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Embracing digital in housing

Tim Barclay, Chief Executive Officer at Appello - the UK’s largest provider of digital telecare services

Housing providers should not be intimidated by going digital – they should be embracing it

The UK is undergoing a digital change of significant proportions, as the telecommunications infrastructure shifts from analogue to digital. Housing providers are beginning to consider digital solutions as a serious contender in the way they should be moving forward.

After phasing out analogue services from this year, these systems will eventually be switched off, having been converted to digital. Although the switch poses some challenges to housing providers, these are easy to overcome with the right support from a technology provider, and a full digital switch offers huge benefits for all. The advantages of making the switch to digital cannot be ignored as more and more positive case studies of fully digital developments come to light, and the change is already happening. It’s time to embrace the potential that digitally enabled care systems hold.

Digital telecare is no longer in its infancy. I’m pleased to say that many are already embracing digital. Thousands of residents across hundreds of developments now have digital systems that are changing their lives. In fact, we have now seen over one million digital telecare calls take place, all with crystal clear sound and lightning fast speed. In addition, there are many people involved in the day to day management of telecare systems on site that are benefiting from efficiencies, insight, data and greater control than ever possible before.

Housing providers should be reassured and excited by how far digital systems have already come and see digital as a great opportunity to bring the market into the 21st century, and as a stepping stone to providing an excellent service for residents that meets the growing requirements of the current age.


The services available

Steps toward a digital network are happening on a nationwide scale, starting as early as this year. Many residential and business telephone services are moving from analogue to a new, digital network in 2019. Housing providers must be ready for the changes leading towards the eventual retirement of their analogue systems. They must update systems in line with not only the needs, but the expectations of older residents who need and wish for easy-to-understand, easy-to-use, connected and intuitive services. These services are readily available now; housing providers need only consider the right option for them.

Current analogue systems and products can cause call failures and delays due to network incompatibility, putting vulnerable people at risk. A failure can occur when a call doesn’t reach the monitoring centre, or because it was received with impaired sound quality. A digital system mitigates the risk of call failures, provides crystal-clear sound quality, and an almost instantaneous response in an emergency.

The life-saving potential of a digitally enabled system cannot be understated, and digitisation will lower associated risks of call failures substantially. Instant call connections to emergency monitoring centres allows older people to receive the help they need as soon as possible – in some cases increasing the chance of saving someone’s life.


The potential of a digital network

Leaving behind the analogue systems will involve a change in the norm for many involved. However, we mustn’t ignore the huge potential of digital services in delivering supported living solutions fit for the 21st century. Today, digitally-enabled care offers a vastly improved user experience from the typical analogue pull cords, pendant alarms and door entry systems of the past.

Digital services not only provide increased resident safety through faster call connections and greater system resilience, but residents and relatives will benefit hugely from room-to-room video calling, visual door entry, connectivity to the internet, smart home compatibility and a whole host of new digital technologies that promise to improve the lives and wellbeing of older people. In our modern age, connectivity is one of the keys to preventing loneliness in older people, and digital services can provide the necessary tools for this.

A growing number of progressive housing providers already recognise the benefits and have gone digital. However, for the bulk of today’s housing providers their telecare systems still resemble devices that have been in place for the past 30 years – with the limited functionality to match. These systems are largely analogue-based and frequently incompatible with modern, feature-rich digital systems. What would we rather our residents had, and what would we expect?

Digital is imperative to overcoming call failures, but it is about so much more than just replacing your old systems. This is an opportunity for you to change the way you work, change the services you offer, and most importantly change the lives of your residents.

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