Intelligent heating systems like Google’s Nest have launched the internet of things into the mainstream but how can this technology be harnessed to transform service delivery for housing providers and how can we build the connected social home?
Back in June 2015, the Connected Home Consortium (a partnership of 15 housing providers interested in IoT technologies, led by Nick Atkin from Halton Housing and Matt Leach from HACT) evaluated the market’s leading smart heating products for their applicability and relevance to social landlords.
The resulting ‘Smart Thermostats: Market Analysis for Social Landlords’ report was based on extensive engagement with technology providers. The report recommended that although smart thermostat systems do an impressive job of saving tenants money on their energy bills, the market is not yet mature enough for a housing provider who hopes to achieve additional value from their investment in these systems.
Using these systems to detect instances of fuel poverty, identify abandoned tenancies and to support vulnerable people are just some of the many additional functionalities which could drive the business case for landlords to invest in connected heating products. However, none of the devices on the market offers this level of wider business integration.
CHC, not satisfied with the state of affairs, set out to demonstrate how the sensors in a smart heating system might talk to housing providers’ existing data systems to enhance their insight into the state of their assets and the needs of their tenants.
Underestimating the market
At first, many of the larger technology providers seemed reluctant to move away from their primary B2C strategy (which has proved extremely successful for the likes of Hive) but CHC believes that the technology providers have underestimated the huge market that social housing offers to the right product.
Our latest pilot will link smart thermostat newcomers ‘Switchee’ to an Orchard housing management system. The interface and analytics platform will be provided by Intent Technologies, a French company that already links sensors, lift monitors and HVAC systems for housing providers in Europe.
We hope to prove that real value can be derived from augmenting existing housing data with live asset data feeds. We will be focusing in the first instance on providing data that will allow housing providers to schedule their maintenance jobs more effectively and identify abandoned tenancies. Neither of these requires a high level of data analytics and are very much achievable with the technology available now.
The pilots are going live this winter and we hope to report the first findings in early 2016.
Building the connected social home
As more and more devices in the home become connected, the challenge will be to use what is fairly uniform sensor technology to provide business benefits to housing providers. Whether it’s smart thermostats or washing machines, the environmental sensors are similar and can be used for multiple applications. Using an API-based platform like Intent Technologies is one of the ways that a variety of devices can be tied into one system, preventing the noise of multiple dashboards and siloed data. This is a space we predict will become extremely competitive with the big telecommunications companies eager to stake their claim in the middleware and connectivity environment.
The bigger picture is big data
Once we have lots of devices talking to us, we open up the potential for using big data and machine learning to automate processes and deliver insights not previously available. Learning how assets perform relative to the whole housing stock can alter refresh cycles and modify NPVs, while big data on vulnerable people will allow us to design better evidenced interventions.
In the long run we see homes raising their own maintenance tickets with issues resolved before they become a problem for the resident. Likewise, early social care interventions will begin to prevent more serious harm occurring to older people.
Jay Saggar is the Connected Home Consortium’s coordinator.
The full ‘Smart Thermostats: Market Analysis for Social Landlords’ report is available for download from www.connectedhome.io.