Emerging technologies: Headless Interfaces

20 March 2017

An article by Stewart Davison, Head of Business Development, Capita’s housing business

Stewart Davison, Head of Business Development, Capita’s social housing business

The technology we increasingly see around us would have been in the realms of science fiction just 5 to 10 years ago. We live in a world of self-driving cars that are receiving updates to improve their performance over the web; vast amounts of data in the cloud; sensors and smart devices in the home, wearable tech sending health and fitness data about us…

With all this in mind, I have been looking at some technologies that perhaps we should start to consider in local government and social housing. I delivered a seminar session on this topic at the recent Housing Technology Conference to a packed audience of delegates with standing room only, so the interest certainly seems to be there when it comes to new technologies.

This is the first in a series of short blogs about those technologies. In this article I will look at the use of Headless User Interfaces.

So what is a headless interface? Well the simple definition is that its software capable of running on a device without the need for a graphical user interface. The most common examples in recent times have been Apple’s Siri, Windows Cortana, Googles Assistant and the new kid on the block, Alexa. So we can say that these digital assistants we interact via speech are headless user interfaces.

Most of us have had experience of verbal communication with technology - for instance those digital assistants I’ve mentioned, whether it’s asking about the weather, cinema listings or just whether they are Skynet or not! This interaction gleans answers which require far less ‘point and click’ style navigation through search results and websites.

Natural language processing (NLP) is entering the mainstream and the virtual assistants which NLP empowers could eventually change the way we seek information from the net by steering us away from traditional apps - many of which are used more and more sparingly.

Gartner recognises the imminence of language as an interface, predicting that by 2020, 30% of browsing will be screenless, so even less need for a keyboard and mouse!

So is it too far-fetched to see these headless user interfaces in a social housing context? Perhaps we could think about those tenants and residents excluded from digital channels due to low IT literacy. Perhaps it’s a more suitable digital channel to allow verbal communications assisting those without that ingrained sense of how to navigate the net, allowing them access to the benefits of consuming housing services digitally.

We in Capita have already been experimenting and creating proof of concepts using Amazon’s Alexa, in both the local authority and social housing sectors. So far it’s about driving people to simple enquires, such as school holidays or what cycle of the refuse collection are we at: which I see as really useful as I can never remember if its recycling day or bin day! In housing it’s about what the current rent balance is, how much is the next rent payment and when it is due, plus when the resident’s next appointment is due.

Its early days for exploring this use of natural language to access digital services, buts it’s also a rapidly changing environment, with some housing providers already looking at small scale pilot projects using Amazons Alexa. Is it a step too far…well we all once thought texting was nothing but a fad and look where we are now!


Emerging technologies: Headless Interfaces - THEN Emerging technologies: Headless Interfaces - NOW


In the short space of time I have been investigating the rise of the headless user interface, I have already seen a real desire from forward-thinking housing organisations to explore their use, so if you’re keen to understand more please get in touch!


In my next post… Next, bots, bots, bots everywhere!


Read the second in the series - Bots, bots everywhere!



To find out more, contact cssenquiries@capita.co.uk – we’d love to hear your views or plans when it comes to emerging technologies, and to discuss our work in this area with you further