Intelligent Infrastructure

Nick Sacke, smart, WeWork, Comms365
Nick Sacke

Nick Sacke describes the benefits of smart buildings – and the barriers we face in achieving more connected buildings.

The use of smart technology in buildings is growing at an exponential rate, estimated to increase to a market size of $31.74 billion by 2022. Today, cities around the world are piloting and rolling out multiple ‘smart’ technology initiatives in order to deliver an enhanced experience for users as well as using data and Artificial Intelligence with building management systems to innovate new services that are highly monetizable for facilities managers.

The implementation of smart building technology is about more than just evolving environments to become technologically advanced, but is also about understanding and catering to the requirements of users within the building. With a key focus on factors such as environmental monitoring, adaptive lighting and people movement, new types of smart buildings are able to provide value and a better experience for both building owners and users by improving building efficiency, reducing energy consumption and delivering an enhanced collaborative environment within which to meet, work and play.

Due to the availability of lower cost IoT devices that can harvest data at scale, improved wireless communication networks to relay sensor data, as well as highly scalable data processing via cloud-based data analytics in real time, new automated mechanisms are capable of direct action from insight. Due to this, the design of commercial, industrial buildings and their operational blueprints are evolving. Smart building technology has the potential to offer a multitude of opportunities, but in order to capitalise on these and reap the promised benefits that the technology can offer, there are some barriers that need to be addressed by stakeholders.

The resistance to cultural change remains one of the most significant barriers to adoption within the smart building market. As one of the world's foremost surveillance states, CCTV has become habitually accepted as inextricably embedded into everyday life in the UK. Despite this, CCTV does not always lead to feelings of increased safety, with anxieties residing surrounding the topic of data privacy and protection. However, in order for smart buildings to reach their full potential, mass data must be collected and shared securely across multiple devices and multiple networks in real time.

By interfacing IoT-enabled devices to a building management system, key data parameters can be used to anticipate a variety of needs, take the requisite action and control the entire process from end to end; e.g. turning the air conditioning on or off when required – without the need for human interaction. Whilst this process involves monitoring a certain level of personal information – which can create a sense of unease among users regarding the use of personal data – with appropriate legislation in place individuals cannot be identified but can still play their part in the smart building measurement model.

As an example, environmental monitoring solutions require information to be monitored such as carbon monoxide, acoustics, humidity and energy usage, all of which create endless benefits both for the owner and the environment.  However, the low level of awareness and knowledge of what happens to the data collected, as well as who owns it engenders caution and uneasy associations with smart technology.

A recent high profile case of how the implementation of ‘Smart’ desk occupancy technology measurement being removed after complaints by office users that the data was being used to directly measure their productivity without their consent at a major broadcaster illustrates the care with which such initiatives need to be designed and introduced in building spaces. Education and insight into the benefits smart buildings can offer is key to overcoming cultural concerns and scepticism towards new technology by the users.

Nick Sacke, smart, WeWork, Comms365
The use of smart technology in buildings is estimated to reach a market size of $31.74 billion by 2022

As a reflection of both the economy and the IoT era, technology is now changing the way that workplaces function through smart office design. A large proportion of the workforce now has the ability to work remotely from just about anywhere, so building owners are now under pressure to provide a service and environment that people want to work in and benefit from.  Workspaces are now becoming more ‘aware’ through an ecosystem that allows buildings to flex dynamically to the requirements of users, whether they are temporary or permanent, through the convergence of IT and Operational Technology (OT) such as building management systems, energy and space management.

However, the potential cost of an IoT implementation that is frequently perceived as a barrier to its adoption and development, despite the cost benefit analysis in the majority of cases presenting significant financial savings. For example, energy solutions such as optimised lighting and climate control that dynamically adapt to each individual are two key factors that make smart workspaces attractive to future users. Although there is an upfront investment or cost to retrofit an existing building, once installed these additions make running these spaces much more cost effective to the building owner. As a result, lower fees – for an enhanced experience – can potentially be passed to the customer to make the offering even more appealing. Therefore identifying the value in IoT and understanding the ways in which these technologies can generate potential efficiencies and even revenue is vital for many in order to justify the initial capital investment.

There are a number of new developments that may stir the market of intelligent workspaces, one of which is the American office giant, WeWork that has revolutionised the way that offices function with its shared office facilities and hot desks on a part time or multi-lease basis. With desk layouts developed by algorithms instead of designers and spaces that can adapt to employees’ priorities and needs, this highlights the increasing importance of mobility and flexible consumption in the modern digital workspace. Another good example of this is shared office facilities in the Nordics where resources are dynamic, flexing desk space and facilities for tenants and guests based on actual demand on any given day.

With smart building innovation, the traditional office design can be transformed through the manipulation of sound materials, providing the privacy that comes from individual offices within an open plan setup, meaning that staff no longer need to be confined by physical walls.  Combined with other smart building developments such as wafer-thin sensors that can be placed unobtrusively in challenging areas, robotic assistants that are able to ‘walk’ with you around a facility and tiny drone surveillance of perimeter security, all pinpoint a single main objective: the improvement of operational processes with the attendant commercial impact and increase in user satisfaction.

We can expect the smart buildings market to grow substantially in 2019, in step with the expansion and roll-out of many millions of sensors across cities to increase penetration and coverage of ever more diverse and widely dispersed city buildings and assets. Opportunities are growing for AI and the smart workplace with highly customisable buildings that will provide individualisation and personalisation of the environment for each individual user. This will bring together multiple ergonomic parameters that can be customised at will, making smart buildings an ecosystem in their own right. From technology that matches the seating settings in your car to your desk chair, individual temperature zones by desk, digital image overlays around the user and adaptive lighting to positively impact mood will work collaboratively to form a more productive, pleasing and personalised environment for each user, the new Intelligent, ‘Smart’ Building creates and manages not just a work experience, but the life experience of users.

Nick Sacke is Head of IoT and Products at Comms365

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