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HOW TECHNOLOGY IS HELPING TO REDUCE LONELINESS AMONG THE ELDERLY

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by Phil Marshman, founder and CEO of Sentai

 

In the UK, it is estimated that nearly a third of people aged 65 and over live alone, with 1.4million of those people describing themselves as often, or always, feeling lonely – that’s not even taking into account the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had this year. Two national lockdowns and ongoing social distancing measures have kept those who live alone restricted from the outside world, naturally increasing the already distressing number of people suffering with some form of loneliness.

Indeed, it is expected an additional 600,000 elderly UK residents will also suffer with loneliness by 2025, taking the overall total to over 2 million people. Another concern is the increase of people aged 50 and over falling into that category, showing that more people below the age of 60 are reporting feeling lonely.

Like most problems in today’s world, we often turn to technology to find a solution. Caring and supporting the elderly and vulnerable is no different and there has been a high and ongoing demand to offer people who live independently a product that can bring them companionship to combat loneliness, which in the worse cases can lead to depression, stress and anxiety. Family caregivers have also been calling out for a solution that can offer them peace of mind when they can’t physically be present for their elderly loved ones. The stresses around caring for vulnerable family members can also cause poor metal wellbeing for the caregivers themselves – it’s a double-edged sword.

Thankfully, we are now seeing technology being utilised for this suffering sector. Research shows that every £1 invested into tackling loneliness can save up to £3 in health costs, so it makes sense to be looking into technology that can solve the problem, save costs in the long-term, and reduce pressure on our health services.

Phil Marshman

The recent introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Voice Technology has allowed developers to create agile products that not only assist and support someone who lives alone, but learns from their behaviours to interact in a more personal, meaningful manner.

Take your standard hands-free and voice-controlled smart device, for example. It speaks when spoken to and responds to the user’s commands, which is very useful. Now imagine that device is in the home of someone who lives alone with dementia or another type of memory loss illness. What good is it then? The question then becomes how can we create a two-way conversation where the device is prompting and reminding the user to take their routine medication, for example, or have a videocall with the grandkids. By using a complex algorithm that can learn from its contextual experiences with the user, then loneliness can be significantly reduced among the older population, and even eliminated in some cases.

It is remarkable that 49 per cent of elderly people in the UK state that the TV or their pets offer them their main source of company. Neither can speak back to you and sometimes that is all someone really needs; a meaningful conversation. Pioneering AI and Augmented Voice Technology can offer conversations while helping the user to sustain a healthy and quality lifestyle. Whether it’s talking to someone who lives alone about their day ahead, suggesting they should get some fresh air and exercise with a walk at 2pm, giving them a new recipe to try out, or reminding them their favourite TV programme starts at 5pm, the possibilities are endless and increase the fostering of companionship and even friendship. Furthermore, the device’s warm, friendly voice can be regionalised to suit the user, making them feel even more comfortable and less alone. It may sound unrealistic and too far into the future for a person and a device to interact in this way, but it’s already happening now, and will soon be commonplace in the homes of people across the UK.

While machine learning isn’t revolutionary, using it to reduce loneliness and support caregivers who can’t always be there for their loved ones is. And where does the caregiver fit into this new relationship between their family member and the ever-evolving smart device? Well, products are now available on the market that come equipped with sensors that can monitor the user’s movements, providing text updates on their mobility to relatives and carers, and alerting them in emergencies. Caregivers can even stay connected via a smart app, with daily performance logs and push notifications enabling them to get peace of mind – anxiety and stress is alleviated with this best-in-class independent care.

Although still a fairly new and evolving field of development, technology built to combat loneliness and improve poor mental health will soon be integrated into more typical IOT in the household, allowing it to control other smart devices around the user’s home.

Overall, as more advancements are made in the field of AI in caregiving, we can expect to see more caregiving devices popping up in the homes of people who fall into the 1.4million that feel lonely, and ultimately, that can only be a good thing.

 

Phil Marshman is the founder and CEO of Sentai, a British technology start-up using innovative artificial intelligence to help caregivers independently support the elderly from the comfort and safety of their own home, via a machine-learning smart device. Being launched to help provide a solution to the UK’s ageing population crisis and rise in loneliness – accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic – Sentai monitors and supports the elderly to help bring peace of mind to relatives who can’t always be present.

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Finance

TECH TRENDS: THE FUTURE OF FINANCE IS DIGITAL

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Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager, Aqilla

 

Everywhere you look across the modern working environment, there is pressure to ‘digitally transform’ by using technology in areas where manual work and processes have previously been the preferred option. Despite growing momentum in general, progress across the finance function has been somewhat slower than other core areas of business, not least because it is highly regulated and teams must exercise caution to ensure introducing change does not also introduce risk.

