In this Q&A interview, Emma Mahy, chief executive of IoT Solutions Group, discusses how IoT has the potential to improve resident wellbeing and revolutionise the social care sector
What is your career background prior to co-founding IoTSG?
I first started out by working for a comms business in London that was responsible for installing and maintaining Reuters’ newsfeeds and commercial satellite systems. I worked there for eight years, during which time I headed up a team of 35 engineers, before I fell, almost by accident, into working for third sector charities like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution [RNLI]. This role chiefly involved contributing to major donor fundraising, creating and running bespoke events, and strengthening professional relationships with charity donors. After this, I moved onto work for Wireless Network Developments [WND], where I was project manager for the company’s rollout of the Sigfox Networka low-power solution for connecting IoT-enabled sensors and devices – across the UK. It was also here that I met Neal Forse, our CTO and my fellow co-founder of IoTSG.
Why IoT? What made you consider pursuing this as a business venture?
My time spent working at WND really helped me to reconnect with my tech roots. While there, I spent much time talking to potential end-users about how they could get better data insights from IoT-powered solutions, and it became clear that they didn’t feel that they had anywhere to go to have their needs met. Once I’d identified the level of demand, I knew that there was scope to pursue IoT as a viable business venture.
How has IoT grown in recent years?
On a global scale, IoT has grown rapidly in recent years, with around 31 billion new IoT devices thought to have been installed during 2020, and it estimated that the total global worth of IoT technology will be in excess of $6.2 trillion by 2025. In the UK, however, growth has comparatively been much slower, and this is largely because there is no ubiquitous network across the nation. However, things are being done to plug the gaps in the network, but it is fair to say that IoT is growing much quicker in some areas of the world than in the UK. The problem is that organisations often do not have the confidence that the technology is secure and can’t be hacked, and it must also make sense to them from an affordability perspective.
How did you first realise that IoT had the potential to address some of the key problems affecting local councils?
While at WND, I regularly spoke to contacts within local government and from housing associations, and through these conversations I realised that there was a need for IoT driven solutions that could help address some of the key problems in a range of areas, including the adult social care sector. Neal and I attended a Sigfox conference in Miami, and this was a real turning point for us because it was here that we recognised that there was a real gap in the market that would make our vision worth pursuing.
Who in the social care sector did you talk to in order to found out more about the issues they were facing, and how are the concerns that they raised addressed by your products?
We started off by speaking to lead social workers acting on behalf of Sutton Council, and have been working alongside key contacts there for approximately three and a half years now. Discussions throughout this time have been focused around how we can utilise IoT to provide better, smarter and cheaper solutions for the local authority. When coronavirus hit, the borough suffered huge problems as a result, and it is still feeling the effects of the pandemic now. We knew that we had the product design capability to aid the social care crisis, and that we could deliver our solutions in a socially distanced way – we just needed to give decision makers the confidence that we were installing something into homes that genuinely would work and improve the lives of vulnerable people living locally.
In simple terms, how does the solution work?
Simply put, the solution is designed to report on human activity by unobtrusively monitoring environmental conditions, which it does by collecting atmospheric data. The more social care teams that we work with, the stronger our data becomes. We work closely with housing partnerships as well as Independent Living Officers [ILOs]. This means we are constantly learning about the specific requirements involved with caring for elderly people and those with learning difficulties, which allows us to improve the level of monitoring that we are able to provide.
How is it beneficial to both care providers and those who rely on care services?
For care providers, the solution delivers data on a resident’s level of activity, and can alert them when a significant change occurs, allowing more urgent action to be taken than would otherwise be possible. It can even notify carers if a property is too cold for the resident, thereby helping to address the UK’s fuel poverty epidemic, which claims the lives of 9,700 people on average each year. In terms of those who rely on care services, the solution doesn’t require any interaction from them, meaning they can continue to live independently without any unnecessary intrusions into their privacy. The solution is also particularly beneficial to patients who have recently left hospital, because it helps them to make a strong recovery at home, by encouraging independence, but also to be safely monitored from a distance.
Why do you believe that some people who benefit from social care services are hesitant about using IoT solutions and what do you to help to allay their concerns?
The reason why so many people are hesitant about using IoT solutions is simply that those who rely on social care services are often elderly and may not use modern technology on a regular basis. When you mention the term ‘IoT’, people tend to think of such technologies as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, and therefore assume that our devices are going to be ‘spying’ on them. People need to have the confidence to learn about tech and to understand that these solutions are designed to provide them with a greater level of protection from a monitoring standpoint, without intruding unnecessarily on their privacy, What’s more, our devices require no power, broadband internet or WiFi connection, meaning no technical input from the user is required in order to function.
What are you key priorities as a business moving forward?
Looking ahead, our principal focus is on growth and spreading the word to more and more councils and social housing providers about the benefits that our solutions could bring to them. The trials that we have already undertaken with the likes of Sutton Council have proven how effective the tech is, so the task now is to deploy on a wider scale so that we can help prevent more hospitalisations and deaths from occurring. In order to achieve this goal, we will need to expand our team, and that’ll include sales and marketing right through to our software/hardware engineers. We have a great team already, and we all share the same vision and belief in the quality of our product, so together I have every confidence that we can fulfil the potential of IoT.
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