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Your Future Smart Home

November 04, 2022
Keith Stewart

Today, there are more devices connected to the internet than there are people on the planet. This exponential growth will continue for the foreseeable future, and the older demographic will continue to have higher expectations when it comes to technology in their living space. In this episode of Raising Tech, our host Amber Bardon sits down with Keith Stewart, Chief Growth Officer at K4Connect, where they specialize in creating simpler, healthier, and happier lives for residents, families, staff, and community operators alike through technology.

Learn what a “day in the life” of a connected Smart Home could feel like today, and where the industry is heading next. Discover what market segments are adopting this type of connected technology, where a community should start if interested, and keys to a successful implementation where everyone wins. The internet and connected homes are here to stay. Learn where to start by tuning into this episode today. Raising Tech is powered by Parasol Alliance, The Strategic Planning & Full-Service IT Partner exclusively serving Senior Living Communities.

Amber Bardon

Welcome to Raising Tech, a podcast about all things, technology and senior living. I'm your host, Amber Bardon. And today our topic is all things smart home. To facilitate this discussion we have Keith Stewart from K4Connect with us. Welcome Keith.

Keith Stewart

Hi, Amber.

Amber Bardon

Keith, can you tell our listeners about K4Connect and your role there. 

Keith Stewart

Sure. Well again, my name is Keith Stewart and I'm the Chief Growth officer at K4Connect. I'm responsible for sales, marketing, and business development. I've been at K4Connect for about three years. But formally I was running worldwide sales for the IBM Watson Internet of Things division and broadly speaking, my entire career has been focused on technology disrupting different industries. And I think this industry in the last couple years in particular, but has really been on a big evolution and smart home has been a big part of what's been driving a lot of the change. K4Connect is a mission driven health tech company integrating the best in technology to serve and empower older adults and those living with disabilities. So we're really here providing powerful enterprise and analytical tools to drive efficiencies, better outcomes, new services for operators, providers, and payers.

Amber Bardon

Thanks for that background. I'm really excited to talk about this topic today. I think smart homes are a buzzword. You hear a lot, but maybe people don't always understand what exactly does that mean or what does that involve? So we’re really excited to dive into this topic today. To start off with, can you give us a little bit of insight into the marketplace trends? What does it look like in the marketplace and what is the appetite for smart homes that you see from your perspective?

Keith Stewart 2:02

I mean, broadly speaking, whenever we've talked about IOT, you can see some really eye-popping numbers. Just the amount of things now that are being connected to the internet. This proliferation is happening that by 2020, there were more devices connected to the internet than people. When you start mapping out that progression line, you'll see by 2050, it’s just gonna be unbelievable the amount of things that are connected to the internet. You then overlay the older adult demographic. There's a lot of supportive tailwinds that are happening there. More and more of the average older adult has been using smart phones for 10 plus years. They not only have email addresses, but they have high expectations on using technology. Those two trends combined are really driving a lot of this change.

Keith Stewart 02:59

And then you've got all sorts of devices that are just, again, proliferating. Whether it be things around the environment, lighting and thermostats and general things like blinds and fans and switches, all the way through to facilities types of things. Is your oven on, for too long? Maybe it needs to be turned off or energy surge protection or moisture and leak detection. Obviously we are seeing so much, happening in the wellness categories around just tracking your, your pulse or your heart rate, the number of steps, how well you're sleeping, oxygen levels. And really the big next big frontier is medicine and medicine dispensing and all of those things as it pertains to telehealth. So very exciting. And it's all happening now.

Amber Bardon

And that's a great point. A lot of people use terms like smart homes and telehealth, and they kind of toss those around and there is, there is a difference, but they are related to each other.

Keith Stewart


Amber Bardon

Let's talk a little bit more about the application of smart home technology in the senior living space. Can you walk me through, what would it look like for a day in the life of a fully equipped, smart home senior in a community?

Keith Stwart =

Well, let's just start with waking up. And so I might wake up, I might look at my tablet, or ask my Alexa for what's for breakfast or just start my day before I even get out of bed. But then when I do get out of bed, I potentially, you know, it might still be dark. So I might have a lit path to it at the bathroom. I don't want to have a hundred percent lighting on me like a spotlight, but I want enough to where I can see as I'm walking into the bathroom. And that might be turned on through a responsive environment, through motion being detected or what have you. But once I get up then I want to know that the coffee is getting started. So that could again be triggered by motion or timed from, some sort of scene that you've set.

Keith Stewart 05:08

I might also walk into the kitchen and see that my morning medicine has been dispensed. But after that, I might then think, okay, “well, I'm gonna go, go for a walk.” I can start seeing that my steps are being counted, my heart rate being monitored or any other health metrics that I care about are being tracked. I might then have forgotten to turn off the coffee pot, or I might have forgotten to close the garage door or lock the door. And I'll have peace of mind to know that if I did do any of those things, the devices themselves are smart enough, or there's a routine that's actually going to make sure that those are close. The other fringe benefit here might be that, you know, when you've left your thermostat just adjusts to go into energy savings mode.