One familiar scenario is the approach finance departments take to storing data, particularly any sensitive information, on their own premises and their own hardware. While keeping valuable assets such as this close to hand offers a strong sense of security and control, it illustrates the limitations finance teams face in changing traditional approaches and, as a result, the relatively slow pace of technology-focused innovation overall.

However, the case to embrace tech-led change is becoming irresistible, with businesses everywhere highlighting a huge range of digital transformation benefits, from cost savings and technology performance to IT security and compliance. In the current environment, many finance teams have also experienced first hand the impact of digital transformation, with remote working bringing new technologies and digital services into focus.

Simon Bull

But, where are we heading? As digital transformation gains momentum across the finance function, where should teams be looking for opportunities to update manual processes or to replace outdated technologies? And where might the trends at the heart of this movement – such as cloud computing – have the biggest impact on the day-to-day experience of finance professionals?

The role of cloud computing raises a key point. For finance teams, digital transformation also requires a change of mindset, perhaps best illustrated by a willingness to move away from outdated in-house technology infrastructure and software products to flexible and more financially efficient cloud-based services. In doing so, it becomes possible to focus on opportunities and priorities:

 

Cost savings

One of the most important is the cost of technology. The cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach that can offer users the convenience of a monthly pay-as-you-go payment model for a range of key technologies, such as accounting software. This is in contrast to traditional IT procurement models where businesses have to invest significant sums in one-off software purchases. What’s more, because SaaS users typically only need access to a laptop and internet connectivity to use cloud-based applications, it also saves money on the server hardware that has previously sat in the corner of the office, and in fact, it may no longer be needed at all. In selecting cloud-based finance software services, organisations should always compare pricing from several providers to make sure they are getting the most competitive deal.

 

Technology Performance

Today’s cloud-based finance software solutions are available with a growing range of options, starting with simple, entry-level functionality to the opposite end of the scale to products offering powerful performance designed to fit the needs of even the biggest and most complex finance departments. Important features and functions to look out for should include: extensive analysis, proper periodic management and business calendars, multi-currency, multilingual and multi-company operation, full VAT handling International coding, tax and language flexibility, automatic reconciliation / bank integration, built-in key performance measurement, advanced search, selection and drill-down, document and image scanning.

 

Stronger security

Many cloud providers now have security at the top of their list of capabilities, but checking their accreditations, policies and security track record should always form part of any selection process. This should include areas such as data protection, backup services and their ability to deal with common security issues, such as ransomware.

 

Service standards

When looking at cloud service providers, finance teams should also focus on the quality of service on offer. At its best, cloud-based customer support and service can deliver an outstanding experience where the provider really feels like an extension of the in-house IT Team. The best way to check on the service capabilities of any cloud provider is to ask for references from existing customers, check online reviews and evaluate their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to understand the small print of any terms and their impact on service levels.

 

Compliance

Compliance is front of mind across the finance function and is an area where the specialisation offered by many cloud software solutions can be of huge benefit. Even for the most niche requirements, there is often a software provider out there who has a solution designed to meet very specific needs, and in embracing these technologies, the efficiency and accuracy benefits can be truly transformational.

The challenges seen across the economy over the past 12 months have significantly accelerated the pace of technology-led change, finance teams included. But, cloud-based finance software services can help teams to widen their approach to innovation, embrace the flexibility offered by remote working on a permanent basis and deliver a range of operational and customer-focused benefits for the long term.

 

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Technology

THE INSURANCE SECTOR IS BEING DIGITALLY DISRUPTED: BUT IS IT READY?

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The insurance sector is being disrupted by innovative technologies that are helping to drive digital transformation within the industry. The global Covid-19 pandemic forced the sector to temporarily let go of traditional working models and implement remote working approaches so that employees continued supporting customers while at home.

The move to remote working has encouraged legacy insurance companies to rethink and digitise services to keep up with challenger Insurtech brands. As they continue to pick up pace, traditional insurance businesses are keeping their eyes firmly on the prize, using technology trends such as IT consumerisation, AI and IoT, to spur new creative offerings. But are they ready for a permanent change?

 

Facing up to challenges

While insurers tapped into innovative emerging technology trends to create new services for customers and improve employee experience, there continues to be residual pushback. In a recent risk management study by Deloitte, more than two-thirds of individuals believed the use of emerging technologies, such as big data and analytics, could dramatically increase performance in their organisations. Yet just 29% of organisations are deploying these tools.

