We had a chat with Mikael Hamström, CTO at Phoniro, to learn more about Phoniro’s services and why they chose to work with iotcomms.io. We also talked about trends within welfare technology and elderly care. In his work, Mikael is dedicated to streamline processes technically and being in the borderland between technology and reality, he knows what’s on the agenda.
Can you tell us about your platform, Phoniro Care?
Phoniro Care is made up of different modules that can be used individually or together in a single system solution for elderly care. The platform consists of two legs. One is home care services for elderly who need security-creating measures in their living such as alarm sensors and alarm buttons. The other leg consists of alarm systems and services for public care homes and private facilities. The platform manages everything that has to do with the clients – alarms, key management, time follow-up, etc. The idea is that our customers should only need one tool for all administration tasks, regardless of whether they have one or many care homes.
We handle hardware in the form of locking solutions, for example for main entrances, doors and medicine cabinets, as well as alarm buttons, sensors and cameras. In assisted living facilities, it can be difficult to prioritize simultaneously incoming alarms. In such situations, the staff can use cameras to see which of the alarms is most urgent. Staffing is a problem for the municipalities today and given that the elderly population is growing in size, staff shortages are a growing problem. We want to enhance staff efficiencies as well as create secure and safe environments for clients. The core of our offering is to increase the quality for the users.
We are constantly looking to improve our platform and as an example we are moving all services to the public cloud to offer the best possible availability and security.
What distinguishes your platform from competing services in the market?
Many competitors, at least in the Nordic market, are niche while we want to be a full-line supplier. We see an increasing demand from municipalities for single system solutions that can be integrated with central business systems. We can easily integrate with such systems and thus become a piece of the puzzle in our customer’s existing infrastructure and value chain.
We adapt the technology so that it creates value for the users. Our technology makes it easier for the entire business, that is our strength.
Why did you choose iotcomms.io as your provider?
We needed to communicate with Telecare units via SCAIP, a protocol standard that enables connection and communication between Telecare units and alarm centers via IP networks. After discussions with iotcomms.io and another provider we eventually chose iotcomms.io. Your services suited us very well and we also had a good connection with the founders Jörgen and Gunnar. We discussed the opportunity to be involved in how your services would evolve in the future, which was an advantage for us.
Today we have a good dialogue and there are no barriers between our development teams. At Phoniro, our lead times are often very short, and we need to be agile to meet new customer needs. We find your team to be responsive and we appreciate that you are open to making adjustments. I think it’s mutual, i.e. that you appreciate that we as your customer help to refine your product.
How do you use iotcomms.io in your solutions today?
Personal alarms and care phones have become an important complement for elderly who wants to continue living at home. With iotcomms.io our care phones now use SCAIP to communicate digitally. On an overall technical level, the care phones send their messages via SCAIP. These messages end up in the iotcomms.io cloud platform and are then forwarded to our cloud service. When the message itself has passed your platform, a handshake takes place and when the care phone has been approved, the alarm message is taken care of in our system.
Information can also be sent back to the care phone via SCAIP. If, for example, the staff wants to call, we must alert the care phone that it should open up to receive calls.
As we now have support for SCAIP we can effectively add more devices, for example different type of sensors, which also support the SCAIP protocol.
Your solution Video Visit also uses iotcomms.io, can you tell us about it?
Video Visit is a service that has become more relevant since Covid-19. Many of the visits made by the home care service are to ensure that the elderies are feeling well, which lead to an unnecessary exposure.
The idea with Video Visit is that some of the visits can be replaced with short calls via video tablets. It has been important for us to develop a targeted solution that brings value to the users. Open solutions such as Teams or Skype are too complicated for many elderly people. In Video Visit, the elderly uses a tablet that is specifically developed for the purpose. When the staff calls, the tablet starts beeping and the elderly answers the call by clicking the accept call button. The call is end-to-end encrypted.
