Community IoT – The Next Smart Home Business Opportunity
Smart home technologies have gained considerable traction among homeowners, but without wider interoperability it can be hard to see where the wider community can benefit, even when the use case seems obvious – an example being smart security systems.
The benefits (both altruistic and selfish) of knowing your neighbour is being burgled, or their house is on fire are clear, but the necessary framework has not yet gained widespread traction. In the US this siloed approach has received attention from the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to join the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Global City Teams Challenge in 2018. The Challenge aims to bring together private- and public-sector stakeholders to collaborate on internet of things (IoT) devices and community cybersecurity infrastructure and break down those silos.
There is plenty at stake here – the expanding IoT ecosystem is estimated to have a $ 1.7 trillion annual economic impact in cities by 20251, and arguably we are seeing the next generation of connected smart home services begin to emerge, and they are inherently social.
The fact that smart home technology has begun to align with social requirements should come as no surprise – 50% of the world’s population live in cities, and by 2050 that will rise to 70% . Fascinatingly though, this city-dwelling majority must contend with the fact that 99% of apartment buildings worldwide have no digital infrastructure.
A survey from Daintree Networks found that almost 60% of building managers in the U.S. are familiar with IoT, and 43% believe that these technologies will begin to impact on how they operate and manage their buildings in the next two to three years2. American-based smart apartment infrastructure players such as Dwelo have seen significant interest, raising $ 9.7 million in funding to date3.
Energy provision, monitoring and usage is a key requirement for all stakeholders, even today, and is set to increase in importance as costs rise and emissions targets crunch. The European Commission expects that 72% of consumers in the European Union will have smart electricity meters installed in their homes by 2020, and 40% will have a smart gas meter4. Electric vehicles are now set to be a feature of our roads, with new petrol cars being banned within decades, giving rise to sophisticated smart vehicle-to-grid power systems to smooth peak demand.
This combination of factors is working together in the immediate term to create an exciting fusion of smart home technology, IoT and social network, where community IoT connects homeowners in building blocks or gated communities, enhancing traditional smart home offerings by extending them beyond one consumer’s home for use within communities, grouping many users together and then linking them with facilities management and property managers.
One interesting example is a social community service5, such as one that was rolled out in Germany in May 2017, which exemplifies the benefits of wider smart home connectivity for apartment tenants. For the first time, individuals are empowered to drive this long overdue innovation of connected community themselves. In just five minutes, and without any technical skill or requirements, anyone can start a private social platform for their building.
Shared smart sensors are, of course, a preferable way of feeding data into the system, but manual reporting is also possible – especially important for older buildings. Communal issues such as building faults and breakdowns can be easily logged and reported to the relevant authorities, while other residents affected by the issue can be notified that a fix is in the works. For example, a broken lift or non-functioning communal light can be reported by one resident, logged, and a repair technician allocated. Other members of the community can follow the progress of the repair, rather than logging duplicate requests. Where apartments are non-serviced, a premium service with a home emergency repairs provider could be connected instead.
Once connected to smart meters, it is possible to monitor irregular usage and pre-empt damaging leaks, for example by use of an energy measurement service, while receiving a community alert that an intruder alarm has been triggered enables fast response, as well as enhancing security for the community as a whole.
There are of course softer benefits to the community system too, from the purely social to more practical help, such as watering a neighbour’s plants and pet-sitting while they are on holiday, or local tradesman recommendations.
This new social community business model offers added value to the smart home proposition, and also offers a whole new set of opportunities to property developers and maintenance contractors. Property developers stand to smooth the commissioning and snagging of new apartment buildings significantly, as building managers can log and track user-reported requests, as well as make significant savings across larger portfolios by aggregating issues and fixing them in bulk.
Meanwhile, building managers and contractors can also benefit, by smoothing workflows, aggregating specialist jobs across sites and also gaining the trust of tenants through regular interaction and clear communication, as well as rapid response. Finally, there is opportunity for enhanced marketing dividends, both by partnering with other stakeholders, but also indirectly through word of mouth from satisfied customers.
There is considerable opportunity for cross and up-selling too, by adding in opportunities to ‘go premium’ within the service itself, but also with partner products and services through, for example, a general support services company, security system vendor or third-party energy measurement service. In addition, the future possibilities for energy aggregators to provide bespoke tariffs for such connected, smart metered groups of consumers is clear. Across Europe, the concept of elevated peak energy pricing is gaining traction, and the potential for grouping hundreds of apartment owners together to leverage beneficial pricing in return for smarter, off peak energy usage is significant.
It is certain that this democratic, social based movement for city dwellers is just the first in a new wave of services that put the ‘smart’ into ‘smart home’ products, and deliver significant benefits for the wider community, as well as product owners themselves. The future is for sharing.
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