Keith Stewart 05:56

But ultimately through the day, my activities are starting, are being tracked. My behavioral data is being understood and I'm starting to trigger scenarios based on what I'm doing in real time, but also I'm adding to, and working with my trends data. At some point I'll return home, it could be in the afternoon or already into the evening. There might be any number of different scenes around your lighting, your temperature, or the music that you're creating, just for driving a mood. All the while my environment is responding to me, that environment is learning over time, based on that behavior.

Amber Bardon

That sounds like a really amazing experience for communities to offer to their residents. One thing I'm, I'm sure that our listeners are thinking about as they're listening to the description of this is what is the reimbursement model for this type of technology? I'm curious to know if you could talk about how is this structured in a community, and then alternatively, is this available just outside of a traditional community in someone's home?

Keith Stewart

Okay, well, let's take that one step at a time. In terms of reimbursement, I'm not really seeing much in the way of that. What I am seeing though is through different programs like the American Rescue Act and the Cares Act, there is funding that's being allocated specifically focusing on infrastructure. There are definitely ways that you can get started and find budget for these things with some, you know, local or federal assistance with that. And then the other thing that we often talk about is just if you're an operator and you're trying to differentiate, if you're looking at the sales and marketing side, this is a major differentiation. And really could boost levels just on the virtue of having this where a potentially a competitor down the street might not have that.

Keith Stewart 8:07

The other thing, we all know about the staff challenges that we're facing, and that growing challenge. You can think about the staff efficiency gains that you can get through the use of data. And, just understanding through the scenario that I talked about before. If you start to see certain trends that are troubling, it might drive behavior on how you're providing care. And so there, there's certainly opportunities for staff efficiency and really driving focus where you need that focus. Another element that you could think about is, through the proactive management of lights and your temperature controls. There's an opportunity for energy savings. Again, these are things that you would think about if you're building a business case and, you know, some sort of return on investment and payback model. And then a big one really is just the, the very concept of risk reduction and cost avoidance.

Keith Stewart

If you take the scenario through leak and or fire detection, if you're turning the oven off or you're proactively going in and finding water leaks through moisture detection, you're very likely preventing very large, expensive, maybe even catastrophic damage. And then again, I was telling you about that lit path to go to the bathroom. If motion is what's triggering that, you might have scenarios where you're doing, situational awareness, much like that staff efficiency game. If somebody went into the restroom in the middle of the night and you didn't see motion coming back out you might be able to rapidly respond and come in and potentially find somebody who's in the bathroom a lot sooner than you would've otherwise. There are all sorts of opportunities to drive very compelling business cases when you're starting to think about that growing list and types of sensors that are available. Very much on the business cut case side of things is very helpful.

Amber Bardon 

When you talk about the monitoring, that actually brings up a question that I frequently get asked by our clients about the whole concept of smart home technology. One of the things that I've heard people say that they see as a potential risk or liability with this type of technology is who is checking that monitoring. And if something is detected through monitoring like a fall or a refrigerator sensor or something like that, does that actually put the community more at risk because they didn't catch it soon enough for the monitoring should have told them. And I'm curious, from your perspective, what is your answer to that and who is actually doing this monitoring?

Keith Stewart 10:57

Well ultimately we're not actually taking any responsibility away from anybody who would already be caring about that. What we're doing is providing better information for that person to be able to do what they're already supposed to be doing. Kind of an adjacent part, everything that you're talking about is this concept of security and privacy. I think a lot of people like the idea that, they've got a digital safety net, they just don't wanna feel monitored. And so they don't want cameras in the bathroom or anyone watching them, but if it's pure data and it's contextualized by time and things like that, then you're really looking at it as triggering use cases. In the case of, from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM I'd like to know that there's motion in the room, because that way I know that they're up and about, and that report can be sent to somebody who's responsible for tracking morning check-in. I would turn your point around the other way.

Keith Stewart 12:06

A lot of people are using very manual error-prone techniques for doing morning check-in such as, scanning the breakfast room just to make sure that they can visually verify that everyone's there;  very prone to human error. You would look at other scenarios where it's things like dialing a phone number in the morning, or pressing a button in the hallway, not really a natural behavior that people would think to do every morning, and so oftentimes they forget to do it. And if you're just really having that extra data to help you drive action, I would argue that it's, it's a lot safer than the other techniques are probably more prone to failure. Now, the other part of that being the security and privacy, of course. This is contextual data based on timing; just light went on, light, went off, that's not really a privacy or security risk, but when you start building out that model over time, and you start to get that behavior data with the context, you can anonymize that and secure it and just make sure that it's not in any way giving any HIPAA related information away. 

Amber Bardon

Keith, can you tell us what market segments are you seeing the most adoption of this type of technology in?

Keith Stewart 13:32

I think primarily when we were talking about the early adopters, we were really seeing kind of the higher end communities that were really embracing this. Oftentimes it would be the nonprofit providers that had a little bit more money, were focused more on differentiation and recruitment. But you're really seeing a lot of the for-profit moving into this space. They do look at OPEX probably more than they do at CapEx. And they're justifying these as either part of budgeted for new builds or differentiation and recruitment. You're really starting to see the trend go more and more to mid-market just purely on the basis of the of business cases are starting to add up. The cost of the sensors are getting less. Wifi is becoming much more prominent and just the fact that we've got such a challenge with staffing,you really need that digital safety net and, and that little extra support.

