Let’s be smart about our tech

Read Mark Henderson’s thoughts on the impact that smart home technology can have on our customers, which appeared this week in Inside Housing.

Every Christmas, without fail, we fall over ourselves to get our hands on the next must have Christmas item. No surprise then, we’re at it again this year.

Over the next week or so expect to answer your door and be greeted by a delivery driver asking if you wouldn’t mind taking in a parcel for your neighbour.

In it, most likely, will be one of a growing number of off-the-shelf smart home technology kits.

Come Christmas Day, the number of people who’ll be telling their virtual assistants to turn down Bing Crosby while the Queen does her bit, or put up the lights so Uncle Bernard can find the plastic moustache he dropped from his cracker, will be close to that of a small nation.

Despite my flippant tone, this is one of the few Christmas fads I welcome. The fact these gadgets are being used for simple tasks like helping brandy-induced Uncle Bernard doesn’t matter. What matters, is they are arriving in our homes in their droves.

That means we can now start to scratch beneath the surface and show how much potential there is for smart tech like this to assist us, generally, and in particular those in need of greater support.

An added bonus is we should also see positive bottom line results on our balance sheets.

Smart technology is changing the way we live our lives, and nowhere is that more evident than in our homes.

It seems to me, however, the sector needs to sit up and realise this a little more, as I see too many organisations promoting the use of smart home tech in a way that’s only likely to help the likes of Uncle Bernard.

I know some sector colleagues feel the same, and like Home Group, their organisations are trialling technology in-order to develop and improve their offers.

While smart home tech can be considered quite an investment up front, savings can be made over a relatively short period – savings that benefit both customers and organisations.

The new smart thermostats, for instance, know how long a house takes to heat up and when you’re likely to wake up in the morning, keeping homes at optimum temperatures much more efficiently.

The savings achieved for customers on lower incomes will be far greater than the savings that those on higher incomes can make. Therefore the value for money is greater. There are a number of similar examples.

At Home Group we’re trialling a range of smart technologies as part of our Gateshead Innovation Village live research project. These technologies will be installed in homes for affordable rent. We are evaluating their impact in partnership with the Building Research Establishment.

We are also looking at condition monitoring technologies, which could revolutionise asset management. For instance, we are trialling sensor technology that may allow us, ultimately, to identify when a property is at risk of damp.

Understanding our properties to such a level has massive implications, as we start to move from the reactive to the preventative. The impact that can have on investment and planning round maintenance and repairs services goes without saying.

Alongside this research in Gateshead, we are also working with Northumbria University to analyse installed assistive technology, in order to help us improve our support for people with health or social care needs.

Today, we have at our disposal, monitors that detect falls – and even predict when falls may occur; activity-monitoring systems allowing people to check on relatives living elsewhere; technology that monitors the temperature in a frail persons’ home and sends alerts via text if temperatures rise or fall outside of pre-set limits.

We also have tech which monitors and records vitals, as well supports medication management.

In terms of risk management, the benefits of assistive tech are considerable indeed. But, as well as helping keep people safe, they also free up staff to deliver more value added care, rather than spending large chunks of time doing checks.

Developing our assistive tech also allows us significant opportunities to open up new and existing markets. Potential growth in Home Group’s contract work with the NHS is a good example.

Delivering smart home tech and assistive tech at scale won’t come cheap, so serious conversations are needed round investment.

Our research project at Gateshead Innovation Village, and the increasing technological advances, will be very important in helping us shape a long-term investment strategy.

Obviously, how that looks is not yet apparent. What is apparent is that we need to embrace this so when Uncle Bernard, in a few Christmases time, needs assistance beyond finding his plastic moustache we have the technology in place to help him.


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