Can standards help us to lead our lives?

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Steve Sadler
Head of Technology Strategy, TEC Services Association (TSA)
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Within the TAPPI project (Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation) we have been running workshops with residents and with housing and service providers. We are aiming to understand where it is valuable to have standards for some of the services, technology and processes that affect our lives. Here are some of the big topics that have arisen from the workshops we have held so far:

Make it Personal, but think Scale

Personalisation is perhaps easier to describe than it is to achieve. We want to make sure that each of us can benefit from the services and technologies that suit our individual lifestyles or needs. However, suppliers of services and technologies often try to create something that can be delivered economically at large scale. This is understandable, as scale usually delivers lower-cost, and if done well and repeatedly it also results in higher quality. And where something is individual, perhaps unique, we are usually asked to pay extra for it!

Maybe this all started with Henry Ford in the 1920s, making huge numbers of the same car, in the same colour, using nut and bolts and many other parts that came in standard shapes and sizes. And Mr. Ford had plenty to say about standards, including:

“Standardization means nothing unless it means standardizing upward.”

In other words, let’s aim for continuous improvement, just as we seek new and better standards in TAPPI to help improve the way we lead our lives.

So, let’s bring this back to our TAPPI workshops. Our housing providers understandably want to keep down the costs, for example by installing a common technology infrastructure for alarm calls, but how does this fit with different people’s needs? I may need something to detect my night-time falls as I venture to the bathroom, but you may want to make video calls with your grandchildren. The list of technology options can get very long, yet we want things to be coordinated, and the best products in each case often come from different suppliers. One of the solutions to this challenge is to require that the technologies work seamlessly together; products from different suppliers need to ‘interoperate’ and share information in a secure way. This requires commitments to standards, just as dear Henry demanded standard nuts and bolts from his suppliers.   

Plan for multiple technologies

Multiple products and technologies emerge from our pursuit of personalisation and choice. Furthermore, when a new product appears in our homes, we want to know that it has been installed well, that it works correctly, but we also need to understand how to use it, without being bamboozled by too much technical detail, and importantly we need to know that it will keep on working. Then, how do we get help when something stops working?

Our housing and service providers worry that lots of different technologies, from different suppliers, create problems in terms of lack of familiarity or training needs for residents and support staff. This can also mean that many maintenance contracts are needed, as suppliers may not be qualified to service and fix different products. Can standards help by promoting the design of products that are easier to install and more intuitive to use? Can standards be applied to the skills and certification of installers and maintenance providers?

Think about digital connectivity

How can we make sure that we all get good ‘digital connectivity’ for our personal devices, in and around our homes? Traditional phone lines are scheduled to disappear in the UK from 2025, to be replaced by ‘digital only’ connections to our homes, and in many cases it has already happened. We may even be asking the question: How can I be sure of making a phone call in an emergency when power failure stops my digital connection from working?

The quality of the digital connection to the home is therefore a good start point for standardisation – does it provide enough data when we need it, and does it work reliably? However, many of our housing developments also include ‘communal areas’, where we can meet friends for lunch, games or perhaps explore what is blossoming in the garden. This raises the question of whether our personal devices, such as tablets, will be able to move easily between these spaces and still connect seamlessly. Then, who is responsible for providing communal WiFi, is the coverage good enough and how easy it is to log-on to different networks?

We also need to remember that many of the modern technologies, including new alarm systems, actually connect over ‘mobile networks’. So, we also need to know that the mobile network coverage is adequate inside our homes, and that it works more widely for when we want to explore the local community but still remain connected and protected.

These are all challenges that can be eased to some degree by standards of various kinds.

Personal data needs to be valued

Increasingly, we rely on digitised services and technology in our daily lives, including entertainment, phone messaging, on-line shopping, bank access, through to the management of healthcare appointments, or even measuring our state of health. It would be infuriating if we needed to set-up and personalise our access to these services, each and every time that we use them. So, we make a deal with the technology and service providers – we trust some of our personal data to them, to make our use of the services easier, and in return we hope that the providers will not abuse our trust.

This implies that some very big companies, often not based in the UK, are using complex technologies (and maybe artificial intelligence) to store and process our data, and perhaps using the information in ways that we haven’t dreamed of. Hopefully all of this aligns with our consent for use. So, in this environment, can we ensure that our data is protected and used only in the ways intended, and that it is safe from hackers? This may require that any personally identifiable information only goes to the trusted service providers that we choose, and that all other data is in some sense ‘anonymised’. Are there adequate standards to ensure that the various digital organisations handle our data in line with our wishes?

Steve Sadler is head of technology strategy at the TEC Services Association (TSA). For the TAPPI project, he is looking at how technology standards can be improved in housing and care.

For more about the TAPPI principles and Phase 2 of the Housing LIN/TSA project, funded by Dunhill Medical Trust, with the TAPPI ‘testbeds’ , visit:


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