Brookdale’s Director of Strategy and Innovation on the Value of Emerging Tech

By Sarah Lai Stirland A

ndrew Smith, Brookdale’s director of strategy and innovation, is a self-admitted technophile. But as

much as he enjoys new and emerging tech- nologies, he retains a healthy skepticism re- garding what might work for various senior living communities, and what isn’t ready for prime time. Smith plays an interesting role. As the

director of strategy and innovation for the largest provider of senior living communi- ties in the United States, he acts as a broker of sorts between a large, diverse community of seniors, and the world of entrepreneurs looking to create new products and services for those seniors. Brookdale launched its entrepreneur-in-residence program in late 2015. Since then, entrepreneurs have come for brief stays in Brookdale communities, where they test various product ideas from body dryers and extra easy-to-wear clothes to virtual reality headsets. “This program was a way for us to

support entrepreneurs, as well as stay con- nected to new and exciting technologies for seniors,” Smith said in a wide-ranging mid-September interview. Brookdale runs independent and assist-

ed living, dementia-care communities and continuing care retirement communities. It operates approximately 1,114 communities in 47 states and has the capacity to serve up to 107,000 residents, according to the

company’s latest quarterly financial filing. One example of Smith’s thinking is trans-

portation-on-demand. Brookdale communi- ties provide scheduled rides, meaning that spontaneity can be challenging. “I think that mobility is a big unmet need,”

Smith said. “This is a perfect one that high- lights our process. Uber and Lyft are sexy companies, but we started with the question of: ‘What do our customers really need?’” Smith praised the two companies for

coming out with a concierge dashboard ser- vice that enables third parties to order rides on behalf of seniors without smartphones, but “where they are still falling short is: How do they make sure that the service is consistently great for an aging population with physical impairments?” For instance, any driver can drop off a teenager in the rain at a movie theater, and in most cases that teen can hop out and sprint through the rain to their destination. “But a senior, you have to help them out of the car, and into the theater,” Smith noted. “That is the level of service that we aspire to, and it’s a level of service that we’re look- ing for in a partner.” Despite this concern, Brookdale is push-

ing ahead. It subsequently announced early October that it is partnering with Lyft to pilot on-demand transportation for seniors in California’s Bay Area, as well as Phoenix, Arizona. The cost of the rides are added to

the seniors’ monthly accommodation bill. On the virtual reality front, Rendever,

a startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently completed an EIR program at Brookdale. When asked about the poten- tial for its use as a service for its customers, Smith said: “One of our guiding principles is that interesting and valuable are not the same thing.” Smith sounded more interested in virtual

reality as a training tool for Brookdale’s staff. “We see applications in associate educa-

tion,” he said. “We hire folks straight out of college who may not have had much experi- ence with seniors, so we see an opportunity to leverage virtual reality to put them in the shoes of seniors to build empathy for a training experience.” The emerging technology Smith sound-

ed most excited about is voice-activated artificial intelligence applications such as Amazon’s Echo-Alexa service, which can perform a myriad of tasks, including telling jokes, ordering products, and provide infor- mation of various kinds, like a voice-activat- ed smart phone. “I think that it could be a game-changer

for seniors,” he said. “It’s for the same rea- son that I love it – it’s more convenient. I don’t have to tap my phone. I don’t have to walk to the other side of the room to turn my lights on and off. I can just ask Alexa to do it.”

“We hire folks straight out of college who may not have had much experience with seniors, so we see an opportunity to leverage virtual reality to put them in the shoes of seniors to build empathy for a training experience.”


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