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Designing a Sensor Based Preventive Maintenance System

An innovative project built around users from the ground up into a comprehensive business plan.

An image of a mockup showing multiple screens of the product.

Figure 1. A mockup of multiple screens in the product.

Project type: Apprenticeship, Proof of Concept, Business Model

Role: UX Designer, Business Strategist

Team and Duration: 4 members (Academic), 2 months

Client:

Specializes in security solutions for multi family housing.

My contributions:​

  1. Develop mid fidelity and low fidelity designs for the solution.

  2. Research and develop business model for the new idea.

  3. Evaluation and Testing of low fidelity prototypes.

Challenge

Challenge

How might we unlock additional value for our personas to generate recurring revenue above & beyond our current hardware sales + paid access subscription model?

Problem Statement

How might we help property managers better manage properties overseeing multiple units and buildings?

A glance into the solution:

A sensor based preventive maintenance system called “Shield+” that can manage all the essential assets on the property and identify potential issues before they occur that can save millions in post maintenance for property managers.

Who are we solving this for?

Property Manager

Multi-Family Property Owner

Resident

Tech Savvy Busy Residents

Jump to the detailed solution by clicking this button.

My Design Process

My top priority are users in all my projects, I try to include them in as many stages as possible.

A flowchart of the design process followed by the student.

Figure 2. The process I followed for this project.

Environmental Analysis (Desk Research)

We aimed to understand our stakeholder's market, including trends and a thorough competitive analysis to identify factors that could impact the company during expansion. This involved examining key trends, market forces, and analyzing competitors such as Securitas, Dormakaba, KISI, Assa Abloy, and HID Corporation.

 

Key insights from environmental analysis:-

  1. Increasing adoption of cloud-based and IoT solutions.

  2. Growing need for security and independence among the aging population.

  3. Limited compatibility of current devices.

  4. Competitors leveraging technologies like Blockchain for enhanced data privacy and wearable devices for access control

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Primary Research

Now that we understand the current market scenario, we decided to interview two personas to gain insights into the following:

Property Managers:

  1. What types of security systems and access controls are in place, and why?

  2. How are maintenance issues processed and resolved?

  3. How are the properties managed, including the number of units and move-outs?

Residents:

  1. What are the living arrangements and professions of the residents?

  2. What is their comfort level with using technology around their homes?

  3. What has been their experience living in the current housing, and what issues do they face?

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Secondary Research:

Our secondary research involved reviewing various papers on smart housing, smart sensors, and IoT use cases. I examined studies on sensor usage, data on sensor implementation, current technologies, associated costs, and the impact of implementing smart systems from various websites and online articles.

Data Synthesis:

We interviewed over 10 residents, 4 property managers, and 1 maintenance worker in multi-family housing. From our persona insights, we realized that the maintenance worker persona was being inadvertently affected. Thus, we decided to include maintenance workers in our interviews. Due to time constraints, we could only recruit one participant. By performing thematic grouping of all the data gathered through our interviews and pre-interview surveys, we identified some common issues among each user group.

Considering multiple personas, including those indirectly affected by your product, leads to more comprehensive and inclusive UX design.

A thematic representation of the insights gained from the interviews in form of message bubbles, top 3 for residents and top 3 for property managers.

Figure 3. The quotes obtained from the interviews conducted with our personas.

After reviewing the data, we pinpointed the challenges encountered by our personas.

The needs and goals of the property manager
The needs and goals of the residents
The needs and goals of the maintenance staff.

Figures 4,5,6. The needs and goals of our personas, identified through data synthesis.

Having understood each persona’s challenges and gained valuable insights into our users' lives, we conducted an activity where we crafted problem statements in the following format.

 

The activity:

 

As a (persona),

when (scenario),

I want (task),

so (reason),

but (problem).

This activity allowed us to really get in depth of our assumed problem statements and make sure they are aligned with the issues of our users. We constantly filled the blanks with the data found from the research.

An image showing a whiteboard which has 4 problem statements
An image of a white board on which problem statement is written down and a star is drawn beside it.

