What is technology in housing?
In many ways, the point of technology is to simplify traditionally complex processes and make them easy for everyone, everywhere, at any time. Technology in housing is about the ease with which people not only find places to live but also the experience of their home.
The homes in which we live are now at the leading edge of technology and innovation. Not because of how they are built or the bits and pieces they contain. Instead, this is because the devices we use within them are extraordinary. Regularly the capabilities of our personal mobile devices exceed those of corporations.
Mobility in the “everything, everywhere, in the palm of my hand ‘generation’” has built a demand of better experiences. Never before has it been so critical to allow anyone to interact in a way they choose, every time and this extends from the experiences in our homes to the experience of our service companies.
Worse still, as individuals, we are far ahead of our customer experience providers (such as councils, housing providers and emergency services). As human beings, we have a higher expectation about the usual information and support we receive.
Technology in the role of social housing
Since the evolution of mobility and our ability to work and socially interact anywhere, our tolerance of customer experience is more than tested when we can’t use it on our devices.
Moreover, poor experience is reported socially faster and more widely than most businesses realise. For example, if a local council or housing provider doesn’t have an app to request maintenance or support, it feels as dated as the phone lines they usually purport. This is even more jarring when we can’t use email and must resort to phoning that number and being held in a queue. More often than not, this leads to social-media outcry.
There are few things more emotive than housing. Here our worst experiences (people rarely share the best) are publicly reported on the competency of the service received, from maintenance to our broadband.
Could we match our own social expectations of the world around us, by looking to our homes for help? What if our own houses deliver for us by contextually and autonomously feeding back into managed services, customer experience and support?
At the centre of our worlds are our homes.
Our home is where we live, obviously. It is more familiar than the smartphone in our hands or the tablets in our bags. In fact, the key to the evolution of many technologies has been the adaptability and affordability of mobile devices. Our homes could be better interconnected with us but most importantly, with the providers of our home services.
Enabling homes through socialisation and technology
Actually, the evolution of smart-home innovations are as startling as they are rapid. The speed at which we human beings adopt new technology process has never been faster. The boundaries surrounding user adoption of technology-based-services and support have vanished.
In reality, the ability to access one’s own home through the cloud, allowing us to interact with our home services, is no longer fringe science because our expectations have grown over the last decade. Interconnecting with your home is already possible. In fact, it has already been achieved and blended into Future.House projects in London.
This user experience, born of smartphones, is gradually enveloping our houses. Smart fridges can replenish our food. Connected sound systems will follow us through our houses with our music and our internet-playlists. Home security allows us to view our homes remotely (while sunning on a beach or skiing down a mountain).And even smart televisions delivering media from the very devices that begat the word ‘smart’.
The true benefit of technologically-enabling a home is not about ‘cool’. It is about engaging in all aspects of it. This includes lighting (smart bulbs), heating (remote thermostats) and media, such as Bluetooth speakers built into the very bulbs that light our homes.
The true benefit of a Future.House is a federated user-experience (i.e. many systems, working seamlessly together without deprecation of features or functionality). It is simple management, audit and reporting system. It is about interacting with your home and allowing it to interact with you.
This single user experience gives access to a range of services at the touch of a button. Because most of our lives is now about context, home technology is beginning to reflect that. Something definable, such as which interior doors that are open or locked when I’m away as my neighbour comes to water my plants. We could control our lighting, ready for when we come home on a dark night. All delivered to an app on our personal device of choice.
The broader home applications are limitless and connecting to social and public services is equally as efficient. Everything described here is possible today.
Mobility and the socialisation of housing
These ideas of control, reporting and context apply to technologically-enabling housing and those who are housed in it. How much better would it be to use these systems and create a self-managing housing portfolio? In reality, the tenant experience would be streamlined through effective contact centres delivering more than just transactional services. This would be further augmented through a smart house aware of its status and autonomously requesting services (with context) in cost-effective overlay technologies.
Even today, we can engineer for the house itself to report on damaged bulbs, broken water heaters, faulty fridges and even as far as surfaces, locks and windows that need repairing. Take a burglary; why shouldn’t the house be able to engage with service, support and emergency services to have this addressed?
Furthermore, allowing a house to self-audit keeps it updated with services and maintenance. A true technology ecosystem unites these elements of a building and reports on it. This is accomplished in exactly the same way as the smart offices of today.
The technology in existence simply and cheaply knits together the primary elements of a home into a single set of continuous audit or reporting and provisioning.
Potential for evolving the interaction in social housing
The key to success isn’t just user adoption. When we consider the rate that people adopt mobile technology, then consumption and interaction are everything. Why is my home not part of “the everything?”
The Future.House is clearly achievable by building houses with a future technology infrastructure (cabling, wiring, services, solutions, cameras, etc). Importantly, it is equally as simple to use the existing technology and overlay that on top of our current homes using easily found, easily unified technologies.
The Future.House can help (especially in social housing) in elements of efficiency, control and security. It is about access-anywhere and one simple interface. The key is to blend a home experience with mobility and applications to improve end-to-end service and support.
When my house is smart, it works with my mobility solutions. It then improves the support, maintenance and provisioning from my providers. It is the logical next step in our technology ecosystems and devices.
Richard Bennett is a board director and vice-president of innovation at the Customer Experience Foundation.