At its core, the internet of things (IoT) is the layering of connectivity onto everyday objects. As advancements in microchip technology continue to drive down the size and cost of connective chips, it has become increasingly viable to add small sensors to a growing number of everyday ‘things’.
The trend is accelerating and has already given rise to much speculation over the potential of the IoT to reshape user experiences and business models across a range of markets, from the connected home and energy management, through to wearable technology, virtual reality, automobiles and biometrics.
The range of applications for IoT within social housing is vast. Being able to collect sensor data from devices imbedded with smart functionality – and even remotely control an increasing variety of objects – gives housing providers the ability to influence and understand aspects of asset performance and resident well-being that could never have been contemplated a decade ago.
Moreover, the targeted analysis of data generated by connected ecosystems can allow insight into and improvements of business processes. This data-driven insight will allow IT, asset management, housing management and sustainability teams to improve the efficiency of service delivery while leveraging new IoT technologies to reduce cost – a win-win situation for housing providers and residents alike.
At a simple level of application, connected sensors can be used to relay remote environmental information. Temperature, humidity, light, air pressure and carbon dioxide readings can shine previously unavailable light into asset registers and stock surveys, providing managers with dynamic indicators of property conditions. Sensors can also be configured to capture data in shared and outside spaces; for example, sound levels in communal areas or external air quality and lighting levels.
Elements of property usage can also be connected. Energy usage data is already recorded by smart meters and can also be accessed via the retrofit of gas and electricity consumption monitors into properties with old meters. Leak detection sensors have already seen an uptake in a number of commercial settings and can provide remote alerts and early detection in homes.
To date, higher value items such as boilers, fridges and cars have tended to be connected to the IoT. Being able to monitor boiler performance clearly plays a significant role in social housing. Over time, the drive to connectivity will open up the IoT to increasingly everyday items – in fact, a world in which toasters, kettles and light bulbs can be connected is already a reality. With more devices able to send live, remote data, the sheer amount of information available to asset managers will be unprecedented.
Purpose-built smart devices leverage connectivity and automation to give added functionality. Smart thermostats can automatically regulate heating levels to optimise energy consumption, help reduce fuel bills and combat fuel poverty. Smart locks can be used to remotely lock and unlock properties, and, with the right permissions, used by landlords to secure and control access to offices and places of work.
As ‘smart’ becomes a prefix in more technologies, new devices can optimise everyday functions and even allow residents to remotely control devices in their homes and manage their lives in more efficient ways.
Understanding and leveraging data
Whatever the physical shape of an IoT estate, the key to unlocking its value is in understanding and correctly leveraging the data. Sensor data can be used to monitor household conditions and identify properties at risk of fuel poverty or living conditions which fall below Decent Homes standards.
With early identification, housing and asset managers can work proactively with struggling tenants to provide budgeting advice, head off later, costlier repairs or even prevent someone becoming unwell as a result of their environment.
Real-time and historical data analytics can support different approaches to maintenance. For example, remote temperature and humidity data can now be analysed to identify properties at risk of condensation and mould growth. With this information, landlords can act proactively to prevent damp worsening and combat mould in affected properties. Tackling problems before they escalate is more cost effective, allows for better planning and creates better outcomes for tenants.
Data can allow for a greater understanding of the causes of maintenance issues. Humidity readings, for example, can be analysed to determine whether condensation is due to ventilation or a behaviour in the property. Such insight can help triage responses; knowing if an extractor fan is broken or simply giving advice to residents on ventilation can save unnecessary visits and direct resources better.
Similarly, by being able to remotely diagnose faulty equipment in the home, such as boilers, landlords can take a proactive approach to repairs. By feeding data into building management systems, automatic alerts can be used to trigger repairs, reducing friction and cost by automatically booking.
Connectivity can be taken even further: the remote testing of boilers before the heating season can identify necessary repairs ahead of winter, allowing repairs to be scheduled together at convenient times, avoiding surge demand when the weather cools.
Longer-term planning and investment decisions can also benefit from analysis of IoT data. Monitoring buildings’ thermal performance can help prioritise properties for retrofitting and provide before and after data on how effective certain upgrades have been.
Early adopters of IoT services are already showcasing its benefits in relation to smarter asset management and enhancing outcomes for residents. Schemes such as Bristol Council’s switch to smart metering are already demonstrating the benefits of smart technology and encouraging different housing providers to follow suit.
By working in partnership with developers of IoT technology, housing providers and local authorities will be able to stay abreast of innovation and shape new asset management solutions.
The possibilities are endless and will ultimately extend beyond the benefits to tenants and in improving repairs and asset management. Energy consumption and occupancy data may one day become a part of building planning, with data insights leveraged to optimise floor plans and energy efficiency. What’s more, the possibilities for helping more vulnerable residents are only starting to be explored with simple temperature or occupancy alerts, and wearable technology providing an additional level of care, for example.
As more data will enable a greater understanding of the links between housing, health and well-being, so may IoT technologies start to offer new models of healthcare support.
Ian Napier is the co-founder of Switchee.