Figures 7,8. Problem Statements we filtered from our individual problem statements

By the end of this exercise, we had developed over 20 problem statements. From these, we selected the top 4 that are crucial for our personas. However, we needed to focus on one, and this is where our environmental analysis proved valuable. Using the data from our environmental analysis, we chose the problem statement that benefits both the company and the users.

 

The problem statement:

As a property manager,

when I have to check how my properties are doing,

I want to see how many flats are occupied (About health of each flat, charges incurred)

So I can assess how to make profits

But it takes a lot of time because I have to ask or virtually visit to find out.

 

The reason we chose this:-

  1. Increasing Adoption of Cloud-Based and IoT Solutions: This trend shows a growing acceptance and reliance on advanced technologies for property management.

  2. Need for Security and Independence in Aging Population: There is a rising demand for solutions that ensure security and independence, especially for the aging population.

 

Using this as a starting point, we further discussed user issues and concerns such as security and maintenance, ultimately arriving at our problem statement.

"How might we help property managers better manage properties overseeing multiple units and buildings?"

Ideation

Brainstorming

We used the Walt Disney method to ideate and find solutions to the above-formed problem statement. This method involves three distinct phases: Dreamers, Realists, and Critics.

 

Dreamers Phase:

In this phase, we allowed ourselves to think freely and creatively without any limitations. The goal was to generate as many ideas as possible, no matter how unconventional or ambitious they might seem. We ended up with a total of 32 ideas that ranged from simple enhancements to groundbreaking innovations.

 

Realists Phase:

Next, we entered the Realists phase, where we evaluated the feasibility of each idea generated during the Dreamers phase. This involved considering practical aspects such as resources, time, and technology required to implement each idea. Through this process, we narrowed down our list to 6 viable ideas that were not only innovative but also achievable.

 

Critics Phase:

Finally, we moved on to the Critics phase, where we scrutinized each of the 6 remaining ideas critically. We weighed their pros and cons, analyzed potential risks, and assessed their alignment with our goals (stakeholder needs) and user needs.

 

After thorough evaluation, we finalized 2 ideas that stood out as the most promising solutions to our problem statement.This structured approach allowed us to harness creativity while ensuring practicality, leading to well-rounded and effective solutions.

A venn diagram of the three phases in Walt Disney Method.

Figures 9. Walt Disney Method - Image from Visual Paradigm Online

Design Solution:

After thorough consideration and an extensive meeting where we examined our ideas from various perspectives, we decided to proceed with the solution:

 

A sensor-based predictive maintenance solution that uses machine learning to identify

     potential problems before they cause equipment failure or disruption to service.

 

Let’s look at a storyboard to understand how this works:

 

Imagine you are late for your office, you go to the washroom and see there is no water supply. You call your property manager and they say a pipe froze and burst, and it will take at least 4hrs for water supply to restart. You have to cook, take bath, leave to office in 20mins.

A storyboard of the solution.

Figures 10. Solution Storyboard

With our product Shield+, pipe freeze is detected using an installed temperature sensor. The hot water valve automatically opens to raise the temperature and prevent freezing. A notification is sent to the property manager with the location, severity, and issue details, ensuring residents have a pleasant morning and property managers feel reassured.

How does it technically work?

 

We plan to install relevant sensors at various locations in the multi-family apartments,

  1. Leak Detection

  2. Temperature & Environmental Monitoring

  3. Fitness Center Monitoring

  4. Mailbox Monitoring

  5. Pipe Temperature & Pipe Pressure Monitoring

  6. Button Logging

  7. Parking Solutions

  8. Elevator Monitoring

 

All these sensors regularly send data to our client for analysis to prevent any issues. In case of an emergency, the data is sent directly to maintenance staff and property managers, ensuring a seamless experience.

In terms of iOT:

A flowchart of how sensors would work.

Figures 11. iOT Ecosystem Analysis

How will this help our personas?

The Shield+ application organizes all sensor data by unit and location, providing remote access to the entire property.

It sends preventive maintenance alerts to residents for minor issues within their unit, such as turning on hot water in pipes.

It allows for self-diagnosis of issues within units, like moving items away from the fridge to ensure proper cooling, aiming to resolve small problems before involving maintenance.

Minor and unnecessary issues are addressed at their source, allowing maintenance staff to focus on major concerns.

