How a Mission-Led Company Brings Integrity to IoT
Check out this post about a company using IoT devices to improve the living conditions for the elderly and those with disabilities.
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Technological evolution is moving at a rapid pace. While it's easy to focus on the more esoteric elements, it's clear that many developers are thinking more about values underpinning the company they work for and the products they make. We've seen a growth in whistleblowing. Employees from Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce have issued petitions urging their CEOs to cancel or rethink lucrative contracts with US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local police departments. Google employees have protested against Google’s role in a program that could be used to improve drone strike targeting. Many are thinking of the use of tech for the greater good and how it can be used to help those in need rather than merely for profits or more punitive purposes.
One company with the wellbeing of the end user front of mind is K4Connect. Their mission is to create solutions that serve and empower older adults and individuals living with disabilities, enhancing their lives by integrating the latest in smart technologies into a single responsive system. They were founded by Scott Moody, who you recall as the co-founder of AuthenTec, a company that provided mobile security software licenses to mobile manufacturing companies and biometrics sensor technology, such as fin..gerprint sensors and NFC technology. The company was acquired by Apple, in 2012 for $356 million.
Today, Moody heads a team of technologists intent on improving the health and well-being of the elderly and people with disabilities. Their core product, K4Community, integrates smart home automation, health and wellness devices, and social engagement features into one easy to use system for older adults. The solution effectively enables senior living residents to manage multiple aspects of their lives while providing community staff and operators with communication, management, and analytics tools that enable the best in care and hospitality. I spoke to Shannon Smith, Director of Engineering Operations and Quality, to find out more about his experiences at the company and how the company is using IoT to improve the lives of many.
Shannon explained, "I had been involved with software development work for a large company and it was a great place to work. But the work itself wasn't super meaningful. I found places to find some meaning in that work and had a lot of joy in helping other people develop in their careers and seeing them grow as developers and QA engineers. But at the end, while the products that we were producing were impacting the world in a significant way, the focus was very much centered on technology for technology’s sake. When working in a big company you can feel like you're one of many, and with an established organization it's harder to make an impact through organizational change."
Shannon detailed what motivated him to move from a good job at a great company to a come to a smaller company:
"When I found out about K4Connect, I got the opportunity to see my work mean something for individuals, for people directly. There's something in me that has a drive towards giving back. I realize living in the U.S. here, living in a nice city, I have more than I ever need. And, there's more opportunity, more financial resources, more entertainment accessibility. I just have a lot and I want to I want to be able to give back to people that don't have as much. And, I want my hours at work to mean something."
Shannon detailed his role at K4Connect:
"What I try to do is help us to get software out faster with higher quality, so that’s organizing process within our engineering team about how we're going to deliver software. I don't write much code these days, only a little internally. I also lead the QA team with automated testing. All software has bugs, and there's a whole series of problems once software gets out the field with unique challenges because of the particular needs of our user base. "
First-Hand Access to end Users
Shannon explained that part of onboarding new staff members was to have them go out with the operation teams when they were installing the K4Community devices."I want engineers to see and feel the result of what we're doing. I think it's motivational as they can really say, ' Hey, I've met Betty. Her life is better because of what we did," Shannon says. "That’s motivational and makes you want to do a better job. It also gives you a better understanding of what life is like if you don't have a grandmother and father to interact with regularly. You don't understand like how they live life. It’s a much slower pace. When it comes to software like we need to understand that it needs to work in a way that is conducive to how they live."
Shannon has gone on to say, "We’ve also done video calls with older adults to talk about new features and ask them about their needs, and we have engineers sit in on that. We've had people coming in from some of the community before new releases, and the folks that worked on it got to sit in and see where people lit up and were excited about new features and also where people were a little more challenged or confused about how to use a new feature. I think that personal experience really drives empathy."
Aging Is Inevitable
"Engineers can get a bad rap like 'hey, they're more mechanical and they’re more logical and they don’t feel.' But, we’re all people and if we can look at our customers as people, it puts a different spin on the work you are doing. And, I think the bridge there is getting people to think beyond just the problem they’re solving. Everyone knows someone who is aging, who has degraded abilities, whether mentally or physically. People understand that we're all growing older and, as technology improves, we're living longer. So, how are we going to live longer in our later years? An older employee might be thinking of what might be helpful not only for their own parents but also for themselves as they age."
I asked about how K4 Connect could meet the needs of not the current clientele, but those coming and how they differed. According to Shannon:
"People now in their 70’s never had a touch phone or related device in their career. But, the 65-year-olds that we serve probably spent the last decade of their career using a touch phone. I mean the iPhone came out about 12 years ago, so there’s a huge difference. So, as we try to introduce this new technology to them, we have to address their needs in different ways because their needs are different. People think older adults don’t want technology. But, its because a lot of the tech is not geared towards them."
Platform Integration Means Greater Services and Greater Challenges
K4Connect is also working at integrating their platform with services providers to meet additional client needs such as transport. But, it's a balancing act regarding the realities of data sharing:
"So, you might want to know mom got to and from the movie theater and home safe …But, we don't want to be too intrusive I don't really need my mom to know where I'm going with Uber, but there's also a need to leverage her privacy and safety. We also want to integrate with food delivery, but a lot of these services have their own apps and platforms, but the apps just aren't geared toward an 80-year-old. So, we want to be able to pull it into our UI, which makes it simple for them to get what they need. One of our the most recent addition is with the community allowing the residents to make requests for maintenance on their apartment, as opposed to making a phone call or going to the front desk. And, then, it tracks the progress. We have lots of plans to integrate with all kind of care providers, reservation providers, and resource providers and a long list of things we want to do."
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