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Tips and advice from innovative housing provider, Central & Cecil on digital transformation

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In 1993 Central & Cecil (C&C) was formed to provide housing and support to a range of people in London. Committed to investing in new digital technology to help improve the lives of their residents, C&C partnered with Appello to pursue this further by installing our leading digital telecare offering, Smart Living Solutions.

 

Stuart Harper, Head of Innovation and Technology at C&C spoke to Iain Hockings, Head of Marketing at Appello, about their digital strategy, how technology helped during COVID and their learnings when going through a digital transformation.

 

Where are C&C on their digital journey and how much has been done to date?

 

C&C have been quite busy for a number of years now, our digital revolution started about 6 years ago and ever since then we’re progressing on a number of formats towards a digital solution. In regard to telecare, we made the switch about 2 – 3 years ago on some of our sites and we’ve now got a programme of works which will take us through to that all important 2025 digital shut off.

 

You say you started 2 – 3 years ago, that’s fairly early in terms of housing organisations, so what was the driver behind C&C being one of those leading lights?

 

About 7 years ago we actually had a new corporate strategy and underpinning that we had a new digital strategy, and I think part of that is one of the reasons why we did the early adoption and one of the reasons for our success.

 

The next 10 years within IT technology is going to be the most important time for human development in the course of human evolution since they discovered fire and oil. You’re going to see more adoption and more technical change over the next 10 years than any other point now or in the future. In order to be prepared for that we had a technical strategy that underpinned the deliverables of certain key services. That was obviously before COVID but was a direct result of funding cuts and sector cuts across the board and they’ve only really increased since then.

 

For us it was about being able to know the facilities and services we were putting in would be future proofed, but also be able to offer all these new range of digital services through the common infrastructure that every business is going to have to replace anyway.

 

One of the things I really wanted to talk to you about is how C&C have reacted to the pandemic and the role technology has played in supporting you through that? What have been your learnings that you’ll take forward?

 

For all housing associations and any organisations involved in primary or secondary care, it has been a really hard time during COVID. I feel that we haven’t suffered as much as some other places through some of our technology innovation. Quite a lot of the sterilisation facilities are automated and quite a lot of the resident contact, so whether that’s visitors coming in or staff coming in, it was all quite heavily controlled and monitored anyway.

 

That said, there is a clear distinct difference, we are on part of a journey here, not all of our estates have been fitted with digital technology. There was a difference in how some residents were able to keep connected and operate as opposed to others and I think that was the biggest learning curb. Although you might have some very good plans and preparation, you’re always going to have those sites in a 5 – 10 year programme that are always going to lag behind.

 

Our learning from the period was that you have to make sure that when you don’t have these digital solutions in place, your manual solutions are a lot more robust and able to deal with larger inconveniences.

 

We know that tackling loneliness was a high priority for C&C prior to COVID, are there learnings that you’re going to be taking forward?

 

Definitely, combatting loneliness is one of our key drivers. Our age demographic is predominately over 65, majority being high 70’s or 80’s. As a population group its one of the groups most susceptible to being cut off and feeling isolated and lonely.

 

Like I said, part of that is having this new digital strategy for digital offerings, so some of the things we’re looking forward to in the future is being able to use the facilities for things such as games that can be played throughout the group, like group rounds of Bingo but played in individuals’ homes.

 

During the pandemic the ability for them to talk and communicate with others in other rooms, having that video conversation as well was really important for some residents, because they were able to keep those relationships alive. Whereas some people, in some places they lived couldn’t go out. At the same time, they were able to maintain those relationships and even tell stories, sing songs, that kind of stuff, which is wonderful to think of. When a single piece of technology can provide that link in a time of global panic. I was really impressed.

 

In terms of your overall project, especially in terms of digital telecare, what have been the learnings that you would share to others starting out on their journey?

 

There are several things really, some of the advice we have given is you have to think big. A lot of this work has to be done by 2025, there is the key date, but at the same time you’ve got to think about what your service will be like in year 3, year 5, year 10, because you’re laying the groundwork and the foundation for that now. Although you do have to do this work, it’s always best to keep an eye on the future and where you want to go to make sure you’re taking that path at the lowest cost to get to where you want to be at the end.

 

Like with any technology, it can be expensive, but as long as you’re making the right procurement decision you actually end up saving money. It’s only the wrong procurement decision that will cost you money.

 

Times have changed in the last 10 years we’ve seen a real change in lots of types of equipment, not just call warden and digital door entry. Now actually pretty much a mini computer is being plugged to the wall and it needs to talk and operate to lots of other equipment, whether that’s with your vendor or your own IT internal staff, or just with another site. This sort of stuff is going to be so much more important in the next 10 years, but now, for anyone doing this work, that’s what you need to consider. There’s real value in taking those things from part of your business and moving them to be a part of your business that have that technical oversite.

 

The third one is to dream big. There are lots of things that are possible now that were not possible 5 years ago. All you need to be able to provide these really ground-breaking services, or even just outstanding never failing standard services, is to know a little bit about the technology which is out there and where that’s going. That information, if you don’t have it in house, is quite easy to provide. Organisations like Appello are able to provide that technical expertise to make sure that you’re able to fulfil whatever that service offer is going to look like in 5 – 10 years that we talked about.

 

What’s the future for C&C?

 

We’ve got some quite exciting ideas going forward, one of the things we want to do with our service offering is to be able to look at incorporating biometrics into it. So, a simple wrist device would be able to provide biometrics and feedback data, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, these sorts of services. We’re then working with local authorities in the London area with their GP consortium to be able to provide the data back to them.

 

What we’re hoping for is a three-way system with the local NHS and PCT’s, GP consortiums and the local GP surgery, and us being able to provide and share that medical data to be able to provide a real service wrap of sheltered living. At the same time without being intrusive to the individual. One of the key drivers is that we want to keep people in their own homes for longer.

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