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Connecting the digital and the physical – the life changing possibilities of the Internet of Things

Written by Liz Copeland, DL North West

It’s always interesting at Digital Leaders North West discussions that we often don’t end up talking about technology or digital, we end up talking about people – and data! Hold on… Wasn’t the data discussion last month? It was. But it actually formed quite a large part of this month’s discussion too. Liz Copeland of Knowledge Hub tells us more…

I’ll be honest I don’t understand much about Internet of Things (IoT) but what I do know is that the possibilities are mind blowing. Our speakers demonstrated as much.

 Jay Roche, from Of The Future, initially opened our eyes to the idea that we can all have the IoT in our own homes at a much cheaper price than we ever could before. The market for products such as lighting controls, heating operators etc. is increasing. However these sorts of products currently still take a long time from conception to market – on average 24 months. Soon there will be a glut of products like this, which will make it interesting to see how the market evolves.

Jonathan Burr, of Intelesant, then spoke about his time in the automotive industry and how the connected car is already something many companies have developed to stay ahead of the game. However, he said that cars are several years ahead of connected homes, which in turn, are several years ahead of connected health. Jonathan spoke about how many of the IoT products for homes are aimed at local authorities and housing associations when in fact the consumer market is not catered for. His company provide low cost products for consumers to support people living alone to remain independent in their homes. They collect data on routines within the home which then informs whether an intervention might be necessary.

Matthew Warnes, of Adaptive Technology Europe, provided a hugely inspiring insight into what is possible in housing design using assistive technologies. His starting point is always the individual and specifications are technology agnostic. Housing is built around a person and their needs. In fact with a new build, when taking an individual’s requirements into consideration from the start, up to £45,000 can be saved per person in care costs. That amounts to £900,000 for a block of 20 apartments. Of course, it’s not just about the cost savings, it’s about the dignity and independence technology can enable people to gain.

It’s all about the data – again!

Interestingly the discussion didn’t focus on the technology it was instead largely about the people and the data. A fundamental barrier to progression in the area of assistive technology in the home is lack of joined up data and systems. The opportunity to use big data is enormous. It seems there are two different types of data that could be collected: what individuals know about themselves so they can self-care; and big anonymised data that has the potential to enable local authorities and the NHS to change provision for the better. Some providers are now getting to grips with the first type, but the missed opportunity of the second provided much food for thought within the discussion.

Unpicking the data issue revealed a number of different problems contributing to the lack of join-up in terms of systems and data collection:

·         Legacy technology, from which it’s difficult to extract data

·         The deadweight of governance and monopolistic behaviour of providers meaning health systems don’t talk to each other

·         Lengthy contracts with large providers that don’t cater for what’s best for the customer

·         Investment and budget to bring data and systems together – who’s going to pay?

·         Concerns over security

·         Lack of standard protocols – no framework agreed

One participant really hit the nail on the head on a human level, “In the future, if I move from an Apple house to an Android house, will I know how to flush the loo?”

Where it works – it works well

On the positive side, there was some great practice shared about projects that are really using IoT technology to change lives:

·         Phone apps used to dispense medication that are alarmed if not taken within half an hour

·         RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to control building access, lighting etc.

·         Revolutionary devices that reduce the need for human care intervention during the night

None of these items will ever replace the need for human intervention of course, but what a lot of the technology has the power to do is reduce the need for carers to do mundane tasks and instead concentrate on more complex needs.

It’s not going to happen overnight

What was clear is that the potential of the IoT is enormous, but what also came to light is that a lot of our systems and processes are currently not set up to support the technology, the data or the change in the way of working.

Crucial to all of this is budget. It would be wonderful to build all our homes to include all types of assistive technology right from the start. However, to kit a house out properly at the moment can cost up to £60,000. Adding that kind of cost on to the price of a new-build just isn’t a realistic possibility at the moment.

So, for the time being at least, it seems that an approach specifying requirements around individuals and building from there is the right thing to do. Over time, as thinking and technology evolve and costs come down, there will be great opportunities to do more.

Thanks to all our speakers and participants for their contribution to Digital Leaders North West this month. Next month, on Thursday 22 October, we’ll be talking about digital creativity and innovation. Innovation can mean different things to different people – why not come along and share what it means to you? Find out more in the Digital Leaders North West group on the Knowledge Hub.

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