On 15 April, the world watched as a fire engulfed one of the most iconic buildings in France, if not the world – Notre-Dame. The cause of the fire is still unconfirmed, although there has been speculation that it was an electrical fire caused by restoration workers’ equipment.
We caught up with Stephen Chadwick, CEO of Shepherd – a Member of the 2019 InsurTech Impact 25 – to discuss how his company’s building monitoring and analytics technology could have prevented the Notre-Dame fire.
Shepherd is an analytics platform which ingests data from both proprietary and non-proprietary sensors (e.g. electrical, motion, heat) and building management systems. The platform then identifies acute and emerging issues and triggers an appropriate response, for example an emergency site visit or action point for the next routine inspection. Insurers are an important distribution channel.
Oxbow Partners: What’s new for Shepherd in 2019?
Stephen Chadwick: 2019 has brought three new developments for Shepherd.
- Investment. We recently raised £2 million in a Series A funding round. The round was led by environmental investor EarthWorm.
- Restructured go-to-market approach. We used the capital injection to change the way we position our premium product, Property Shepherd. Rather than looking at individual risks within properties like Legionella, which was our initial focus, we now offer comprehensive building coverage.
- Product development. We have developed an updated version of our platform and are currently in QA before it is released. Insurers will now be able to view risk scores for properties and understand how well the property is managed and maintained.
OP: What kinds of buildings does Shepherd monitor?
SC: We mainly work with buildings in the heritage, health, and environment sectors. For example, we have some of the large heritage charities in the UK as partners. Although these are our main areas of focus, we do work in other areas, too – we’ve worked with manufacturers including an artisan cheese factory and an industrial baker.
OP: What products do you offer?
SC: We work with insurers and building managers to offer risk insight and enable “predict and prevent” propositions. We monitor a range of risks such as fire, escape of water, and intrusion. We have a Level 1-5 alerting system. Level 5 is an alert that indicates a very serious issue, whereas level 1 might be an email to the building manager to check something next time they are on site. These settings can be calibrated by clients.
As a concrete example, we have developed a leak monitoring solution to protect high value art in a heritage client’s buildings, where pipework is known to be corroding. We wrap sensory mesh around pipes and into high-risk areas (for example near paintings) and this can trigger a response if it senses moisture.
OP: Could you have prevented the Notre Dame fire?
SC: The probable cause of the Notre-Dame fire was that it was an electrical fire caused by restoration workers’ equipment. We have developed solutions such as a ‘suitcase’ which can be left on worksites to monitor things like motion, electrical usage, and smoke. This allows us to identify tools that have accidentally been left on and are causing an issue. We’d like to think that we could have spotted the issue, but we’d not want to claim that we could definitely have done that at this point.
OP: Besides lower insurance premiums, what are the benefits of your technology?
SC: On average, our clients can reduce building OpEx by using our technology. This comes from things like more efficient use of heating. One of our clients – a school – used our solution and found that 50% of its energy bill came from unnecessary usage (for example heating over the weekend or on bank holidays). They also found that their boilers turned on at 5am each morning, despite taking only 20 minutes to heat up, leading to around 3 hours of wasted energy each day.
Our technology also enables our clients to move from contractor-based to pre-emptive maintenance – enabling savings in this area too.
OP: Who are your insurance clients and what geographies do you operate in?
SC: Three carriers we are currently working with are Aviva, Zurich, and Ecclesiastical. At the moment, we are focused on the UK market where we have good marketing and the relevant licensing in place. The US is on the horizon though, and we are currently in ongoing discussions with a US insurer.
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