Q&A with the programme manager of one of the largest IoT platforms in the UK
Hitachi Solutions have collaborated with Microsoft and South London Partnership (SLP) to create one of the largest IoT platforms in the UK. SLP is a cross-political party sub-regional collaboration of five London boroughs: Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Richmond upon Thames and Sutton. We sat down with Andrew Parsons, the programme manager of the InnOvaTe project, to find out a bit more, explore the project’s early successes and get an understanding of how it can be replicated across other councils in the UK.
What is the InnOvaTe project?
The InnOvaTe project was awarded £4 million over 3.5 years to invest across 5 south London boroughs to ‘pilot and research’ ways to generate economic growth, support local businesses and help people live better, healthier lives and assist with addressing the climate emergency. There are 42 live trails delivering real-world solutions to real-world problems. Having implemented almost 3000 IoT sensors across the five boroughs, which collectively are home to over 1 million citizens, these figures have led to the project being named one of the largest IoT platforms in the UK.
The objectives were initially ‘to promote and verify if sensor technology can help assist councils in a more efficient manner’. However, the aims and objectives of the project have been exceeded, at the time of writing 4 lives have been saved as a result of the sensors.
What do you think makes this project different?
The key thing is the project did not focus on any form of tech, unlike most funded projects in Local Government. It was approached the opposite way. We identified what problems the boroughs were facing and then worked out how these can be solved with the use of technology. From this, we ran a tender to find a suitable vendor and product which would best address the issues we had and how to tackle them, as well as considering the best value for money and time efficiency.
The key thing is the project did not focus on any form of tech, unlike most funded projects in Local Government. It was approached the opposite way.Andrew Parsons
Can you name some of the key early successes?
To date 4 lives have been saved, all of which can be directly attributed to the sensors. One story includes Maureen, who had fallen in her home. The sensors detected a lack of movement and alerted the appropriate carers and authorities who were able to check on Maureen. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been found until a scheduled visit a week later, you can find out more about Maureen’s story here.
A further example would be, as a result of running some of the trials, the data obtained has highlighted suppliers may not be fulfilling their duties and obligations. For example, authorities monitoring properties have demonstrated that contractors have not emptied the properties when scheduled to do so. Another example is that of gully cleaning, the contractors historically are trusted to have gone away, stated when they have worked and note any issues. Instead, the Highways team can now independently log on to the IoT Dashboard and verify that X volume of liquid was removed on the date stated and at the time referenced. If there is a discrepancy i.e., the gully may not have been cleaned or the results are not as expected then further conversations can be had with the data providing a factually neutral insight into the situation.
Actions have been taken to protect citizens with the use of supporting data. The temperature data from inside the vulnerable resident’s homes obtained as a by-product of detecting signs of life showed that pre-April 2022, 30% of vulnerable residents were likely to be experiencing fuel poverty. This has led to discussions on how to assist before reaching autumn when this figure will increase based on the recent double in fuel costs. We hope by autumn there will be the appropriate support in place to assist those in need. This has been identified using the data analysis and visual dashboards that Hitachi Solutions created.
Another success is the reduction in expenditure on resources. We are now able to help officers reduce unnecessary travel. Environmental sensors can identify those areas which are at risk of flooding, through cross-referencing data from weather sources and other third-party data, determining how much rain over a period of time will cause flooding in gullies or rivers. This allows officers to only travel to the areas in need. Whereas previously in torrential rain, officers would have had to drive around the whole borough to look for potential risk areas which can now be done using the dashboard to assess the situation.
The biggest surprise of all is how varied and disconnected the country is in how it approaches IoT. There are several Authorities across the UK now considering or having deployed IoT sensors. However, the majority are doing this on a standalone basis
What has been the most surprising thing you have found so far?
The data collected from the sensors can identify changes in behaviour in social care settings, leading to informed discussions. One example includes a resident’s behaviour that had changed, we tried to narrow it down through the data and we were able to work out that the resident had stopped cooking or having any hot drinks! All without the intrusion of being in their home and observing them around the clock.
The biggest surprise of all is how varied and disconnected the country is in how it approaches IoT. There are several Authorities across the UK now considering or having deployed IoT sensors. However, the majority are doing this on a standalone basis with no consideration for the benefits of collaborative working with their adjacent boroughs. For example, air quality, traffic and fly-tipping will often occur across boundaries and by working together they can see the bigger picture and therefore work together in a way that wouldn’t be possible if they work in silos. One of the things the SLP IoT Data platform creation has facilitated is the natural home for this type of data to be housed and therefore multiple teams across many boroughs can work together to fully understand the problems and opportunities and progress together.
Would you say the project has been well received by Councillors?
In general, Councillors are very positive regarding the programme, particularly as we have taken significant cautions to ensure ethical boundaries are secure. In some instances, Councillors are supporting department heads with budget discussions such as the desire to retain the inflow of data going forward. In summary, I think the best comment which has been heard a few times is as follows: “I don’t know what I would do without this data now” demonstrating the true value derived from the findings of the project.
Where do you see the project going from here?
The next focus of the project is moving from just highlighting trends and points of interest relating to account-based outcomes. For example, automatic notifications will be stimulated from the data, rather than individuals having to analyse the data, it will provide notifications of the action required. It would move from a visualisation platform to a visualisation and action platform.
We also want to expand the number of boroughs involved and the number of visualisations and datasets flowing into the platform. Ultimately, the more data we have on board the better the findings will be for all parties. For example, we are working with one global insurance partner who is keen to share their flooding insights which is another piece of data that when combined with our sensor data, river level monitoring could be very insightful. Further, we are going to look further into the adult social care and lifeline data as if we could combine more data sources it could really bring about positive change and more efficient spending and outcomes.