The social housing sector has embraced the internet’s ability to deliver efficiencies and enhance the experience of tenants. Web 1.0 saw housing groups establish websites that made details conveniently accessible to tenants online. Web 2.0 brought social media and applications to housing, along with interactive forms allowing tenants to carry out tasks such as making payments or reporting repairs online. The application of the internet (1.0) and its developments (2.0) to housing has enabled two-way communications between housing providers and their tenants, improving services, boosting productivity and reducing transactional costs. Thanks to Web 3.0 and the internet of things (IoT), these benefits for both housing providers and tenants are expected to multiply.
The IoT: smart housing
The IoT has already begun to transform the way we live and work, as everyday objects from smart lightbulbs and appliances to intelligent central-heating systems can now operate within a connected network. This enables data to be sent and received instantly, meaning assets can now be understood in a way never seen before.
Of course, sensors have been around for decades, but the fact that these sensors are now wirelessly transmitting information in real time from objects to a data store in the cloud where results can then be accessed and analysed instantaneously, transforms the usefulness of both the appliance and the data.
Furthermore, by accessing the data’s results within the cloud, vast quantities of information can be reviewed in real time, and based on a series of predefined rules, strategic business decisions can be made. For example, smart heating systems can reduce fuel bills, smart locks can enhance property security and connected water sensors and instrumented boilers can provide insights that lead to faster and cheaper maintenance as issues are resolved before they turn into more costly problems.
As an example of the benefit of this information, the Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT) is working with boiler manufacturer Worcester Bosch to use the data that the sensors inside its boiler units generate. These sensors can let the landlord know when a minor fault happens so they can fix it before it requires a full boiler replacement. The sensors can also identify a drop in water pressure due to a tap being turned on or toilet being flushed, information that could trigger an alert for when this does or does not happen.
This smart housing revolution can even be taken one step further, as noise and movement sensors provide extraordinary data insights that can take efficient tenant and asset management to a new level.
Data that delivers
A pilot study is being carried out by Surrey County Council, in partnership with IT Lab, to look at the use of wireless sensors in our properties. We have placed motion sensors in extra-care apartments for six weeks and provided seven of the tenants with wearable technology. This will provide us with insights into how people move around their environment and establish correlations between those movements and their vital signs, such as heart rates. It will also allow best practice to be established in terms of how to capture data and analyse it for patterns.
It is these patterns that deliver business-changing and potentially life-changing value from the IoT in housing. From the abundance of data, the patterns help the housing provider to not only understand when a tenant’s needs may have changed, but more importantly, gain insight into how those needs may be about to change. This information can also be combined with other bits of data/intelligence to allow assistance to be provided earlier. In the case of our pilot study within our extra care apartments, it is these insights that may enable us to bring tenants back to stability sooner, and this may ultimately delay the need for care homes or hospital admissions.
These sensors can also be extremely useful outside a care setting. For example, when placed within kitchens and bathrooms, the information gathered can let the housing provider know how heavily used those areas are with a view to model when to replace appliances and shower units based on usage, rather than by age or a crude estimation. Threshold sensors could also be used to indicate the number of people regularly using the house or apartment as a home, delivering a number of useful insights that at the very least would indicate when someone is home in order to contact them, resulting in significant savings in the call centre. These incremental insights and gains may seem small when considered in terms of a single appliance or object, but when extrapolated across a portfolio of 500 homes or more, the savings as well as the insights gained will be significant.
As mentioned above, we have been working with IT Lab to develop our IoT plans. IT Lab understands that the use of this technology alongside an effective channel-shift strategy could transform the way housing providers manage and understand usage patterns across their asset bases. Because of this, IT Lab has established a dedicated ‘insight and innovation’ function within its business that connects its housing partners to the IoT in a meaningful way that delivers these valuable patterns from data.
Lucie Glenday is the chief digital officer at Surrey County Council.