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The challenge of digital identity for lettings agencies

As the digital transformation of the lettings industry accelerates, agencies now find themselves with a profusion of incoming information. Having tons of data is great, or is it? Well, yes, having lots of information is incredibly useful, IF you are able to analyse it in a meaningful way to aid better business decision making. Otherwise, you’ll just be drifting on your data lake, with all the problems that holding information brings – like data security and GDPR concerns – but none of the benefits. Agency Ops teams need to understand what the issues are – and most importantly, how to overcome them.

What’s stopping lettings agencies from tapping into the seam of gold that high-quality data provides? There are a few problems. Firstly, the sheer number of different data sources that are serving up information. If we look at, say, the tenant onboarding process, then who is involved? There’s the landlord, the tenant and the agent, plus referencing providers etc. Every party needs to have access to and to provide different information, at different stages in the process. It’s very confusing and time-consuming, especially if humans have to manage some or all of the admin.

The digital twin

NASA originally came up with the idea of a digital twin. It means a digital representation of a physical object or system. For NASA it referred to the digital simulations that took over from the full-scale physical mock-ups of space capsules that were used for testing on the ground. Now, the technology behind digital twins has widened to include buildings, factories and even cities. There’s talk that even people might have a digital twin eventually.

For now, most people have a lot of information spread all over the digital world, which is bad news for security and privacy. Companies like Yoti – which has a highly secure app that allows individuals to confirm their identity online, by only sharing relevant data with organisations that need to know it – are working hard to change this fragmented situation, albeit slowly.

The need for a common reference

Many agency chains have an Operations Director who is responsible for IT, but no Head of Data. Although it’s a massive challenge, Ops teams are supposed to handle the challenges of data wrangling along with all the other stuff they are asked to do.

Alongside the issues related to people’s data coming in many different formats, lettings agencies must also deal with the difficulty of bringing together information about another entity in the process. The property itself.

In April 2020, the UK’s Open Standards Board mandated that Unique Property Reference Numbers, created by Ordnance Survey would now be used as the standard way of referencing and sharing information about properties. This was a ground-breaking announcement by the government, because it meant that every UK property now has a standard digital identifier.

What does this mean for agencies?

So, UK properties now have a standardised digital identifier, and that means that all of the information relating to a property can be tagged on your system. This might cover not only the essential regulatory information like the owner’s details, EPC rating and Gas/Electrical Safety compliance, but it can record additional information like who the utilities suppliers are, what the cleaning rota is and a whole host of data that the property manager can access instantly. Anyone who is involved with a particular building can be tagged to it, to make information easily accessible through a dashboard. Now the idea of a property’s digital twin is getting much closer

We know that it’s harder to create a standard digital identifier for humans that works for all of our different interests and endeavours. However, for lettings agencies, the digital identifier is a user login to the system. Every tenant, landlord, agent and contractor to PropCo, say, will have a login that identifies who they are, what data they need access to and what data they need to provide.

Creating calm from chaos

The way that different pieces of software communicate between themselves is through APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. In human communication, you’re going to get much better results from any dialogue if you speak nicely to someone! And it’s just the same for software programmes.

One of TBL’s guiding principles has been to always build software that is capable of having deep and rich interactions with other programmes. But that’s not always the case with software developers, and it’s something to be aware of.

Agents need a robust, future-proofed system that is able to communicate adequately with other software so they have the right information, and can use digital identifiers to bring all of their data together in a meaningful way. Otherwise, they’re floating on that data lake, with untold riches in chaos beneath them. Using a central line of business system like PropCo means that agencies can effortlessly process and interrogate their data, to spot business opportunities and mitigate risk, while minimising costly and time-wasting admin work.

In a fast-changing marketplace, the winners will be the agencies who are making decisions based on the right data, available at the right time and in the right place.