16
Download PDF • 81KB

Image: courtesy of Inside Housing Magazine

With such significant commercial contracts [in construction] on offer, across the public sector, many have considered the social housing repairs and maintenance sector to be a ‘bit of a cash-cow’; with guaranteed annual revenue streams for those who can secure and maintain successful delivery of these coveted contracts. So, through my own effort and determination I began a journey of exploration across London, which actually began in 2003, winning our first minor works contract with our then client, the NHS back in 2006. During the period of 2006 through to late 2017 / early 2018, I administered a small tight team of delivery partners to deliver both responsive and cyclical [Decent Homes] repairs contracts [largely as a subcontractor] across the public sector. As a consequence of such exposure to more risk than benefit – including the Carillion failure – the business failed [largely on the back of sharp practices from the Tier 1 contractor, which left (and still leaves) a lot be desired; but that will remain a story for another day!].

Image: courtesy of [DCS Leaders]

Notwithstanding, my extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the repairs and maintenance sector across the UK, and specifically across London, where we successfully operated across every London borough, always engaging at the highest level in management [with the exception of the City of London] has equipped me to commence my new venture; AI-QS, which is strategically positioned to help strengthen the commercial prowess and contract management capability [LGA] of the contracting authority themselves. This is no longer about outsourcing, conversely it is all about insourcing and effectively equipping clients themselves to become ‘more intelligent of the process and associated risks’ through enhanced visibility of what is actually going on both within and external to their vertical and horizontal supply chains. Make no mistake, the birth of a new era of BIM enabled, data-driven digital twin solutions [Diginomica]; also took place, on the back of the COVID pandemic. Remote working, ‘virtual’ asset management and both the storage and sharing of structured information in a digital format [the core requirement of the Building Safety Bill] is no longer negotiable. A failure to comply with pending legislative requirements could be extremely painful, given the need to avoid a repeat of Lakanal House or worse still, Grenfell Tower.

The common denominator of my own challenges in business – as a sub-contractor delivering public sector contracts – was never that, as a business, we were not good enough, rather it was often that the cultural norms that co-existed at that time, concerning the flow(s) of information and other relevant project data, just weren’t good enough. In 2006, we were already ahead of the curve by about two-decades on the implementation of BIM and I always operated as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, mindful of my multi-faceted obligations that we maintain as part of our Rules of Conduct and Ethics, i.e. ‘to operate in the public interest’. I was proud to demonstrate and evidence a ‘this is how a qualified Surveyor operates, in a grass roots capacity’ type narrative …… but in essence we co-existed in a sector that was simply considered a ‘cash-cow’ and no more, often prepared to instruct and pay for the least amount of work in pursuit of the optimum available. Perversely, being further instructed by the same client, to go back and revisit [and/or rectify] the work that they had already been paid to do [in many ways, to a poor standard] – just didn’t sit well with me.

Image: courtesy of Social Housing Magazine

The ‘cultural norms’ of delivering sub-standard workmanship, with scant, ad-hoc information, all predicated on ill-defined specifications, badly executed forms of [bespoke] contract, that often led to poor contract management and even worse decision making, was pretty much enabled in the presence of ‘bad data’. Back then, I simply knew there was a better way and that ultimately, we could all do better for insitu residents. Despite the will not being there in sufficient capacity to warrant positive change, not even the s106 instrument was of use to me back then, why(?), because nothing was measured properly depsite the imposed KPI’s. Again, here is low hanging [and potentially a scaleable sector wide 'quick win'] for the, client facing, digital twin solution(s) …… it's time for the sectors leadership to be bold and make that leap.

Image: courtesy of ilke Homes via Twitter

Additionally, it is perhaps – in recognition of the myriad revelations of the ongoing Grenfell Inquiry – that a constituent part of the current challenge for those who are leading the sector (today) and procuring these multi-year, lucrative construction contracts, is that they continue to contend with the presence of little or no metrics at all. But there is a solution and one that is literally going to disrupt the entire sector; the demand for this disruption has been planted squarely within the sector wide obligation, mandated from all stakeholders and asset owners under the incoming Building Safety Bill.

Image, courtesy of [Grenfell Tower Inquiry]

Fast forward to 2020, and I am finally speaking with CDBB having presented at LeadersMeets on 19th June 2020 and it was this further ‘pro-bono’ contribution to the construction industry, that proved to be the fuse that lit and finally set off a chronological series of events that instigated my eventual contribution in the CDBB Digital Twin toolkit [published in February 2021, alongside TechUK].

