The internet of things (IoT) and its relationship with social housing has been labelled by some people as “a technology looking for an application”. I have been looking at IoT and engaging with the sector for over four years now, educating, informing and learning with the sector on how IoT can be used for the benefit of housing providers and their tenants.
I still remember my first presentation to a room full of incredulous housing professionals who looked at me as if I was announcing plans to land on Mars. While they could grasp the overall concept, the majority of comments were along the lines of “interesting technology, can’t see how it would be of any use though”.
The time spent between then and now has seen the housing team at Capita test the concept of sensors via our very own sensor-enabled house. For those of you familiar with my presentations at recent Housing Technology events, you will know what sort of ‘house’ I refer to. We embarked on a real-world proof-of-concept with one of our customers, Two Castles (now Castles & Coast), which provided us with a wealth of information about how IoT enabled devices could function in a social housing context. This led us to begin refining how we could produce a product that was capable, scalable and secure.
Fast forward from that seminar several years ago to the morning of 10 October 2017 and a rather misty BT Tower. We had agreed to be part of Housing Technology’s IoT event, which provided the opportunity to join a select number of housing organisations and other technology providers to present on all things IoT flavoured.
My session was focused very much on positioning in the minds of the audience that IoT was now ready to be seriously considered in housing organisations’ short-term technology strategies. I looked at how Capita had approached the issue of delivering a return on investment (RoI) through the adoption of a multi-sensor package, based on a platform approach that provided the capability to scale up and potentially plug in other types of sensors and IoT-capable devices.
We have invested a lot of time understanding how IoT-enabled devices can fit into a smarter asset management strategy, as well as how sensor-enabled homes can provide insight into how people live in their properties, all with the aim of how social housing-based services can be delivered more effectively, ultimately for the benefit of the tenants themselves.
Multi-use sensors plugged into a secure, stable and scalable platform seem to offer the best opportunity to derive real return for housing organisations, and the call to action was very much to engage with suppliers and to open up meaningful dialogue where conversations can move on from “nice technology, what can we do…?” to “show me what you’ve got, this is what we want to get from it, what will it cost, and how long will it take?”.
IoT has the potential to not only unlock the world of big data for housing organisations, but could also provide opportunities for real innovation in service delivery. Capita has looked at proactive maintenance services, driven by connected devices, providing constant data on performance and condition, a connected tenant engaging digitally via a range of devices, be it smartphone, headless user interfaces, such as Amazon’s Echo and its Alexa smart assistant, or touchscreens that connect the tenant in a face-to-face engagement remotely with their housing provider.
It was gratifying to see this vision echoed in the topics put forward by other contributors, most notably RHP who posited the vision of a ‘frictionless’ service delivery model driven by the information and capability of IoT-enabled devices and harnessing the very processes and innovations that we have been discussing in the sector for the past few years.
The opportunity for innovation was picked up and put forward powerfully by Matt Brazier from Flagship Group with his adoption of ‘no fear to fail’ and it definitely acted as a rallying cry for the audience to look at how they approach innovation and what more they could do in assessing technologies which could add value to the services and operations of today’s housing providers.
The theme of my session and the engagement of the audience (plus the raft of questions afterwards) all pointed to housing organisations beginning to seriously consider how they could adopt IoT. They could begin to understand the potential cost implications and how they themselves could capture and quantify the information provided from an IoT-capable product set, as well as how IoT-enabled technologies could be harnessed in the day-to-day operational running of their businesses.
The world of tomorrow is beginning to look a lot like today and if we are serious about harnessing the potential of the so called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and moving from the dawn of this emerging technology into a brighter day, the sector needs to be engaging now with suppliers such as Capita, opening up dialogs on what can really be delivered, moving away from the art of the possible, to the delivery of the now.
Stewart Davison is head of business development at Capita One.