Better connected homes and communities, enabled by smart technology, are the key to tackling the major challenges ahead for social housing.
If we’ve learnt anything from the past two years, it’s the power of collective action during a crisis. The way communities, housing providers and local authorities pulled together during the pandemic showed the real impact of working collaboratively for the collective good.
Technology played a crucial role in this. And not just long-established technologies such as web, mobile apps and video conferencing; new and emerging technologies from artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality to connected devices and machine learning now play a vital role in moving our public services forward in 2022 and beyond.
A boost for collective intelligence
In the light of the social housing sector’s challenges, such as building safety, waiting lists, net zero demands and the cost of living crisis, digital technologies can make a real difference.
In a recent Civica survey, as part of our latest ‘Greener Homes, Connected Communities, Changing Landscape’ report, over 90 per cent of housing leaders agreed that AI technologies, connected devices and machine learning would become more relevant in the future.
There’s no doubt that AI and smart devices will be vital to help the housing sector. From spotting opportunities for earlier intervention and identifying variations in service use to optimise costs, these technologies will ultimately free up front-line workers to focus on services that require more personal contact.
Data is the crucial component for how we connect the dots and build better housing services. The good news is housing providers have all this data to hand, with 78 per cent of housing leaders confirming in our recent survey that the quality of their data and processing is good. It’s through better sharing this asset that we’ll be able to prevent more issues before they become a problem.
Connect to the future
We are on the cusp of how connected devices can give us insights to make better decisions. In Civica’s latest Perspectives* report, ‘Connect to the Future’, we uncovered some positive ways this is already helping. For example, to support vulnerable residents, sensors around a property can send information about patterns of activity or if medication is being taken, helping older adults to live independently.
When it comes to home safety, the technology is being used to monitor temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels in homes to help improve the welfare and safety of residents. They can help us make firmer predictions for future housing needs by using information to provide early alerts and optimise maintenance.
In housing management, connected home appliances such as boilers can send data which, combined with analytics, predict their need for maintenance, avoiding expensive routine and invasive inspections. These can also help residents and landlords predict the cost of energy use and take steps to improve efficiency and reduce fuel costs. While in Australia, where two thirds of homes have smart devices, they are helping to manage and reduce water demand.
In time, we will gain more control by interacting with new technologies better to help us control our surroundings. For example, smart locks can be operated remotely using a smart phone to grant access for repairs or if a resident loses their keys, they can get into their home via remote access.
For crucial areas such as leak detection, sensors placed on pipes or in bathrooms can detect water escape or overflowing baths and activate stopcocks before major damage is caused. Smart smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors can issue alerts and contact emergency services or landlords.
Connected devices will play a crucial role in better listening to residents’ voices, improving the experience by adding smart technologies such as an Amazon Alexa to properties so residents can remain in contact and get 24/7 advice and information.
The internet of us
But despite so many use-cases in housing, we’ve still not yet realised the full potential of these connected devices. The catalyst for this will be connecting wider networks of devices from the individual, their home and the wider community to create an ‘internet of us’. Much of this value will come from building citizens’ trust in sharing their data more regularly for everyone’s benefit.
The good news is that most current uses for connected devices focus on enhancing existing products and processes rather than rethinking them. There are numerous benefits for the housing sector in embracing these connections – for safer, greener and more resilient homes, and ultimately better engaged and empowered residents.
Michelle Tyler is the managing director for social housing at Civica.