That the CIH have just appointed Lara Oyedele, as their first Black female Vice President, is evidence that the entire social housing sector is preparing to be ‘positively disrupted’ _ all in the public interest of course.

Image: courtesy of Avanti West

My visit to Manchester on the 8th September 2021, whilst it was good to catch up with old and new clients, friends, allies [and the not so friendly, well there is always one!]; I felt a renewed sense of purpose. It was a bit like a ‘quiet’ home coming, so much has changed, yet so much still seems to have remained the same. In fact, I’ve been quietly inspired by my dear friend Kate Davies FRICS, a young lady and fellow, Fellow of the RICS that I choose to acknowledge; Kate is a great leader.

Post image, courtesy of [2nd Panel Conversation; with KIER, wide screenshot]

That my second presentation, a discussion chaired by Noel Chambers, Head of Building Safety at my old client, KIER Grp, used the tragedy of Grenfell as a backdrop was an important distinction as to the future use [and the prioritised role of structured data, to be held in a digital format]. I used this ‘use-case’ to introduce my high-level insight into the role and use of BIM to achieve Dame Hackitt’s Golden Thread. My presentation can be seen below.

#Housing 2021 _ Digital Twin Discussion [FINAL v4] _ on 08.09.21
Download PDF • 12.63MB

Image: courtesy of Team SEC (South East Consortium)

Along with my partners over at CDBB, allies like Mark Enzer OBE and more recently the amazing team at DIN / PIN, I intend to support the digital transformation of the entire sector _ at a national level _ using BIM and ultimately Digital Twins, to deconstruct existing business models and reconstruct new, dynamic, agile, real-time / right-time, data driven, people-focussed, asset compliant business solutions that will ensure that:

· ‘Rachmanism’ (as suitably defined by others /elsewhere), is suitably managed and driven / designed out of existence, for EVERY tenant / resident and occupier;

· The role and expectations of the Building Safety Regulator is widely accepted as the ‘last line of defence and bare minimum’ in terms of acceptable and accountable performance;

· The entire public sector leadership embark upon an honest conversation with themselves about ‘their why’ and sign up to future ‘Leadership Programmes’……….(more details to follow);

· Through the newly sought after and established ‘diversity of thought’, the sector succeeds in attracting the talent [and trailblazers] required to disrupt itself;

· All ‘actors’ within the social housing, dynamic delivery model, be they from Homes England to the smallest member of the G320, must commit to upskilling their core staff on using Information Management in a BIM enabled world ……….(more details to follow); and

· We, as a sector, remain empathetic and respectful to EVERY tenant / resident and occupier [on a UPRN basis] of the dwellings that they manage, in the public interest.

Image: courtesy of ilke Homes / Vistry Partnerships and Cast Consultancy

And finally, to all of the Tier 1 contractors, noting those that I have worked with ‘as a subby’ including ENGIE Regeneration Limited, KIER Grp and Mulalley & Co, I’ve been invited to come back, but this time to sit with your clients, not in your Supply Chains. This time round, predominantly due to my work in the ED&I space and more recently that concluded with CDBB / TechUK earlier this year, it is part of my role to ensure that we not only ‘play fair’, but that we all raise the bar [of project delivery, standards of workmanship and ultimately, asset compliance] in every possible way. We’ll definitely save the sector a ton of money in the process and achieve so much more with less; given that the financial burden on the sector is only going to get worse over the next decade as we work our way through and out of the COVID pandemic. It’s time for us all, to roll up our sleeves, draw upon our decades of sector experience and knuckle down to address the simultaneous challenge(s) of doing better on the above and the ever-increasing climate change / net-zero timebomb, i.e. the nett contribution [of increasing carbon emissions] produced by built assets amidst the wider construction / asset management process itself. In fact, how do / should we decarbonise asset management? What skills will be required in the new landscape of remote asset management?

Image: collage of Grenfell Tower / Decent Homes

In summary, we must revisit ‘our collective why’ and place the ‘best interests’ of EVERY resident at the heart of EVERY decision that we make; thus avoiding future Grenfell disasters and ITV expose’s. The digital twin is not a silver bullet, but it can be if we are all prepared to do the right thing at the time, for the right reasons, in light of all the evidence put before us.

See you soon, somewhere on the social housing circuit ……… until then, Godspeed.

Author: written in first person by Bola Abisogun OBE


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