By 2025, analogue telephony services will be switched off completely in the UK. While this may sound alarm bells for housing providers who offer telecare systems (such as pendant alarms and pull cords) to their older residents, we believe it represents an opportunity rather than a threat.
While we see this date as a deadline for upgrading our systems, for us it was never the main driver for digital transformation. There are challenges in any transformation project, particularly when there’s a hard deadline, but the potential to harness digital technology to improve the lives of residents and drive efficiencies in the housing sector is too great not to act now.
Our digital journey began in 2016, initially born out of our frustration at increasing call connection failures and a declining quality of service as more and more of the analogue infrastructure transitioned to an all-IP network. Given that our residents rely on these telecare services in an emergency, the increased risks were simply not acceptable to us. We needed a modern and reliable solution that aligned to our reputation and values.
We knew that continuing to service, maintain or replace failing analogue systems with like-for-like technology just wasn’t economically viable. However, when we began to look at what was available we found that while there were a few suppliers offering modern end-user devices, there was a lack of providers delivering a complete digital package (i.e. a digital monitoring centre capable of connecting those digital devices). Given today’s incompatibilities between analogue and digital technologies, whether that’s analogue devices installed in residents’ homes trying to connect to a digital network or vice versa, there seemed to be little point in investing in anything other than an end-to-end solution.
We first engaged Appello as our monitoring provider in April 2014, before the digital switchover was even on the horizon. As the UK’s first provider to make the transition to digital telecare systems, Appello was a natural partner to drive our own digital transformation agenda.
By embracing digital, we’ve reduced call connection times from 90 seconds to just three seconds and enabled multiple calls to be made from the same development simultaneously – crucial in an emergency situation. But, beyond improving the functionality associated with traditional monitoring, it was the potential of digital and what it would mean for the future delivery of care that we found really compelling.
We worked in collaboration with Appello to develop a wall-mounted tablet to be used instead of traditional analogue systems. This device is now installed in around 100 of our developments, with further plans to install them in all of our 430 sites over the next few years.
We’re now looking at introducing and integrating new technologies such as smart home devices to further enhance the living experience of our residents.
Only when the housing sector views the digital switchover as an opportunity will we unlock its full potential in providing proactive care in an increasingly challenging market.
Tony Tench is the chief operating officer of Housing & Care 21.