In Video Visit, iotcomms.io is basically working as a telephone switch. When we want to connect a call to a user, iotcomms.io establishes a video call between the different parties. Safety is an important requirement. In Video Visit, the communication that goes via iotcomms.io is secured and we ensure that only authorized personnel can connect to the clients. Elderly people are often very vulnerable, and it’s important for us to make them feel safe, regardless of whether it is a physical or digital visit.
We have plans to expand the functionality of Video Visit. Multi-party conversations where, for example, relatives or doctors can be included in the conversation is a possible feature that we might add. We also want to include support for regular phones to be added to the video stream, i.e. to allow mixed technology with both video and regular voice in one and the same call.
What are the strengths of the iotcomms.io platform?
The iotcomms.io platform is flexible and meets our needs well. That it is a scalable cloud service is also important. At Phoniro we want to be close to our users instead of focusing on technology at a detailed level. The process of connecting different devices, such as video tablets and telephones, and transport messages from point A to point B, is something that the iotcomms.io platform manages in a very good way. The fact that there was a ready-made service for our specific needs was an important factor when we chose iotcomms.io as provider of SCAIP messaging. With your service, we can move forward much faster than if we were to develop all the functions ourselves.
Another strength is that iotcomms.io will be able to support several types of media in one and the same call which is something we want to add to Video Visit in the future, as I mentioned earlier.
Has Phoniro been affected by Covid-19?
Absolutely. We see this mainly in the increasing demand for new types of services for home care personnel and clients. Video Visit is such an example where we managed to develop a new solution in a fairly short time with the help of the iotcomms.io platform.
Even if there is an increasing demand for new types of services, there has clearly been a slower pace in the market lately. At the same time, Covid-19 has put a clear focus on the need to digitalize the welfare sector.
How will welfare technology develop in the next 5-10 years?
I believe there will be a greater focus on standardization as the market matures. If you want to streamline your processes, standards are important. I think that we will see new types of support systems, alarms and other devices, and I also believe that more companies will look for single system solutions. Being a niche supplier of welfare technology will be more difficult in the future as I see it.
What about trends in general when it comes to digitalization of the welfare sector?
In addition to standardization, I see an increasing need to introduce AI. As the elderly population is growing in size and staff density decreases at the same time, the need for machines that can assist in planning and prioritizing work tasks will become more urgent. At Phoniro we have some pilot projects where we look at how we can use AI to help care personnel with their daily work.
Is there a risk that digital solutions will replace the personal meeting?
Yes, there is definitely a risk. I believe that people sometimes lack the right mindset and focus too much on the technology and the digital solutions themselves. There is another far more important dimension, many older people are alone and need the social presence of other persons.
On the other hand, new technology can provide new opportunities. For example, a user forum could be created where people with a common interest can “meet” to exchange a few words. New generations bring with them new behaviors which of course will have an impact on future solutions.
What is the most important thing to keep in mind when building and delivering welfare technology?
Focus on the individual. Technology is just an enabler. Unfortunately, there are many companies that drive transformation from a technology perspective because it is their core business. Our goal is to be closer to our customers and the persons who use our services.
Phoniro started in 2004 when two companies merged, one was working on CRM solutions for the municipalities’ home care services and the other provided technology for digital key management. Phoniro’s offer has developed over time and new modules are continuously added to the platform. For example, the digital locks can today be used to give home care staff access to users’ homes with a mobile phone instead of a key, and also to provide access to medicine cabinets for authorized staff. Apart from handling key management, alarms and remote visits, Phoniro Care keeps track of what kind of help each client is entitled to and handles time & attendance information. The software helps municipalities improve quality control.
In 2018 Phoniro became part of Assa Abloy and now belongs to a division within Assa called Global Solutions where Phoniro takes care of all operations in the Elderly Care segment. Phoniro recently acquired the company Focus Cura in the Netherlands. Today Phoniro has just over 200 employees and their solutions are in use in over 200 municipalities and private care companies in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, England, USA and the Netherlands.