Why isn’t the internet of things mainstream yet?
For years, it has felt as if the internet of things would revolutionise social housing. So many articles, case studies and great new use-cases have been published, yet years go by with the promise of mainstream adoption being ‘just around the corner’. Housing providers have been running IoT trials for several years and the core uses and business cases are now well established and widely shared. So, if now is really the time for mainstream IoT adoption, what’s different?
A platform perspective
There has clearly been greater adoption in specific technology areas such as environmental sensors (temperature and 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 bought Homelync in July 2020 because we believe that the answer to mainstream adoption lies partly in the economies associated with 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 housing providers whether we can connect additional non-fire safety-related sensors via our SmartLink gateway and our onboarding and visualisation software. This leads us to believe that the first major non-subsidised IoT rollouts will take a strategic view, of which there are several benefits:
- Simplifying the installation of future devices to an existing property;
- Ease of integration to data lakes and housing management systems;
- Ease of procuring new devices via existing buying frameworks;
- Leveraging existing connectivity infrastructure to reduce risk and cost;
- Providing tenants with a single view of their homes;
- Giving housing providers a single view of IoT data and the associated insights.
The benefits of collaborative innovation
In the years leading up to our acquisition, Homelync and Aico have worked with many housing providers on dozens of IoT innovation projects. We have seen that housing providers 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 tenant engagement.
As part of a GovTech project, we worked with local councils in Leeds and York on a project aimed at using 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 tenants to understand and identify specific needs and concerns they might have. Our research showed that tenants are likely to be highly engaged with their data if they have pre-existing health conditions and/or have children living at home.
On a later project with Wolverhampton Homes, we explored this research and found that providing data to tenants helped improve ventilation by nearly 20 per cent, reduce the risk of mould by 30 per cent, save 10 per cent on energy bills and improve fire safety.
This empowerment of residents has strengthened an already strong business case for these technologies and has led us to develop a tenant app. The net results are healthier and safer tenants and a strong maintenance RoI for housing providers. Furthermore, by using a platform approach, we simplified our integration with Wolverhampton Homes’ existing housing management system (from Northgate Public Services).
Our view of the future
While we have tested, deployed and integrated a wide range of IoT devices for housing providers, from leak detectors and smart meters to thermostats, assisted living push-button sensors, and fire-door safety devices, 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 in social housing; the integration of this sector-leading technology with 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 those for repairs, asset management, social care, money advice, energy and call centres. Furthermore, revenue-generating applications, such as assisted living services to tenants or in-home patient monitoring for the NHS, become possible once a housing provider has invested in the underlying IoT infrastructure.
Through working with housing providers, we have identified five main challenges that need to 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.
2. Investment risk
This is particularly true for environmental sensors. At the moment, these devices offer one of the most compelling business cases but are also provided by relatively new and small technology businesses, so there is a procurement and ongoing support risk to housing providers. To solve this, these companies need more time to mature and develop their operational support and prove their business models. Alternatively, it’s likely that pre-existing OEMs could provide these devices and guarantee future support.
3. Future proofed
Housing providers 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.
4. Resident buy-in
There is a need to bring tenants 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’ve seen that providing tenants 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.
5. 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.
Steve Trafford is the national sales manager for Aico, and Chris Jones is the chief operating officer for Homelync.