To remain agile, the insurance industry will need to find ways to address this gap in 2021. According to Gartner, barriers ‘often have little to do with how different a technology is.’ They stem from low employee utilisation, a lack of visibility into technology investments and regulatory red tape.

 

Improving technology adoption 

A common challenge to adopting emerging technologies is the lack of skill and familiarity in using new tools – not the tool itself. As insurers look to change their working approaches following the pandemic, they should give employees the devices they are most familiar with to remain productive in their new working environments. According to PWC, 78% of millennials believe having access to the technology they like at work makes them more effective. Not only does this save on time but employee-choice programs will also create new benefits such as increased employee engagement, retention and recruitment.

IT consumerisation has enabled the most loved technology providers, such as Apple, to support employees as well as businesses. The influx of Apple’s iPhone, Mac and iPad is directly influencing business productivity as there are now more than 235,000 business apps available in Apple’s App Store, according to Strategy Analytics.

IT teams will save precious time and effort by utilising the existing built-in native apps that support businesses. For example, Apple Business Manager provides zero-touch deployment and configuration for thousands of employee devices. Teamed with an Apple Enterprise Management platform,  IT can remotely personalise each device with the tools that employees need to deliver work more efficiently such as claims and data-entry processing.

The insurance sector should also utilise existing advice channels and resources to get best practice advice. Apple is one of the few providers to have created a hand-picked task force of partners in mobile strategy, app development and back-end system integration, that businesses can call upon to maximise their Apple hardware, software and service investments.

 

It’s all about balance

The need for improved underwriting efficiency and data quality within the insurance world has meant insurers must find ways to be both operationally fast and water-tight in managing confidential customer information in 2021. Errors result in breaches, heavy fines, loss of customer trust, reputational damage and even jail sentences.

IT must have a single-pane view of all devices to reduce the risk of a breach and manage hundreds of devices, each with its own personalised inventory of apps. An enterprise management solution enables IT to manage data access by delivering specific permissions to apps, files and tools for the employee to remain productive.

 

Cut the red tape

Regulatory red tape is a barrier to the adoption of emerging technology. Businesses do not want to lose valuable time and effort in introducing new technologies that need to be assessed and measured against the latest compliance requirements. To encourage businesses to find new ways of working and remain secure, the Centre for Internet Security (CIS) has created a set of 20 security controls to follow. Commonly known as the CIS 20 standard, the controls help businesses walk through recommended steps such as updating software, logging and auditing, managing user environments and system access.

Since employee experience is paramount to the successful adoption of emerging technology, Apple Enterprise Management platform solutions make the roll-out of comprehensive compliance and benchmark requirements simple and less intrusive. With a few clicks, the IT team can confirm each device adheres to the security standards and remains compliant at any time. Dated software can be updated by employees and the IT team can ensure the most sensitive information is protected with the latest versions and updates. When regulations change, insurers can add in and deploy new requirements through the platform without wasting time.

 

Long-term benefits

Insurers around the world experienced a surge in motor, home and consumer goods claims during the first wave of the pandemic as more people relied on and invested in personal transportation and online shopping.  According to KPMG, UK insurers also offered free motor and enhanced home cover for National Health Service (NHS) workers, and extended business cover to support employees working from home. As customer support lines collapsed under the sheer volume of calls, the insurance sector went online to reserve phone communication for the most urgent.

Consumer demand for accessible innovative new services will continue to be a key focus for many in the sector who need to make up for the lost time. This is where remaining agile will be imperative or insurers will find themselves losing out to the competition.

Digital services, made possible through AI, IoT and data analytics, deliver instantaneous, richer, and more meaningful insights for insurers to create unique and personalised covers. They enable employees to produce results quickly and draw in new revenue streams, without the need to rip-and-replace existing technology.

Through the provisioning of local user accounts and simple password synchronisation of cloud services, insurers will help employees achieve multi-factor authentication and single sign-on. A single set of cloud identity credentials reduces disruption in creating new passwords requests and empowers employees to tap into new tools more quickly.

 

Looking into the future

The 2020 world health crisis drove many businesses, including the insurance sector, to work remotely to survive. And while the road to recovery will take time, it has encouraged them to re-evaluate their long-term working environments and investments to remain agile. Despite uncertainties, businesses are now looking to create hybrid working environments where they can occasionally untether from the office as a way to continue improved experience and productivity levels. A recent report by PwC suggests that splitting time between the office and home is expected to become the new normal.

Why go back to the way things were when there are more benefits to be had in this new normal? Through an enterprise management platform and native productivity apps, it’ll be a win-win situation where employees remain positive, IT ensures its technology investments are fully utilised, and the business remains protected, reaping the benefits of new services and improved engagement with employees and customers alike.

 

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