As we enter 2020, predictions of the hottest technologies are rapidly filling our inboxes. It’s always interesting to read about the breakthroughs that are set to transform our lives, but are the most headline-grabbing innovations the ones we really need to watch?
The technologies that will make the biggest difference in the housing sector are those that will help organisations do their jobs better and/or faster and deliver better service to customers. In my view, 2020 will see some high-profile technological advances reaching a level of maturity such that they can actually improve day-to-day lives.
So, these are five of our top technology trends that will make waves in 2020.
1. Wearable technologies
We’ve become accustomed to the idea of fitness wristbands which monitor our heartrate, wearables we can use to make payments and watches that warn us when the noise levels around us could damage our hearing.
This technology also has real potential in the social housing sector. For example, wearables could measure the activity levels or temperature of a vulnerable tenant who lives alone so their health and wellbeing could be monitored remotely. Similarly, customers could log repairs, pay rent or make appointments through a smart watch with built-in security and IT authentication.
It’s a great example of consumer technology that could be adapted to make lives easier.
2. Fraud and data protection
In the information age, there is a growing need for technology which can keep people safe from data breaches and fraud. It only takes one rogue member of staff in your organisation with the skills to hack into the company’s system and access the financial history or health details of a vulnerable tenant.
Housing providers and local authorities will increasingly seek out systems that can provide a cast-iron audit trail of how data is stored, accessed and shared. This is particularly important for processes where AI is making decisions in place of humans because there needs to be transparency about how these decisions are made.
Customers need to be able to trust their housing providers to keep sensitive data secure.
3. The democratisation of data
There is greater ease of access to data than ever before. With such a range of tools, channels and devices at our fingertips, we can choose how we access information in the way that suits us best.
That can make things complicated for an organisation such as a housing provider when your customers want to interact with you in a multitude of different ways. One tenant follows you on Twitter but responds best to SMS messages, while their neighbour over the road only replies to emails.
Housing providers will increasingly benefit from machine learning that looks at user experience and identifies how best to interact with each customer, based on their individual preferences.
4. Edge computing
As more and more IoT sensors are built into the fabric of properties and the household appliances inside them, there is a risk of producing excessive IoT data. This can cause network clutter and useful insights can be lost.
Edge computing combats this by providing IoT devices with a level of intelligence so that the information processing takes place where the actual device is, in the property rather than back at a data centre.
The result is a much more accurate way to monitor data that comes from IoT devices because an intelligent edge device will work out which data is relevant and only send you that. For example, an IoT-enabled boiler produces vast swathes of temperature data, but edge technology will identify if the temperature is unusual and send you a message that the boiler is starting to overheat and needs a service.
Edge computing reduces data overload and keeps the information flowing, so housing providers can manage their assets and housing stock more effectively.
5. 5G data networks
It’s early days for 5G, but 2020 should witness the real impact of faster download speeds and more reliable connections. Whether 5G will improve connectivity and tackle network blind spots remains to be seen, but this would certainly make a difference in helping more people access services online.
For housing providers, faster data networks will make it much easier for your maintenance teams to upload photos of a property onto the system, for instance, and customers could instantly download their tenancy contracts and any relevant documents.
5G could accelerate the pace of digital transformation in housing, getting information to and from customers, suppliers and agencies in a fraction of the time.
Looking to the future
Nothing stands still, and while some new tools and technologies will make their presence felt this year, others are waiting to shake up the housing sector in the years to come.
Virtual reality (VR) is already disrupting the world of entertainment, sport and the arts. It may take a little longer for VR, augmented and extended reality to become a firm fixture in housing, but giving people the ability to view three-dimensional, life-sized images has huge potential in architecture and construction.
The ability to simulate the way an elderly person moves around their environment could be the key to achieving the vision of a home for life.
Much has already been written about blockchain, and many start-ups are adopting the technology for a range of uses, such as specialised customer loyalty programmes, managing medical records and tracing food items throughout the supply chain.
Some of the larger banks are now starting to invest in blockchain, bringing it into the mainstream. Blockchain makes it easier to ensure a transaction is authentic, and the technology could be used to eliminate error or fraud. It’s certainly one to watch for the future because it could bring an increased level of certainty to the many financial transactions that take place in housing such as purchasing of properties, equipment and maintenance contracts.
As we embark on a new year, with its challenges and opportunities, the definite winners in the technology stakes will be those developments that support a more efficient, innovative and customer-facing housing business.
Trevor Hampton is the director of housing product solutions at Northgate Public Services.