In 1999 Kevin Ashton, an assistant brand manager at Proctor & Gamble, coined the term the Internet of Things, as he explored ways that web-connected sensors could automate aspects of its supply chain management.
Twenty years on and the internet of things (IoT) is now a daily reality in most of our lives (even if we don’t always know it), including web-connected sensors and devices in our homes.
Homes getting smarter
A recent survey of 2,500 UK households by consultants EY revealed that 41% are planning to install at least one connected device in the next five years, with 12% already owning a smart heating device.
Social landlords and specialist tech firms have also recognised the potential value of IoT to the social housing market.
While most mass market consumer home IoT products are designed to primarily benefit just the individual household (such as Hive and Nest), social housing tech also needs to offer more civic or aggregated benefits to the landlord.
In short, social landlords require the capability to access terabytes of granulated data across potentially thousands of homes to identify physical problems and prioritise interventions.
In the first quarter of 2019, Secure Meters UK reached out to dozens of social landlords to better understand their approach to IoT home sensor solutions.
Rather than hit you with all the numbers (you can check out a full breakdown in an online Market Intelligence Report), I’m going to pick out and interpret some of the more revealing feedback.
Firstly, awareness of IoT solutions amongst social housing asset managers appears to be high, despite uptake being less prolific; 40% have not installed a thing to date (not even a trial).
The two more popular technologies installed so far are related to heating and utilities, with over a third of respondents having fitted smart heating and smart metering devices.
Heat and electricity are domestic essentials, so it makes common sense to start with something that every home uses and needs, particularly as 2.53 million (around 10%), of homes are still classified fuel poor by the UK government.
This was confirmed when we asked landlords why smarter heat and energy were prioritised. The top two reasons given were supporting tenant welfare and reducing tenant fuel bills.
Have versus want
What’s also telling is the comparison between solutions that have been installed, versus those that are sought or desired by landlords.
Although little progress appears to have been made on smart smoke and fire systems, lighting sensors and security systems to date – all three have been prioritised as sought-after technologies.
New methods of fire safety are of course highly relevant in the post Grenfell fire world, and technology that alerts the landlord to potential fire safety hazards feels sensible.
For example, government statistics reveal that a quarter of social renters in England have never tested their smoke alarms. How many fires could be prevented by remote sensors detecting alarms that have run out of batteries? So simple, but potentially lifesaving.
Tactical or strategic
Respondents were also asked whether their organisation was taking a tactical or strategic approach to IoT, with an overwhelming 80% claiming to have an IoT strategy in place.
Based on my experience with social landlords and their motivation for purchasing solutions I was surprised by this, so asked a sample of respondents what they perceived as an IoT strategy.
What I discovered is that IoT was actually being deployed tactically in order to achieve strategic aims – such as reducing fuel poverty or improving repairs and maintenance service standards and efficiency.
If an organisation has a strategy then it should have a boardroom presence I’m not sure that’s true of most social landlords and the internet of things just yet. I’m sure this will change.
Where next for IoT in housing? Clearly the market still has a long way to go, but high levels of awareness and increasing demand for new, tailored solutions suggests fertile ground for accelerated deployment.
An area that is certainly set to grow is sensor technology for adult home care. An aging population combined with a crisis in social and primary care is forcing local authorities and social landlords to consider new ways for people to live in their homes safely for longer, and our development team at Secure Meters has already launched a suite of solutions to meet this need.
Nigel Ebdon is the market development manager at Secure Meters UK, the developers of the made-for social housing smart heating and building fabric system Beanbag.