Lucy Armstrong (Chairman) reflects on her first year with Orchard and why investing in people, and capitalising on opportunities, is key to thriving in an environment of constant change.

If you were to take away one word from what I am saying here, that word would be CHANGE. Our external world is changing, our internal world is changing – and my belief is that the process of change will now be continuous. We’ve gone from a relatively stable state to one of constant change. This isn’t just at Orchard. Quite frankly it applies wherever you work in the world today. If we look to the outside world, all kinds of norms are being thrown up – just take a look at what has happened in the political sphere over the last 12 months!

Our customers have been through a whirlwind of change in recent years, including Welfare Reform and the 1% rent reduction. This has resulted in our customers rethinking business plans, their ability to borrow being affected, and many organisations going through mergers and restructures to rebalance the books. On top of this, social housing customers now expect to be able to use ‘gizmos’ (iPads, phones etc.) to do nearly everything. So why shouldn’t they be able to pay their rent with it, book a repair with it, check their tenancy details with it? Why shouldn’t repairs operatives be able to work out which window needs fixing using a mobile device? That’s why our focus on income analytics, mobile working, and digital services is so important within our own development – because it’s what our customers want and need. Orchard can play a key role as a trusted advisor, offering its systems, expertise and knowledge, to make social housing businesses more efficient, more economical, and to help them deliver better value services for their customers. That’s a real opportunity for us and our customers.

To ensure that Orchard continues to be ready to help its customers deal with whatever changes come their way, an area that we have been focusing on quite a bit is investing more in people, in training and development. Not just in technical skills but leadership skills and developing the individual. As the business alters and changes, we’ll need new skills and new people, and our existing people will be learning new things to shift their capabilities and skills. The reason we are doing this is because one of the challenges for our business, as the external world continues to evolve, is the need to learn how to reflect and respond to those changes. This concept is often hard to grasp but our colleagues have not only understood that we are now in an environment of constant change, but have also developed a shared desire to make changes, and recognise that uncertainty brings opportunity as well. There’s a real sense of ‘all shoulders to the wheel’ and working hard together, and I see this as a major success of the last 12 months that will put us in good stead going forward.

Looking ahead:

As already mentioned, change is now constant. As we look ahead, we are excited about developing a new, improved customer experience and embracing digital technology to enhance services. A key area of focus for many are GDPR (and e-privacy) changes and we know that retaining integrity of data, robust solutions, and data protection are important issues to many people’s lives. I’m excited about being able to demonstrate to customers how we can solve these problems (and many more) and to help them to build efficiencies that enable them to save money and reinvest in properties and assets (instead of admin).

Change is really hard. Leaders in all businesses are asking their colleagues to do lots of new things and change at the same time as doing their day job, and that makes it even harder. It means that tough decisions have to be made to decide where priorities lie to make sure our businesses remain fit for purpose. For our customers, the challenge is innovating whilst delivering the ‘triangle of needs’: their customers receiving a good service; motivating colleagues; and delivering a return on investment. We are ready to help.

Lucy Armstrong, Chair, Orchard