Using the Internet of Things and legacy CCTV to transform housing management
When the Connected Homes Consortium began to investigate how the Internet of Things could help housing providers, they discovered a ready-made solution for a key technology used in housing – CCTV. Excited by the possibilities, they established a trial with one of Kent’s largest housing associations, mhs homes, and technology provider Cloudview. The six-month trial identified a range of benefits, some of which neither provider nor user expected, and mhs homes has now rolled out the solution to additional properties in its portfolio.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of the housing sector. In early 2015 HACT brought together a group of housing providers to form the Connected Homes Consortium (CHC) to investigate these opportunities and help housing providers take advantage of them. One of the technologies they looked at was an IoT CCTV system from Cloudview.
CCTV is widely used across the housing sector to help safeguard properties. For many years it has been something of a Cinderella technology, with limited development by manufacturers because users appeared contented with their existing solutions. However, the majority of systems record data onto an onsite DVR, so a site visit is needed to view and download footage, or to check that the cameras are working properly.
“We were excited that Cloudview had an IoT CCTV product which was ready to use, which is unusual in the housing sector – most technologies need to be adapted to meet our needs,” explained Jay Saggar from CHC. “This meant housing associations could immediately see what it was like to have their assets connected to their network and to access live video remotely. Also, because it could be retrofitted to existing cameras, it would be relatively cheap to deploy.
“We were keen to try it out so we could provide an honest assessment for our members. Until you’ve tried out something in a real situation, it’s impossible to predict exactly what the benefits might be. A live test would show whether what it offered was useful and would also provide feedback to help Cloudview improve the product.”Accessing CCTV footage was slow and labour intensive
CHC member mhs homes volunteered for the trial, as it was keen to try out the latest technology. It is the largest independent landlord in Kent, owning and managing more than 8,500 homes. Operations Director Gary Clark suggested its Saxon Shore site in Gillingham and discussed the project with the team responsible for managing the property.
“We’ve historically put in CCTV when there’s been an anti-social behaviour issue, and we also use it in all our sheltered housing schemes and high-rise blocks,” explained Matthew Eddy, Neighbourhood Services Manager at mhs homes. His team are responsible for housing management, which covers everything from visiting customers in their homes, cleaning and maintenance to anti-social behaviour and breaches of contract.
“At some locations we had cameras linked up so that we could see them from the office, but the system was slow and cumbersome. If something happened, we had to look back through all the footage to find it, so we were unlikely to do that unless we had a specific time for an incident. At Saxon Shore, you couldn’t even look at the footage remotely – you had to go on site and sit in a cupboard with the video monitor!”
“We sometimes found that when there had been an incident, the relevant camera was down. And even if the cameras were connected to our office, each one had to be tested individually to see if it was working. With 20 sites and 12-14 cameras on each site, that takes a long time.”
Mark Merriman, Electrical Contracts Manager at mhs homes, was also part of the initial discussions and was on site for the installation.
“When Gary suggested the project, I thought why not give it a go?” he said. “We chose Saxon Shore because it’s fairly new and it was relatively easy to get a broadband line installed. We’d also had a couple of incidents there, such as a stolen bike, where it could have been helpful.”
Storing video in the cloud provides immediate secure access
The Cloudview system provides secure, cloud-based video surveillance by means of a network adapter which can be retro-fitted to existing analogue or digital CCTV cameras. It only records when there is movement and uses broadband or Wi-Fi to store footage in the cloud. This can then be viewed by authorised users from multiple locations on their smartphone, tablet or PC, and downloaded to provide evidence to the police if required. Security is provided through HTTPS/TLS and public key encryption and all footage is accurately stamped with date and time. The system provides an automatic alert when there is a problem with a camera – eliminating the problem of visiting a site to obtain footage only to discover that a camera is not working.
Mark initially had mixed views about the system’s potential. However, this has changed now that he has used it. He can look up footage on his mobile phone or his tablet at any time and quickly check what has happened on site.
“This will make it a lot easier if we have to provide video to the police,” he explained. “I won’t have to arrange for the subcontractor to go on site, retrieve the footage and put it onto a memory stick – an authorised member of our team can do it from our office or wherever they are in a few minutes, so it will save time and money.”
Mark has also used the system to assist in working with subcontractors, from downloading a photo to show the subcontractor the exact location of a lighting change to checking that that repairs had been completed.
“I love it and would like to see it across our entire portfolio, particularly the tower blocks,” says Mark. “It makes things so much easier, as anyone with authorisation can check the footage.”
Adding value and keeping residents safe
For Matthew Eddy, the key advantage has been ease of use, but he too has gained unexpected insights which will benefit residents. As well as getting an immediate alert if a camera is down, he was able to see that some cameras were in the wrong places.
“For example, we realised that the footage from one camera was not viewable at night because a nearby light was in the wrong place” he explained. “We’ve now moved the light so we have clear images at all times. This give us and our residents the reassurance that, should anything happen, we’ll have captured it on video.”
Matthew describes the Cloudview system as something that adds value, rather than the current system which is not always reliable. He is now talking to Cloudview about expanding the system to more sites. In particular, he is looking at installing it in four large tower blocks.
“All the equipment is currently in the lift monitor space in the roof, so if we need any footage, we have to use a specialist contractor to visit the site, climb down a ladder, burn a CD and deliver it to our offices. It would be so much cheaper and save so much time if we used the Cloudview system.”
mhs homes is confident that Cloudview’s innovative technology will bring numerous benefits to the business and to its customers. It has already identified additional applications, depending on camera coverage, such as providing evidence of serious anti-social behaviour, damage, fly tipping and graffiti; enabling staff to check maintenance of communal areas; and as a reference for attendance by contractors whose services are required for safety compliance (e.g. fire, lift maintenance, electrical and gas checks, legionella testing). Staff in the mhs homes contact centre can even use the Cloudview technology to check on urgent communal repairs reported by residents while those residents are on the phone, and a video grab can be sent instantly to the relevant contractor to increase the likelihood of a fix first time round.