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Senior living communities connect with social networking

Kristin Burnham | Feb. 13, 2013
IT leaders can't always measure a project's success by revenue or cost-saving metrics. Brookdale Senior Living's CIO achieved a greater objective by bringing social networking to its communities' residents: It improved their lives.

"We wanted to completely transform the spaces into what you'd see at a place like Starbucks," Ranson says. To build hype, they'd put out color swatches so residents could see the color of the new furniture and watch its progress.

The Internet cafes include touch-screens, Hewlett-Packard computers, overhead projectors, webcams and printers. The openings of new Internet cafes are a big deal, too: Each has a ribbon-cutting ceremony that residents and their families attend, complete with a celebration after.

Today there are between 4,000 and 5,000 Brookdale seniors in 45 communities using Connected Living and the Internet cafe spaces, and the company plans to roll out more this year. One key to the program's success, Ranson says, are the ambassadors.

"If we had gone into these communities and put the computers in a corner, no one would have used them," Ranson says. "The ambassadors all wear blue shirts, kind of like the Geek Squad, and help seniors who have gravitated toward learning about it. Some of our seniors have even become ambassadors themselves."

Tery says that seeking out "resident champions" was also key to boost adoption.

"You don't go to senior citizens and ask them, 'Who wants to learn about computers?' Instead, it's, 'Who do you want to connect with and how?'" she says. "Do you want to see pictures of your granddaughter? Find the farm on Google Earth that you grew up on? Once older adults get comfortable, they think they're swimming in the same ocean as their grandchildren. They feel proud."

Introducing senior citizens to technology has been life-changing for them, Ranson says. "There are residents who have lived in the same building that didn't know someone on the fifth floor was a World War II veteran. You see residents Skyping with their grandkids for the first time, and recapping their childhood by posting memoirs online. It's empowering for them," he says.

IT Thinking Goes Beyond Sales and Savings

Stepping outside the corporate box and trying something new-regardless of its ROI-has been an important lesson, Ranson says.

"When you put a business case and ROI together you either want it to save money or generate more sales. This was more about doing the right thing so the folks that live with us can live a more fulfilling life in their twilight years," he says. "Sometimes you have to roll the dice and this has certainly paid off in spades for Brookdale and Connected Living, but mostly for the customers who live with us."


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