A perspective on IoT in social housing

Steve Trafford – Aico, National Sales Manager – and Chris Jones – Homelync, COO – discuss the use of IoT in social housing and the 5 key challenges that must be overcome in order for mainstream adoption to be achieved.

 Why isn’t IoT mainstream?

For years it feels like IoT has promised to revolutionise social housing. So many articles, case studies and great new use cases, yet years go by with the promise of mainstream adoption being ‘just around the corner’. Social landlords have been trialling IoT for several years now and the core uses and business cases are well established and widely shared. So, if now is really the time for mainstream adoption, what is different?

A platform view 

There has clearly been greater adoption in specific technology areas such as environmental sensors (temperature & humidity), boilers and smoke alarms, and there are many additional start-up technology businesses that have entered the market. Coupled with innovations in technology and larger, well-established suppliers entering the market, this has led to a surge in IoT.

Aico acquired Homelync in July 2020 because we believe that the answer to mainstream adoption lies partly in the economies associated to a platform approach that would enable a confluence of products and services that meet the practical needs of the ‘early majority’.

We are frequently asked by landlords whether we are able to connect additional non-fire safety related sensors via our SmartLINK Gateway and using our onboarding and visualisation software. This leads us to believe that the first major nonsubsidised IoT rollouts will take a strategic view, of which there are several benefits:

  1. Simplifying the installation of future devices to an existing home
  2. Ease of integration to data lakes and property management systems
  3. Ease of procuring new devices via existing frameworks
  4. Leveraging existing connectivity infrastructure to drive down risk and cost
  5. Providing residents with a single view of their homes
  6. Providing landlords and operatives with single view of IoT data and insights

Benefits of collaborative innovation

In the years preceding the acquisition, Homelync and Aico have worked with many social landlords on dozens of IoT innovation projects. We have seen that landlords are increasingly taking a strategic platform view and through collaboration with suppliers and landlords, we have demonstrated the benefits of joined up IoT data. One of these benefits is simplifying the approach to resident engagement.

As part of a GovTech project, we worked with Leeds and York councils on a project aimed at utilising the value of IoT data to improve the health and wellbeing of residents. Aside from demonstrating capabilities around improving fire safety, lowering the risk of fuel poverty and identifying mould, we also surveyed over 100 residents to understand and identify specific needs and concerns they might have. Our research showed that residents are likely to be highly engaged with their data if they have pre-existing health conditions or have children living at home.

On a later project with Wolverhampton Homes, we explored this research and found that providing data to residents helped improve ventilation by nearly 20%, reduce mould risk by 30%, save 10% on energy bills and improve fire safety. This empowerment of residents has improved an already strong business case for these technologies and has led us to develop a resident app. The net result is healthier and safer tenants and a strong maintenance RoI for landlords. Furthermore, by utilising a platform approach, we were able to simplify an integration into Wolverhampton Homes’ property management system, NPS.

Our view on the future 

We have tested, deployed and integrated a wide range of IoT devices for social landlords; from water leak detectors and smart meters to thermostats, assisted living push button sensors, and fire door safety devices but there are three key IoT technologies requested time and time again; connected smoke alarms, environmental sensors and smart boilers. We would surmise that our SmartLINK Gateway provides a logical foundation for the mainstream rollout of IoT technologies within social housing; the integration of this sector-leading technology with that of environmental sensors and smart boilers will fundamentally revolutionise social housing and the connected home.

IoT has a promising future in social housing, it can be safely predicted that through a web of IoT devices there will be transformative effects across departments including for repairs, asset management, social care, money saving teams, energy teams and call centres. Further still, revenue generating applications such as assisted living services to tenants or in-home patient monitoring for the NHS become possible once a landlord has invested in an underlying IoT infrastructure.

Through working with landlords, we have identified 5 key challenges that must be overcome in order for mainstream adoption of IoT to be achieved:

  1. Business case

A killer app needs to have a very compelling business case that has been empirically proven to provide cost savings as well as social value. It needs to be demonstrated as part of a large deployment of devices that have been in place for a significant period of time.

  1. Investment risk

This is particularly true for environmental sensors. Currently, these devices offer one of the most compelling business cases but are also provided by relatively new and small technology businesses meaning there is risk to landlords investing. To solve this, these companies need more time to mature and develop their operational support and prove their business models. Alternatively, it is likely that pre-existing OEMs could provide these devices and guarantee future support.

  1. Future proofed

Social landlords are increasingly taking a strategic view and the first IoT technology to go mainstream will have to mirror it. Although this collective view is still being formulated in some ways, it is becoming clearer that it needs to include integration into current systems and processes with a view of how future technologies will be integrated.

  1. Resident buy in

There is a need to bring residents along on the IoT journey. These technologies have the power to improve the lives of tenants in many ways including saving them money, improving their living environment and ultimately their health. We have seen that providing residents with their data can improve the business case and eliminate any GDPR concerns. Our research into IoT Ethics has identified that the best course of action is a win-win approach.

  1. Operational integration

For IoT to go mainstream there needs to be a clear plan for how to transform services to deliver the benefits of this technology at scale. This means mapping how the data and insights will be used in the day to day teams, processes, and systems throughout the organisation. In order to move from a reactive service to a preventative and proactive one there needs to be buy in at an organisational level.

For more information visit: aico.co.uk

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