Trevor Hampton, Director of Housing Product Solutions at Northgate Public Services – Published by Northern Housing 5th February 2020

Some headline-hogging technologies are already making an impact, but we may need to wait a little longer for other innovations to shake up the housing sector, writes Trevor Hampton.

With such a vast array of new technologies promising to transform our lives, it can be hard to know which will make their mark in the months ahead.

It’s entertaining to read about gadgets designed to keep your coffee at the right temperature all day, or umbrellas which tell your phone that you left it on the train. And no doubt this technology will lead to useful applications.

However, the breakthroughs set to transform housing will be those that help organisations become more efficient, innovative and customer-facing. In my view, these are the housing tech trends we need to watch right now.

  1. Wearable technology

Many of us are now using wearables for one activity or another, whether it’s to pay our bills, monitor our heart rate or track our sleeping patterns.

Wearable technology could be adapted to solve challenges in the housing sector too. For example, it’s possible to measure the activity levels or temperature of a vulnerable resident using a simple wristband, enabling authorities to keep tabs on their tenants’ health and wellbeing.

Equally, customers could use a smart watch with built in security and IT authentication to log repairs, make appointments and pay their rent. Consumer technology like this has enormous potential to make lives easier.

  1. Protection against fraud

One of the key benefits of the information age is the ability to share data quickly and easily. However, this is also one of the pitfalls. Consequently, there’s a growing need for technology which protects people from data breaches and fraud.

Security threats can originate from within an organisation. It only takes one rogue employee with the skills to hack into the company’s system, and they’ve accessed secure personal information about the company’s staff or customers.

As a result, there’s an urgent need for systems that provide a clear audit trail of how data is stored, accessed and shared. This data protection technology will allow housing providers to keep sensitive data secure and earn the trust of their customers.

  1. Democratisation of data

With so many communications tools, channels and devices at our disposal, we have more choice than ever before in the way we access and share information.

This can make it difficult for organisations with customers who want to interact in a range of different ways. One resident prefers email, another responds better to SMS messages while their neighbour follows you on Twitter.

Housing providers will increasingly benefit from machine learning which looks at user experience and helps to identify which means of communication is the best fit for each customer profile.

  1. Intelligent edge computing

While there are clear benefits to having IoT sensors built into properties and household appliances, there’s also a risk of these sensors producing excessive data. If this happens, organisations can find any useful insight gets buried under a mountain of clutter.

Edge computing overcomes this issue by giving IoT devices an added level of intelligence, so the information processing takes place where the actual device is situated – in the property – rather than back at a data centre.

This leads to a much more accurate way of monitoring data from IoT devices, because an intelligent edge device works out which data is relevant and only sends you that.

For instance, an IoT enabled boiler produces vast quantities of temperature data, but edge technology identifies if the temperature is unusual and sends you a message to say the boiler is starting to overheat and needs a service.

Edge computing has the potential to reduce data overload and increase the flow of useful information, helping providers to manage their housing stock more efficiently.

  1. 5G data networks

The promise of faster download speeds and more reliable connections is encouraging for the housing sector.

Whether 5G will improve connectivity and tackle network blind spots remains to be seen, but it would be a move in the right direction in helping more residents access services online.

Faster data networks will improve the speed and accuracy of transmitting information, making it easier for maintenance teams to upload photos of properties onto the system, or for customers to download tenancy documents.

5G will boost digital transformation in housing, accelerating the exchange of information from customers, suppliers and agencies and enabling faster, more informed decision making.

Trends to watch for the future

This leaves us with the tech trends that will make their presence felt in housing in the longer term future.

  • Virtual reality

Already making waves in the world of entertainment, sport and the arts, virtual reality (VR) may take a little longer to become a core technology in housing.

However VR, along with augmented and extended reality, is proving its worth in architecture and construction by enhancing the viewing of three-dimensional, life size images.

Similarly, the facility to simulate the way an elderly resident moves around their environment through VR could be the key to helping vulnerable tenants stay in their homes for longer.

  • Blockchain

Many start-ups are adopting blockchain technology for a wide range of uses such as specialised customer loyalty schemes, tracking items through the supply chain and managing medical records.

Some of the larger banks are putting their weight behind blockchain, bringing it into the mainstream.

Blockchain makes it easier to ensure a transaction is authentic, and the technology could be used to eliminate error or fraud. It’s certainly a trend to watch for in the years to come, as blockchain could offer an increased level of certainty to financial transactions, such as purchasing of properties, equipment and maintenance contracts.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is clear. The tech trends with the greatest potential to help housing teams do their jobs, deliver better service to customers and improve day-to-day lives, will come out on top.