The internet of things (IoT) is a term that is recognised widely and understood across a variety of industries and sectors. In simple terms, IoT refers to a network of connected, internet-enabled devices that facilitate the collection of data for subsequent analysis and sharing.
Within the social housing market, although mass adoption will continue to be a gradual process, IoT is beginning to find its place. Not only can it help housing providers to solve a number of challenges, but it can also help them to demonstrate compliance in meeting their regulatory obligations.
At its most fundamental, the IoT can be used to make buildings safer as well as protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of residents. It can also create greater efficiencies when it comes to life-critical devices and systems such as boilers, lighting and fire alarms.
Boilers are an essential part of any household or building’s heating and hot water systems. They are expensive items that can also be costly to run. Making sure a boiler is working efficiently and to its optimum capacity can be difficult. Predicting when a boiler may fail is also a challenge, and yet the impact of a broken boiler in a domestic property, residential home or indeed any building that requires the constant availability of hot water can be more than an inconvenience, it may also be a risk to health.
Smart devices, such as Vericon’s BCM Connect, can monitor a boiler’s health and status in real time. Intelligent performance data can be recorded and sent to cloud or on-premise data management systems where it can be interrogated and analysed.
These devices use algorithms to analyse the information from individual boilers as well as collating data from all devices within the system or hub to predict potential hazards or issues with the boiler before they even occur. This, in turn, allows preventative maintenance to be scheduled before reaching the point of a costly emergency call-out.
As the amount of data collected and interrogated increases, perhaps from multiple sites, the machine-learning algorithms will start to highlight correlations between boiler sensor fluctuations and previous faults. These correlations can then be flagged by the system, allowing engineers in the area to attend and effect the repairs before the boiler fails. Similarly, it will identify common issues that could be managed and fixed without the need for tools or removing the boiler case.
Boilers are not the only essential element within a building that needs regular attention. Emergency lighting is similarly critical and requires regular testing. This can also be a challenge, especially in large buildings. The risk of non-compliance, however, is not measured in a court case and a fine, or in a lack of hot water or light; it can be measured in lives saved or lost.
Testing emergency lighting equipment is a time-consuming and therefore expensive job, and one that is often left to the facilities or building manager who hasn’t always been given the training needed to take on such an important responsibility.
There are other drawbacks to manual testing. It makes record-keeping particularly irksome; standardised records and management processes are often lacking and require intensive back-office resources. It makes forward maintenance planning difficult because the fault and repair history of the light fittings are also often missing. And there are the practical issues to consider, such as manual testing disrupts normal building use and takes the facilities manager away from other tasks.
Using intelligent connected devices, such as Vericon’s EmeRed, to automate emergency lighting testing regimes has a range of advantages over manual testing. Such devices support better compliance because they can be programmed to conduct tests at different times on different days to ensure buildings are not left at risk in accordance with your regulatory obligations (so you can guarantee 100 per cent compliance). They support greater reliability, since the life outstanding in each battery can be measured to ensure they are replaced before an emergency occurs. It also automatically notifies you if there is a problem. And they can greatly simplify reporting – because the reporting is online via the cloud, individual lights, buildings or indeed whole estates can be controlled from your desk.
Using IoT and smart devices to reduce emergency call-outs and maintenance repairs offer housing providers obvious cost efficiencies and remove unwanted costly expenditure because any faults or issues don’t have to be manually reported, replaced instead with automatic alerts and notifications before an issue occurs.
As with any data-related technologies, some doubts remain around IoT devices and data protection, and this is something that should not be overlooked by housing providers.
However, the use of connected devices in social housing will provide a number of benefits for tenants, maintenance teams and housing providers, creating smarter, more efficient and better-connected environments.
Bernard Cook is the managing director of Vericon Systems.