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Part 3: The Technology Enabled Care Journey Through the Eyes of the Appello Staff

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In the final part of our 3-part series we are speaking to those in the sales and marketing department of Appello. Mark Stratford, Commercial Director, Gareth Bracher, Senior Business Development Manager and Iain Hockings, Head of Marketing, have all been in the industry for over 23 years. They have witnessed the journey of the Technology Enabled Care sector and importance of upgrading to digital technology.

They explain the importance in the shift to digital technology, the benefits seen within housing providers who have switched to digital and the biggest influence they predict for the TECS industry in 5 years’ time.

  1. What’s the most important change you’ve seen in TEC sector over the years?

IH: By far the most important change is the digital mentality.

The upgrade to the telecoms network has been the catalyst. This has improved the connection speeds and eradicated some legacy issues, but it is the digital mentality change, which is most important.

This industry is no longer just about red buttons and beige boxes, it is about actually improving the lives of people and better equipping those who are responsible for delivering services.

GB: I completely agree, people are moving away from analogue devices with limited performance, to digital technology with the safety and performance enhancements which come with it.

IH: Exactly, people are pushing boundaries and are expecting more. This is all because there is a mentality change and a realisation that anything is possible.

MS: Also, the importance to move to cloud services as well and the benefits cloud has on organisations to enhance safety and enable to work remotely – especially useful during lockdown.

  1. How has it benefitted Appello and the sector?

MS: Appello are a leader in both cloud services and digital technology, importantly we are the only business in the industry that took a decision some time ago to be digital only, so freeing us from any analogue legacy.

GB: Other organisations have been much slower to develop their digital offer and haven’t been so single minded around digital TECS, so we have been able to forge ahead and stay ahead benefiting our customer base and influencing the whole sector in the art of the possible.

  1. Do you have any stories that show what the industry was like when you started?

GB: Well I do remember very well that maintaining old kit from bygone era used to involve trying to salvage bits of kit out of electrical waste skips at the back of Oregon House. Our workshop team was very good at breathing life into redundant kit but clearly not a sustainable model.

MS: When I started there were 400 or so monitoring centres in the UK, they were mostly in a spare flat in a scheme and the operators had sleeping shifts. It wasn’t unusual to get called out to a fault in the night and find an operator in their pyjamas!

IH: Looking back nearly a decade ago, the industry was very flat, and there was a lot of talk but little change. A different shade of beige was about as exciting as things got!

I do recall clearly though when we did invite some of our services users into our monitoring centre to meet the operator that managed their emergency call. The service users were very excited arriving on a minibus, but our operators were even more happy to see that the individual they had supported during their emergency, were now safe and well. I recall how evident it was that operators in an emergency careline really do care, and that is one thing that has not changed in the last 10 years.

  1. What’s the biggest change and expectations you’ve seen from customers?

GB: Customers understanding of digital TECS has definitely improved. People were aware they “needed to go digital” but didn’t really know why or what it meant.

IH: Yes, I agree, I think there is a general appreciation of how technology can really improve people’s lives. Our customers are now talking about how we can support them with reducing loneliness, creating engagement, connecting people and improving wellbeing and health. The conversation is no longer just about someone requiring emergency assistance.

We don’t consider anything but digital in any other technology we use in our lives, and we shouldn’t when it comes to Technology Enabled Care.

  1. Why do you feel it is important that customers move to digital?

GB: There are many reasons but here are the 3 most important ones in my view:

– The sector had been underserved for years in terms of being kept up to date with the latest technology. Digital communication has been around for at least a couple of decades and yet since Appello released Smart Living Solutions (SLS) in 2017, end to end digital communication been made available to one of the sectors that actually needs it the most … fast connection, no call queuing , video door entry for security , we see as vital features for providing safe alarm systems.

– There is technical necessity to upgrade analogue systems by 2025 which is when the BT network upgrade will be completed. However, it implies analogue systems will be unaffected until then, which is not the case, analogue systems will continue to underperform and worsen further in terms of first time call failure rate as time progresses to the completion of the switch over.

– Digital and social inclusion; before pandemic times we were being told of the dangers to mental and indeed physical health loneliness was, SLS provides social calling features and a gateway to the internet, providing another means to stay in touch. Staff home working was also made easier via the Appello app.

IH: It is just the right thing to do. The safety benefits alone should be enough for the whole sector to adopt digital. We are talking about life critical emergencies, so if we can reduce the connection time to just 3s, and we can eradicate queues in a development, and even improve the clarity of a call to make it a better experience then this should be done to improve the potential outcome of that emergency situation.

We don’t consider anything but digital in any other technology we use in our lives, and we shouldn’t when it comes to Technology Enabled Care.

  1. What advice would you give housing providers who are still worried about making the shift?

MS: I would suggest talking to a supplier that already has live digital customers, get some references and talk to them, think about your desired outcomes not just ‘how do I upgrade’.

IH: I would say that there is a significant line of organisations that have made the move now and their experiences have been very positive. And, this is not a new development; these digital solutions have been deployed in housing developments for many years now.  Furthermore, they have been delivered by teams with huge experience in digital, who will be well placed to provide you with the guidance and support you require.

  1. What’s the biggest benefit you have seen the move to digital bring to development/housing managers?

GB: I’ve seen a lot of benefits:

– Automated fault reporting

– Automated testing

– Video well-being calls

– Knowing residents are safer, not letting strangers into the building

– HQ dashboard

– Self-checking pendants

  1. What impact will Cloud have on TECS going forward?

MS: HUGE allocating services on demand, dynamically scaling service delivery and delivering services as requited – step up step down.

IH: Digital is a huge step forward, in both the sense of equipment and how it is monitored. But we need to make sure these services are accessible, scalable, and usable. This is the role of the cloud; it will make sure that these benefits, and future visions are a reality.

For instance, it is all well and good that digital enables the creation of more data, but it is the cloud that enables us to store that data, manage it, integrate it, and even access it remotely.

  1. If you were living in supported housing in the future what technology would you expect, and do you think we are a long way off delivering that?

IH: I would hope that the technology I use when in supported housing has not even been conceived yet. But I would like to think that it would be a property that allows me to remain connected and is designed to support my wellbeing and personal living requirements.

MS: Video, streaming services, signposting services, secure/approved trades services, social inclusion, informal care documentation/scheduling, targeted information feeds (weather, hazards, local information). Those features are what I would expect to be in supported housing.

GB: I would expect the most up to date emergency alarm and communication system that was practicably available. I would not want the system to be dragging behind the tech that was available in the wider world in the way that analogue services always did. I would want the system to be interoperable with smart home and also with health-related apps so I could see all my data in one place

  1. What do you think will be the biggest influence in the TECS industry in 5 years?

IH: I think that the biggest influence would be interoperability, and with that the growth of consumer technology being used to deliver a package of support.

The expectation will be that the devices we are using in our everyday lives, to monitor movement, exercise, biometrics will talk to the devices we use for safety, and the devices we use to control the home.

GB: I think and hope that customers themselves will be the biggest influence, I think that that customers will be more demanding of the supplier sector and will want to ensure that the industry does not slip behind or fail to take advantage of the full benefits of digital systems.

Customers want choice and will want systems and call monitoring platforms to “speak the same language” so that they are not held back from being able to install their hardware of choice because the monitoring centre is not conversant.

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