This could be the year in which IoT finally finds its place in the home with business cases becoming sharper and an increasing awareness among housing providers of the potential value connected devices can offer their organisations.

In order to really build the kind of momentum that will see housing providers placing large orders for connected devices and correspondingly changing business processes to support a radically data driven way of working, we expect to see a step up in the and scale of pilots and trials commencing this year. With much of the technology being produced now there is increasing evidence of its technical capability in its own right. What is missing is both experience of its deployment and evidence of its operational and technical capability beyond a few unit installs. A number of technology providers have informed us of their intention to do what hasn’t so far been done in a housing IoT pilot -test deployment at scale.

One of the first to kick off this year will be 365agile’s Smart Heating Controller pilot. 365agile have ambitiously committed to offering 100 housing providers 50 devices each to trial for free! This really is exciting stuff and means there could be 5000 more connected homes coming on line in Jan and Feb this year. With a commitment across the sector to scale up we will begin to move away from having the odd connected show home to something closer to a connected housing stock.
With scale comes new challenges

A mass roll out is exactly what is needed to start testing business cases in practice and it is here where 365agile are one of the first off the mark to get housing providers to actively bring new and so far relatively untested technology into their businesses.

Having 1000s of connected homes online this year is an exciting prospect as it starts to generate the volume of data that warrants serious analytics and from which accurate trends can be drawn. Installing 50-100 in a single provider is also a significant step, so far most pilots have involved connecting 2-4 devices often in the homes of staff members rather than residents. Medium scale pilots of 50-100 units forces us to face some serious operational and technical questions about just how this roll out will be executed and fundamentally what business processes and systems might need to change to take advantage of new devices and the data they bring.
From our conversations with housing providers we have identified some of the key issues that a mid-size roll out will generate:

1. Resident Trust and Buy-in
Housing providers will need to find 50-100 residents willing to use new technology which will change their relationship with a key piece of household infrastructure. Residents will need to be on board with the trial and trust the technology both in a privacy and security sense and in an operational sense. Some form of data sharing contract is also likely to be needed. Getting over these “people issues” will be a critical part of any large scale roll-out in 2017 and beyond.

2. Connectivity
The availability of a resident WIFI connection cannot be presumed and even if there is one accessing it may add more complications. Housing providers need to consider if the properties in which they are trialling have any other form of data connection and if not how they can use 4g hotspot to connect the devices. Practical connectivity issues, such as the impact of foil-backed insulation and partition walking on wireless connections and multi-device interference will also need become more understood as units are deployed in real world settings.

3. Installation
Systems that easily retrofit to existing housing infrastructure such as thermostats have some advantage here but operatives will still need some additional training to do this and to support the system in the future. Planning for this is critical to getting installations in ASAP and for heating systems crucially before the end of the heating season!

4. Asset Management Integration
One of the key benefits of connected technology is its ability to provide live asset data. Currently housing and asset management data is relatively static, new software will be needed to augment this existing data with the potentially vast amounts of new streaming data. This requires housing providers to work with technology firms to understand exactly what data is useful and how it can most usefully be represented.

While some of these issues are likely to be challenging in the short term, the point of a trial of this kind is to face these head on and develop strategies to overcome them. Early technology requires collaboration and housing providers are organisations well situated to share best practice and develop proven operation strategies.

Connected-Home

The Connected Home Consortium is supporting its members face the challenges of a mid-size implementation to ensure that short terms challenges don’t become long term barriers that could affect the sector as whole. We ultimately want to see data driven approach to housing management where each connected home functions as part of a larger connected housing stock, from here we open up all sort of connections to the smart city and beyond.