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Investing in innovation

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Published: 08/08/2019   Last Updated: 08/08/2019  
Author: Jonathan Drake     Tags: Blog

I recently took part in a study visit organised by the Disruptive Innovators Network (DIN) to visit the Netherlands and Belgium. Joining me on this trip was Greig Lees, one of our Board Directors.  DIN is a network of social housing providers that want to make a difference to the communities they serve through innovation.  The trip allowed us to look at how our European counterparts are investing in innovation and technology, and how this will impact the built environment, the future of work and how they deliver services to residents.

Day one was hosted by Microsoft at their offices at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.  Microsoft is looking at using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in homes, to allow platforms to begin to understand human behaviour. As you may already know, we are using their technology in our MiiHome research project, which we hope will help people to live in their homes independently for longer.
Microsoft is also using Advanced Analytics to create predictive services whereby we can predict what will happen and make proactive recommendations. For example, advanced cars now have SIM cards which message the dealership or garage to report a suspected fault without the driver being aware. They then text the owner to recall the vehicle for diagnostics before breakdown occurs.
Jane Porter, Chief Operating Officer from Optivo, one of the UK’s largest housing providers, gave a presentation about their approach to transforming their business through technology. They have developed a chatbot called IVON which is now the main way tenants interact with them. They are using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate some of their internal processes such as Universal Credit verification, which helps to free up their officers’ time to focus on other tasks. As well as introducing smart boilers that heat homes more efficiently and predict maintenance issues, they are also using smart metering to monitor heating controls within homes, and even remotely test water temperature for legionella.

After this, we were given a tour of the Microsoft offices and their Living Room concept. The Living Room’s smart technology is used to track and monitor the behaviour of residents, much like our MiiHome project.
Day two was hosted at the former IBM typewriter factory in Amsterdam which is now a business start-up space. The theme for the day was Data as Currency, and a number of Dutch Registered Providers (RPs) gave presentations about innovation.

The principal one was Qlinker the first digital housing association, which is being piloted in a block of 18 homes. Tenants can only interact with the landlord to using smart technology.
They pay rent, order repairs, view and bid on properties through an app, which has led to much faster processes. For instance, sign-ups were reduced from six days to six hours. The app uses a chatbot and in 36% of transactions there is no staff involvement at all. Chat is only transferred to an officer when the chatbot can’t resolve an issue. Tenants can also order repairs via smart speakers and landlords can drop-in to homes to speak to tenants directly if required.

The rest of day two was very interactive and consisted of workshops, energising group exercises and several pitches from some start-up businesses.
Day three was hosted by Spring House, a members club for innovators who share a vision for a more social and sustainable society. The theme for the session was Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and how technology can change the way we work. Presentations were made by Dutch and English tech companies and included a group of four RPs who are developing a virtual agent to manage their customer portal and interact with tenants, in order to automate repetitive and time-consuming manual processes to save businesses time and money.
On day four we left Holland to travel to The Health House in Leuven, Belgium. The visit was facilitated by Professor Koen Kas, a healthcare visionary who is driven by the aim to make healthcare pleasant, personalised, and ultimately preventive. The presentation focused on how technology will have an impact on the future of our health and care. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, 3D-printing and wearables will soon become a bigger part of everyday life and the Health House tour showcased these latest technologies in a very innovative and interactive way.
Greig and I felt it was a very informative few days and there was plenty of learning. More importantly we felt that there were several take-aways from the study visit worth further consideration and discussion. We have provided a briefing to the Board on how we could these technologies could benefit Salix and our tenants in the future.