Inside Kisco’s Rollout of Alexa-Enabled Smart Home Technology

Kisco Senior Living is bringing voice-enabled smart home technology to its communities, in a bid to gain operational and financial efficiencies while enhancing resident and family satisfaction.

Carlsbad, California-based Kisco joins a few other senior living providers that are implementing smart home technology and introducing Amazon Echo devices into units — and the trend is gaining momentum.

Kisco is making the move through the K4Connect platform, which is able to sync up with Amazon Echo. Linking up these systems allows residents to control elements such as temperature and lighting, as well as sign up for activities and get information such as the day’s menus, simply by asking Alexa.

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As of last December, the tech was in place for all 165 independent living units at The Cardinal at North Hills, a continuing care retirement community in Raleigh, North Carolina. Kisco plans to gradually introduce the tech throughout its 20 properties, CEO Andy Kohlberg said on the latest episode of Senior Housing News’ Transform podcast, sponsored by PointClickCare.

Highlights of that interview are below, edited for length and clarity. Subscribe to Transform via Apple PodcastsSoundCloud, or Google Play to hear the complete episode.

You’re implementing smart tech via the K4Connect platform and Amazon Echo devices. Can you describe the decision to use these products and what the implementation approach is?

Platform is certainly the right word to describe what we were looking for in a partner, because [the K4] model is really to be an open platform with a lot of third-party applications and devices to plug in and bolt on. So, they want to be an integrator rather than a closed platform, and that was very important to us.

So, it’s a multi-faceted and multi-phased approach. There’s a different approach for our more independent living-oriented customers who are more active and potentially driving versus our assisted living and memory care. We’re rolling it out with a little different approach at those communities.

But in terms of the home automation platform, it has the ability to monitor lights, the heating and air, even your television, and then there’s a whole lot of add-on devices you can enhance the product with, whether it’s a sensor under the bed or lots of add-on products coming down the road that haven’t even been built yet. The home automation part of it is basically, at the moment, it can do curtains and blinds and things like that. But the  attraction for us is that it can scale for residents who need more help or have higher acuity needs.

With this latest launch, all of it is voice-enabled through Alexa. K4 provides the overlay platform and the customization for the Alexa voice-enabled platform.

Might there eventually be predictive analytics, where the technology learns the habits of the resident, and if there’s a change — the resident hasn’t haven’t turned on the TV — it alerts a caregiver?

Yes. The larger AI you talked about is probably down the road, but the latter example you gave, of what we call the resident check-in process, that can be automated.

So, if a resident hasn’t used any of the devices and checked in, that can alert the staff at the front desk to check on the resident. And if they do use any of the K4 devices in the morning, that’ll alert somebody that they have kind of checked in. So, that is a basic capability right now. I think down the road, some of the artificial intelligence and learning will be part of it, I hope.

How do you measure the return on investment for a system like this?

I think it was one fo the more challenging parts of it, because some of the benefits are much more measurable in terms of ROI, and some of it is a lot fuzzier. The home automation for the residents and their ease of use, whether it’s the ability to not have to call the front desk and [instead] just talk to the Alexa device, their ease of changing the thermostat, the ability to connect with their family — it’s hard to measure an ROI on that. But it does save our staff some time and create some efficiencies.

What’s more measurable is reduction in energy — savings when a resident goes on vacation for two weeks, we can make sure their temperature doesn’t get out of control. And some other things. We can make recommendations as to temperature. The residents can override it, but there are a lot of opportunities to reduce energy in cooperation with the resident. That’s an easier type of ROI to figure out and calculate.

How often are residents utilizing the smart home technology?

At the Cardinal, where this was launched … well more than 50% of our residents are using it on a daily or three to four times a week basis for a number of elements.

Signing up for programs, viewing dining menus, and the resident directory are the three most important things. And that’s prior to the voice enabled launch. We think the voice enabled will increase significantly the number of applications a resident might use.

We still haven’t fully enabled it with family members. Ultimately, the vision is for the family member to be on the same device and password as their parent or loved one in the community, and see what programs their loved one has signed up for, and what’s for dinner, and transportation opportunities or programs or other things. One of our hopes is that the family members become much more engaged through the interaction with K4.

How did you take this from a pilot to a larger rollout?

The first pilot … was in late 2015. It was really only with four residents, and it was the first pilot that they had done. We then conducted a much larger pilot as we opened the Cardinal at North Hills in Raleigh, and then have slowly, in phases, tried to roll it out to the communities. We’ve kind of put a stop because we’re waiting for the voice enabled feature to be fully implemented before we roll out at the remainder of the communities.

I think we learned a lot in the  process, as did K4. There’s a distinct difference in the features and usage of the product for a resident who is much more active in independent living and driving, versus a resident who’s needing a lot of care in assisted living or memory care. So, we’re working on a different implementation for those residents. So, we’ve taken a little pause for those two reasons. Waiting for the Alexa, and then we’ve learned that doing implementation for the different customers is a better way to go than to do one [general implementation].

What are some challenges you’ve encountered?

There are lots. As you can imagine, any new platform is a challenge, and then overlay  the fact that you have seniors/residents with a wide variety of interests and skills in technology and whose acuity levels change over time. We’ve been surprised and impressed. You’ve got people all the way from senior techies to people who don’t have phones … there’s a wide variety of skill sets … It always takes longer and is harder than you think in just getting the technology to work and then getting people educated on how to use it.

To hear the complete interview, click below, and subscribe to Transform via Apple PodcastsSoundCloud, or Google Play.

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