"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.
"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 cafÃ'Â© 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.
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