Making the Business Case for New Tech Y

By Sara Wildberger

our Fitbit is just the beginning— more than 400 commercial wear- ables are currently on the market,

collecting data literally on your every move. Senior living leaders are looking toward ways such technology and data can improve quality of life at communities as well as offer solutions to workforce issues. A major point of such research and

development is at the Stanford Center on Longevity where faculty, students, and researchers share a mission to improve the experience of longevity by developing prod- ucts, ideas, and policy focusing on three pil- lars: a life that’s mentally sharp, physically fit, and financially secure. The Center also holds an annual design challenge for entre- preneurs worldwide to create products and services that make a longer life a better one. As director of the mobility division at the

Stanford Center on Longevity, Ken Smith does indeed encourage innovation in virtual reality devices and wearable tools. But he emphasizes that the end goal is greater per- sonal independence and a positive aging experience—and collaboration with senior living leaders is vital to getting there.

“We’re not just looking at the number of steps you take in a day.” The center’s mobility work is more holistic, incorporating not just movement but sleep and other activities into what it terms the 24-hour activity cycle. It can acquire data on caregiver activity as well. But the bigger issue is: What’s in it for you? “The question is not to think about all the

existing sensors available and how we could use them to help your business,” Smith says. “The broader question is: What is the data and information that would make a differ- ence to you, if you could get it? You don’t have to limit your thinking to what you can already get.”


“We’re sitting on the precipice of a lot more capability than we’ve ever had.” We’re approaching an era of “mass per- sonalization” of data, Smith says. The ap- parent paradox in that term means that we have massive amounts of different kinds of data, developing at the mass level in terms of price point for data-gathering—yet it’s highly personal data. The phase beyond the Fitbits and watches

is Wearables 3.0: monitoring biomarkers, measuring for glucose or hydration, for instance, Smith says. Flowing this together with factors of constant connectivity, cloud computing, and advances in artificial intelli- gence and deep learning, it’s clear that even a single resident could generate massive amounts of data. “Good tech can be a double-edged sword,

from a business perspective,” Smith says. Imagine a wearable that immediately noti- fies all family every time a loved one’s blood pressure dips, and you get an idea of

Change Agent Profile

Ken Smith Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support at the Stanford Center on Longevity; Director, Mobility Division

help, and use the power of your numbers and knowledge to put in a large order of that first product—entrepreneurs are standing by.


possible drawbacks. Data could be used in worker-issue resolution, or in court; privacy and similar issues abound. Organizations like the Stanford Center are poised to help. “There’s a lot of capability out there that’s

dormant, simply because we don’t know the right questions to ask,” Smith says. The senior living industry is the key to

those questions—and their needs haven’t been articulated enough, Smith says. For instance, most of the entries in the Stanford Design Challenge have been on the individu- al product and service level, Smith says: “We haven’t seen too many solutions that would make a senior living community a better place from the operations perspective—and we could use more of that information.” So if you’re having problems with work-

force, training, scheduling, recruiting—bring it to innovation hubs such as the Stanford Center. Give innovators direction, ask for

“Technology in senior living is moving toward a new phase.” The first forays of the tech world into senior living were highly individualized in motiva- tion and application: Often, an innovator wanted to help a loved one deal with a problem. While wonderfully intentioned and often successful, it led to a typical obstacle in innovation: A proliferation of solutions that don’t always address larger or more common problems. “They haven’t asked: ‘Have I real- ly looked at this from a business perspective?’ and thought ‘Will this be scalable, and will it have a market?’” Larger corporate entities face a different,

but still common, obstacle: what’s been called “the Innovator’s Dilemma.” It’s hard for the big companies to be the most disruptive—because they may be undercutting their own value. But this is where senior living leaders can

help, Smith says: By creating connections and being clear about their needs, and by continually centering the business case for innovative technology. “We need to close the gap between what you folks know, and what technology needs to achieve,” Smith says.

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