We all need our personal space, time to ourselves, room to think and breathe. Some of the time at least. But as the world around us heaps unplanned pressures on society – with mostly unforeseen and unfortunate consequences – history, religion and science can all agree on a single, forgotten truth: We were never meant to be alone. We are social animals wired for cooperation by our genes, and so poorly equipped to deal with loneliness. That’s why solitary confinement is considered the severest of punishments. And it’s why people marooned in their homes by age or illness so often succumb to depression and early death.
Cutting our anxieties down to size, reassuring us in dark moments, lending a helping hand – that used to be the job of tribes. Nowadays communities that care – of whatever kind – are probably still the most powerful antidepressants known to humankind. Before oh-so-very-recent myths such as ‘The Self-made Man’ and ‘There is No Such Thing as Society’ so effectively promoted selfishness, everyone understood that membership of a tribe or community was the key to survival, sanity and prosperity.
In 2016 a small business called Digital Peaks Technology set out to tackle – in essence – a challenge of community membership. Aging populations, the spiralling cost of healthcare and failing social cohesion has isolated millions of people from family, friends, carers and practitioners, perhaps no more so than in the United States. Digital Peaks aimed to solve that challenge through technology. It was a reasonable bet that Unified Communications (UC) combined with the digitisation of workflows and services could give patients access to friendly faces, care on demand, remote monitoring and consultation with physicians. When they were unable to go to the doctor, the doctor could – virtually at least – come to them.
Now, community is a subtle, multifaceted, shape-shifting thing. You can digitise one service and offer it in just one flavour and you’re likely to engage just the few. But digitise lots of overlapping services and offer them in many flavours and you engage a majority. Equip that majority to control their own destiny – create their own flavours and flavour combinations, for example – and now you’ve created a community. It was just that problem – creating engagement through aggregated services – that RWG originally solved for Digital Peaks. Our JOYN technology and app saved Digital Peaks the time and cost of a major digital process reengineering project. And while it may have only worked initially on mobile platforms – which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – Digital Peaks’ early impact convinced us of their promise.
Time has passed and in that period RWG has pursued our goal of building a community-first communications services provider. We’ve received new investment, and with it came access to novel technologies. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) technology capable of the subtlest and least intrusive monitoring of people’s physical health, activity levels, and location. And artificial intelligence (AI) systems with the ability to build an accurate picture of a person’s overall wellbeing from multiple signals, as well as alerting the community to that person’s likely needs when they aren’t able to ask for themselves. And finally the ability to migrate smart digital services onto more accessible devices like smart speakers and televisions.
So when it became clear that Digital Peaks needed help to realise the full potential of their vision and solution, we stepped in. In March 2019 we took a majority stake in the business. It brought us extra market and solutions know-how. It provided accelerated access to innovative UC-as-a-Service solutions from Counterpath Inc. And importantly, the acquisition reassured Digital Peaks’ US partners and prospects, so that we were able to secure a significant contract with a major US healthcare provider. Essentially, it was a beneficial and profitable deal from the outset.
That’s really important, because without profit we can’t fulfil our purpose, which encourages us to empower communities of all kinds. It also spurs us to create benefit through innovation. We’re just beginning the process of building on the Digital Peaks foundations, thinking about how we bring all that interesting technology to bear. Applying the tech is just a part of the challenge. It could allow us to build pictures of people’s lives in previously unimaginable detail and clarity. But just because we can does not automatically mean that we should. We ought to create that picture, infer meaning, determine action, only when and where it needs to be done. And then, only with consent. Individuals needs to be able to control that consent, the community needs to be able to audit the outcomes, and so on. Because the other essential elements of any community are trust, respect and shared rights. And that’s probably a whole other discussion.
Especially important to us are communities of the disadvantaged, so we’ll be championing healthcare and social care as a priority. But really, every kind of community could be built, or built stronger, with the right knowhow and platforms. No one needs to be alone.
RWG’s acquisition of Digital Peaks marks the start, then, of an exciting new chapter for our business, and hopefully our communities. We’ll keep you posted on progress.