Smart homes: digital revolution is turning homes into data hubs

Using software and online services to run commercial properties is fast becoming the norm and modern office buildings have become machine-like in their complexity, with commercial facilities managers using software and data analysis to run them. In this instalment of the Future of Housing guest blog series, Nigel Walley, Founder & MD of Chimni, considers how this behaviour is likely to extend beyond the commercial world and become as standard in residential smart homes too as our homes become more connected in the Smart City Revolution.

Which isn’t to say that we’re not already using more and more apps at home. To date, this has mainly been part of ‘Smart Homes’ and ‘Internet of Things’ experimentation. But the potential for software and digital services to support our smart home life and management of our properties is now much greater. Every time we encounter an organisation running a home, it is going through its own digital revolution. From estate agents and utilities, through to local authorities, they all want a digital relationship with us, their customers, and for us to use their websites and apps as the primary means of customer interaction.

Recently, in a consumer research session for Chimni, we encountered a man with 17 apps on his phone that were somehow related to his home. These included multiple utility apps, local authority services, his insurance and mortgage company apps and apps for a host of smart devices. Having recently bought his house, he also had estate agent, conveyancer and house move apps. He made the point in the research group that, as an early adopter of tech, he was willing to play around like this, but it wasn’t a long-term solution to how he expected to manage his home.

We are still in the pioneering early phases of this smart homes digital revolution, so this kind of ‘app chaos’ is to be expected. But this can’t be the long-term solution. This digital revolution has seen an initial explosion of apps and services, we can now expect a period of rationalisation and tidy up. Chimni intends to part of this process.

There are still some difficult issues to resolve around who owns the data produced in the new digital services around our homes. There is still an assumption among many service providers that this is their data. Services like Hive and Google Nest extract data from their connected devices and only make it available sparingly to householders. Very slowly regulation and legislation are giving power to individuals to control their personal data, but we have yet to see the equivalent regulatory focus on the data produced by assets like our smart homes. This will have to change to support homeowners.

Chimni believes that any data produced about our homes, for our homes or by our homes (in the case of IoT services and devices) should be the property of the householder, not the service provider. The Chimni initiative is an attempt to give householders the tools to take control of that data and turn it into a valuable asset. We envisage a time when a homeowner will hand over data logs and passwords when they move on in the same way that we currently handover physical keys and alarm codes.

The final challenge is to establish the role of the smart homes in this emerging vision for smart, connected cities. Chimni believes that the home is the basic building block of the smart city (or at least the smart suburb) and as homeowners, we should look to contribute data and insight into the wider city intelligence being created. So, once we have established control of the data produced about, for and by our homes, we will then be encouraged to share it, on our own terms, for mutual civic benefit. This will require our homes to connect intelligently to utilities and other networked services, and also to the systems that will need to be put in place by local authorities. However, councils are currently struggling with legacy IT systems and budget constraints, so the private sector is going to have to step in and support them.

Chimni is intending to provide the bridge between the intelligent home and the smart city. Interaction between the home, local authorities and utilities will be a key element of the data services we are looking to provide.

Nigel Walley is Founder and Managing Director of Chimni. You can follow Nigel on Twitter here @ChimniWalley.

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Our Future of Housing blog series is intended as a platform for open debate. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Connected Places Catapult.