Prototype Building:

We built a comprehensive set of features that we want for the application based on the ideas and problems, these features and solutions serve as the foundation for the application's information architecture, which later assisted me in building sitemaps.

Sitemap/User Journey:

Sitemap/User Journey:

A flowchart of the user journey in the application.

Figures 11. Property Manager's user journey in the application.

Figures 11. Property Manager's user journey in the application.

Figures 11. Property Manager's user journey in the application.

With the user journey figured out, I started building low fidelity wireframes to test it with our property managers and residents.

With the user journey figured out, I started building low fidelity wireframes to test it with our property managers and residents.

First iteration:

Mockups of the low fidelity screens of the product

Figure 12. The first iteration of the product that was used to test basic features.

Following up on the feedback which included clearer paths and disclaimers and the suggestions I built a high fidelity prototype.

It is the font and colors used in the prototype

Figure 13. The imported colors and font choice mood board for our designs.

Prototype

01

Property Managers

An issue is detected by the sensor and alert is sent to property manager.

02

Residents

An issue is detected by the sensor and alert is sent to property manager.

03

Unified Dashboard for property managers

A desktop application to track and manage multiple aspects of a property.

Evaluation:

We utilized our low-fidelity prototypes to test our hypothesis through a Wizard of Oz approach, engaging two property managers and two residents. This allowed me to gather valuable insights and refine our design, leading to the development of high-fidelity prototypes for client presentation.The insights gathered:

 

Property Managers:

  1. Property managers appreciated the instant update feature of the sensors.

  2. Addressing issues before they escalate significantly reduces costs for property managers.

  3. There were concerns about the "Check Camera" feature in the product.

  4. Property managers were also worried about the "self-diagnosis" feature being used by residents. They requested a clearer function and user flow for this feature.

 

Residents: 

  1. Residents found the self-repair and self-diagnosis feature very helpful, as it addresses their concerns about the speed of issue resolution.

  2. They also expressed concerns about the "Check Camera" feature in the product.

  3. Residents suggested they would like live progress updates on their maintenance reports.

 

I updated the UI for self-diagnosis to clarify that it doesn't require users to open the equipment, but rather to try common remedies.We added a disclaimer for the "Check Camera" feature, stating that cameras are not placed inside the unit.

Business Perspective:

Costs to the company:

The primary expenses for the company would include software development and research. Fortunately, the company already has investments in IoT through smart locks and a software application for residents. They will need to expand their focus to include sensors and preventive maintenance. Another significant investment would be server costs, maintenance, and hiring data engineers for data analysis.

 

Costs to the user:

From the property manager's perspective, there will be an initial one-time investment for sensors and a monthly subscription fee for the services that "Zentra" provides, including preventive maintenance analysis and sensor servicing.

 

"The average multi-family property spends $2,500 to $5,000 per year on pipe leaks, according to the National Apartment Association."

 

For residents, the decision on whether to include sensors in the home could be made by the property manager. They might choose to incorporate this cost into the rent or offer it as a premium service. Regardless, residents will likely face a subscription fee. If the property manager decides to cover the subscription costs, it could lead to higher rent, meaning residents would still indirectly pay for the subscription.

Revenue:

There are three main revenue sources for the company:

  1. Subscriptions

  2. Licensing fees

  3. Maintenance and service of sensors.

 

We can offer various plans to our customers, ranging from a freemium model to a premium model, each with different numbers of sensors and maintenance data allowances. The company will deliver a comprehensive product that includes both hardware and software, along with upgrades.

 

Impact:

 

The solution effectively tackles the company's challenge and offers a sustainable way to expand and boost revenue by leveraging emerging technology. It's highly compatible with the company's existing customer base, providing a practical platform for testing and implementation. This approach positions the company to access a market projected to reach $112.6 billion by 2032.

Reflection:

  • Considering the business perspective throughout the entire process enabled me to develop a long-term sustainable product.

  • Engaging in healthy debates within the team contributed to a superior product. During our brainstorming sessions, we had five-hour-long calls where each team member shared their opinions. Everyone empathized, understood, and addressed the issues without taking offense, leading to an improved product.

  • This project required numerous client and classroom presentations, which significantly enhanced my presentation skills.

fin.

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