Q&A with Yvonne Castle, Johnnie Johnson HA

Astraline is part of Johnnie Johnson housing, tell us a bit about what it does for tenants and how?

Astraline is part of Johnnie Johnson Housing (JJH) – a housing association dedicated to offering quality home for independent living. Astraline was launched in 2000 to provide customer-led, flexible safety services through its national call-monitoring centre.  Our vision is to be a leading specialist provider of caring, responsive and reliable services, providing reassurance to individuals, families and organisations, in order to help people maintain their independence by ‘living longer, living better’. 

We have a range of customers providing services to the customers of other Housing Associations as well as our own JJH tenants.  Essentially, we provide peace of mind – a bespoke package to suit all needs, and we’re there at the end of an emergency call should someone need us.  We then call the family, or friends, or the emergency services – whatever is required in order to help our customers when they need us most.

There’s a range of products to suit differing needs, which can be fixed into the homes, or can be mobile solutions like phones or watches.  With our GPS products we can help wherever the location of any customer – out shopping, or walking or just in the garden.  With web based products family members or carers get alerts if there is unusual activity – for example going out of the house in the middle of the night, or wandering a significant distance.

Roll forward 10 years, how do you see technology enabled care developing? Will SMART technology play a part?

SMART technology is already playing a significant part in our service offering to our customers and clients through phones and watches.  Our technology platform (UMO – a Verklizan product) is compatible with any product on the market place and we are currently working with a customer who wears an Apple Watch.  We monitor patterns of health linked to an app for Epilepsy.

Rolling forward 10 years – it’s hard to imagine in all honesty – but I think robotics will play a huge part as they become more mainstream in our way of life.  They will be useful in a range of different ways. We see the physical robot to support interaction – for example in combatting isolation issues and helping mental stimulation, and in help with tasks like physically lifting and cleaning.   There will be robots to meet all price points and device and service costs will come down as organisations scale.  New entrants will come up with new ways of delivering services.  Through our JJ road map we are already preparing to integrate new products and services more rapidly.

Voice activation is a growing market too – the Alexa is mainstream.  We see that voice recognition objects will provide information, book appointments, give reminders, read emails, send messages.  These could replace Apps.

Headless Interfaces / ChatBots are also starting to become a ‘standard’ feature in providing speedy and efficient customer service, although with the pace of change, I’m sure there will be something else in 10 years that will have overtaken this approach.

I also think Telehealth will be mainstream.  This should lead to a more educated and aware customer, self helping, reducing the cost of care on the NHS.

SMART technology in the home will be standard – everything controlled, not necessarily from a mobile phone, but through voice technology, and this should reduce the cost of living for customers.

The Internet of Things is driving an evolution in software and the use of data in the home, and will enable us to better manage our homes, reduce our carbon footprint and manage and maintain our utilities and assets through remote monitoring and repair ‘over the air’ new service models will evolve and organisations will need to review and adapt.

People will be accessing their own data and using it to self manage and challenge organisations about their services.  This will drive improvements in how we deliver services, and this may lead to a ‘bring your own device approach’ (BYOD) in the workplace given that our own devices will control the types of things above, including recording fitness.

A mortgage free/ high net worth demographic will continue to downsize into private retirement and independent living villages where they can be among peers in high end properties with aspirational lifestyle services on site. We are providing monitoring  services into these spaces with a greater focus on those communal sports and recreation services than in our traditional retirement living.
Our biggest challenge now is how we balance a costly face-to-face service which our customers say is essential (and valued) with helping our customers to move to a digital platform.  In 10 years time all our customers are likely to be using a range of technologies – feeling confident with whatever products are out there.

From a work perspective how will our millennials / young people influence what we do at work, and how we use tech for service provision. A challenge to take into consideration is a political one – the two tier provision increasingly based on ability to pay.  Does that mean that some people have/can use tech, others can’t afford?

I definitely see that in 10 years time data sharing and health, housing, public, private, charity business can all work together easily providing a joined up service for all – having one view of the customer, in real time.


What will this mean for the tenant?

It puts the tenant in the driving seat. I see technology as the way of being accessible, 24/7/365.  However, I do see face-to-face and telephone interactivity reducing significantly – this will be acceptable to the customer of the future, but not now. It should also mean a better service – instant access to answers and solutions – an ‘always-on’ remedy to hand. The customer would be in control of their actions – taking responsibility for their own care and choice of how they did this.


How do you see technology further advancing in the care market to do more than just keep people safe? For example in the areas of fitness & health.

The Fitbit is mainstream and has led to significant increase in self awareness and knowledge of individual health and behaviours.  This leads the way for telehealth to also be mainstream. Robotics will support the care market and helping people to remain independent in their own homes.  It will help customers physically and mentally.


What role will the social care system have as smart or other technology helps in assisting people into their retirement?

We would want the social care system to be innovators in the field, understanding and providing access to the latest technology to support customer care, health and wellbeing.  We want people to be able to stay in their own homes as long as they want.  This is the Astraline and JJH vision.

We would want partners to work together and make it easy for the customer to get information and in commissioning support, making services accessible.

Currently there is a crisis – and the question of “who pays for social care” is a huge one.  It is one that is likely not to be completely solved within 10 years given governments have a short term view, and a short life span in politics.  This makes long term strategic, sustainable policies and directives, difficult to make.

Technology can help – it helps education and understanding leading to self-control.  It helps drive down costs for businesses.  It can help care, health and wellbeing be accessible to all.  It can also improve the quality of services and interaction with others.   However, in itself, it is not the only solution to the ageing population and helping people remain independent – it’s just the start.