Amber Bardon 14:34

And I'm assuming you can and implement this just in part of a building or in certain units, it doesn't have to be a whole community implementation.


Keith Stewart 14:43

Sure. Yeah. I mean, we're, we're really seeing people drive this in a lot of different ways. The amenity element of this, the smart home is certainly something that you can do on a room-by-room basis. It might be upgraded during a room turn, if it's a retrofit. It might be an opt-in scenario based on, you offer it as a amenity upgrade and a resident might choose to go ahead and add the that on. So fro that side of it, the smart home amenity piece definitely on a room turn. If you're trying to drive core business practices like automating your morning check-in you would really want to try to standardize that across an acuity setting or like a hallway or something like that. So that you're not trying to mix and match based on who has smart home capabilities versus who doesn't.

Keith Stewart 

And we've even seen scenarios where they've put in the basics where they've got an edge device, like a control box, and maybe some motion sensors where they're able to do things like morning check-in and trend analysis in the room, but they're not really investing into the rest of smart home by adding smart fans and blinds and thermostats and all the other things that you could potentially go for. But there's really a lot of different possibilities there. And something that we're very accustomed to having conversations and driving based on need and budget.

Amber Bardon 16:12

Yeah. That's good to know, because I have a feeling for a community who is just starting down this path, it may feel a little bit daunting or overwhelming with so much that's out there and available. So given that, can you tell us where would a community start if they're interested in implementing smart home technology, what should they know? What are the key factors they should consider and how should they go about planning?

Keith Stewart 16:34

Well, honestly, just for the point that you just raised, there are so many options and, my number one advice that I give to anyone is just get started. This is the type of thing that will continue to run away from you if you just wait. Each year everything's getting faster. There's more device that are coming out all the time. Just get started. Just start to try it and have your own experiences with it. I would also say that you want to work with partners that have experienced in the space. There are so many different strategies that you can take, and certainly there are some better than others. I would also say don't try to do everything in the first go. The famous adage that Rome wasn't built in a day really applies here.

Keith Stewart 17:55

It's about just kind of tiptoeing in, getting some use cases going, understanding it. But when you get started, you need to have a longer term time horizon for what you're thinking about. So I'm starting today, I want to  get going, but I want to think about where do I want to be in two years and in five years. And that's not to say that anyone's going to be able to predict what technology will look like in five years, it’s just knowing that technology is gonna keep evolving, so get started now and think about that five year plan. The one thing that you know, is that you probably are gonna need very good internet. You're going to need enterprise, wifi, and you need to have a strategy that can scale. You need to have a, you that is extensible and, you know, just know that it's gonna grow with you over time.


Amber Bardon 18:13

That was one of the points I was going to bring up is I know from working with K4 on some projects and other systems that having that WIFI that's really comprehensive is really a key base of anything that you want to do around smart home technology or other artificial intelligence type telehealth systems. What else would you say are the key findings that you've had as takeaways from your implementations that make an implementation really successful?

Keith Stewart 18:42

Sure. Well, I mean, great point spot on can't under underline that point enough. Very good WIFI is always at the the root of all of this. But when you think about this, this is business transformation. And like anything with business transformation, you certainly need a champion for that program, so somebody in that community needs to really wake up in the morning and feel ownership of that. They need to be part of that transformation. But equally you need the residents on side as well. So if you think about the concept of a resident champion. I could go to the residents all day every day and just tell them how great this is, and they'll listen to me, but they'll certainly be a healthy measure of skepticism in that. But if their peers are starting to adopt it, if they're the ones talking about it, you start to build a little bit of that, keeping up with the Joneses, and there's more trust. There's more believability. They see themselves and their peers in the hallways, and maybe go over to their room and see that when they get up the lights come on or they're adjusting the thermostat with their voice. It just starts to grow in and of itself. And then the other thing is you need to expect that this is going to  continue to grow. And so whatever strategy you have just think about that continuous improvement element of that. 

Amber Bardon 

This is so much great information. I am so excited to we're here to share this with us today. Is there anything else that our listeners should know?

Keith Stewart 20:16

Yeah. I mean, I think it's all within the points that I was just saying, but, there's really no way that any of us could understand what the next big thing will be. The advice that I would give to anybody is whatever solution you pursue, whatever area that you try to get started on, think about your strategy with ease of integrating and ease of extending that solution. The other thing that we always say is that the Internet's not a passing fad, the Internet's here to stay. What's happening with the internet internet is just about making that investment and good WIFI. And then ultimately it's about just getting started. You need to get started. And where you begin is really up to you because you're going to be that much further on in a year than you would've otherwise.

Amber Bardon 

Thank you so much for your time today, Keith, and for coming on the show.

Keith Stewart 

Absolutely. It's my pleasure. And look forward to being on again at some point

Amber Bardon 

Listeners, thank you for tuning in to this month's Raising Tech episode, and we will see you next month with more fresh technology insights. Thank you for listening.