When you work in a service-related industry, focusing only on ROI isn't always the best to measure a project's success , says Scott Ranson, vice president and CIO at Brookdale Senior Living.
"Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb for what you know is the right thing," he says. "Connected Living was one of those things: We're making a difference in folks' lives every single day. It's hard to put a price tag on that."
With a capacity to house 69,000 seniors nationwide, Brookdale is one of the largest owners and operators of senior living communities in the U.S. Its facilities encompass independent living, assisted living, Alzheimer's and dementia care, and skilled nursing centers.
Sara Tery, vice president of Optimum Life at Brookdale, says the company is always looking for new ways its residents can live more meaningful lives.
Senior Living Meets Social Media
In 2009, at an industry conference, Ranson was introduced to Connected Living, a social networking startup for senior citizens. Acknowledging the rise of social media and the impact it's had on others, Brookdale considered bringing this technology to its senior citizen residents.
Because Connected Living was a young company, Ranson worked with it for more than a year both to further develop the product with the specific features and enhancements Brookdale wanted and to negotiate a contract. At the end of 2010, Brookdale piloted Connected Living in a handful of its Chicago communities.
The pilot, which lasted a year, was a basic implementation with little capital investment, Ranson says. They looked for underutilized rooms in Brookdale's community areas and set up a few desks with computers. They made "ambassadors" available to seniors who wanted to learn about computers and taught them how to use the dashboard.
The Connected Living platform, which is cloud-based, features an interface with access to the Internet, email, video chat, photos, a library, games and a social networking component. Residents fill out a profile with information about their family, hobbies and interests. Family members, too, can securely log in to keep in touch.
Looking for Lasting Social Engagement
The metrics most important to Ranson and his team during the pilot centered around customer satisfaction and participation.
"We wanted to know not only that people liked it, but that they still liked it two, six or eight months after rolling it out," he says. "We're presented with a lot of ideas from vendors and we have to be specific about the ones we try. Brookdale is a people-to-people business, so it's about how customers and their families adapt to the technology, which tells us if it's good."
After the year-long pilot, Ranson presented Brookdale's executive board with the results, and the board was impressed. Ranson got the go-ahead to expand the Connected Living project, which included a $9.5 million investment in enterprise wireless and the construction of new Internet cafes, which vary from $8,000 to $12,000 depending on size. Ranson says the costs are shared by Brookdale customers and the company itself.
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