Digital Health could be the Killer App for Home Automation

Home automation has been one of the darlings of Internet of Things (IoT) prognosticators.  Some analysts predict that Home Automation will be a $21B market by 2020 growing at almost 30% CAGR.  Other analysts are then tracking that projected growth and finding it wanting. Based on my admittedly unscientific research I would argue that Home Automation is still the next technology wave that never hits shore.  But I believe that there is a change coming to Home Automation that may help the Home Automation advocates hit make their numbers even if they haven’t considered the application yet.

I lived the Home Automation adoption problem at Honeywell in the late 1990’s.  I was part of a corporate “vision” team that was assigned to iterate the Honeywell Total Home™ platform to include and take advantage of the rapid adoption of the Internet that was driving the Dot Com craze.  We spent a lot of time studying broadband adoption, the battle between the phone companies and cable companies was just beginning, in part because we did not want to design around dial-up and in part because many of our application ideas required the 24/7 connectivity only broadband offered at the time. Even though the Internet was new to consumers, our backgrounds in controls and monitoring systems gave us a lot of ideas on how continuous access to the home could create new value propositions.

Two key words in that summary of our mission: adoption and new.  We were creating new value propositions because the existing applications -- energy savings, convenience, and security -- were not driving adequate growth.  We were studying broadband adoption because if we did create compelling new applications our market adoption was going to be dependent on the broadband adoption. We were dependent on one to create the other.

Well, we were wrong.  We weren’t wrong about broadband.  There is no question that broadband Internet connectivity is now nearly as common place as power and water in US homes.  On top of broadband Internet access Home Automation purveyors have also been blessed with the near complete consumer adoption of mobile technology that gives users anywhere access to any alerts and reports.  Fortunately we hadn’t seen iPhones yet in 1999 otherwise we would have at least doubled our revenue promises for our wonderful new applications. But we were wrong about the new applications driving Home Automation adoption because I have seen every one of the new applications we envisioned and many more come to life. Many are even available in big box retail.  But still home automation is not a technology platform wowing consumers. What gives?

Home Automation as the technology platform it wants to be needs a killer app.  Killer app demand helps consumers accept complexity and encourages suppliers to improve things to accelerate the sales.  The killer app for home automation is digital health.  Digital health market projections are ten times those of Home Automation.  Investments and adoption are already beginning to eclipse the attention of home applications of the IoT. The silver lining in this fact is that healthcare is going home.

Accountable care, health and fitness brands, and patient as payer (consumer) trends are all bringing health care home.  As much as 85% of all health care dollars are spent on post-diagnostic chronic care and those patients spend at least half of every day in their homes.  The other half of the day, by the way, they will spend with their mobile phones with full access to health data, providers, and supporters.  So if outcome based healthcare is going help patients manage their care better -- improve outcomes and reduce costs -- that care will have to integrate with the patients’ life at home.  Adult children will pay for home-based sensing and control systems if those systems help them care for their parents.  Accountable Care Organizations will pay for integrated solutions that help them communicate with and monitor patients at home rather than in care facilities that they are already beginning to shed.  Health and wellness of family has never been a convenience purchase – it will have demand.

So home automation advocates need to get ready for the world of digital health.  They need to learn about HIPAA and PHI. Study the co-morbidities and monitoring of the big five –heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Find medical device partners and make sure integration at home with those devices works – seamlessly.  Prepare for both passive and active monitoring because when you can handle PHI the doctor will make home visits – through your systems.  And wake up to the forgotten demographic home automation – the over 65 crowd who will be aging in place and cared for by their adult children – all of whom own a smart phone by the way.

I am not what anyone would call a buyer of convenience, but I do expect to buy a home automation system someday soon.  Most likely for my mom.