Get ready for smart buildings

Get ready for smart buildings

8 December 2017

Remember how Ethernet and Wi-Fi transformed commercial buildings?

Then get ready to embrace the next new technology to disrupt commercial real estate—the Internet of Things (IoT).

Simply put, the IoT connects everyday devices—cars, household appliances, wearable devices, building control systems—through the Internet, allowing them to talk to each other, to talk to us, and to be talked to (remotely controlled or operated).

An oft-quoted example is the smart refrigerator that senses when your milk is low or out of date and then messages you a reminder to buy more milk.

The IoT, however, scales up far beyond this to include smart homes, buildings, cities, and much, much more.

By 2025, there will be an estimated 70 billion IoT devices connected worldwide, estimates the Canada-based Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), an international industry association promoting intelligent building technologies.

The implications of this technology for commercial buildings are huge.

According to Bisnow, a U.S. based commercial property news website, the building-related IoT market is projected to reach CA$76 billion by 2020.

This growth will cause a dramatic shift from “siloed” building systems to an interconnected system of devices and sensors that collect and share data within and across portfolios.

“The technology is there, it’s just a matter of applying it within the building the same way we apply it outside,” says Darlene Pope, JLL’s Global Practice Lead for Smart Building Practice.

Some of the world’s first genuinely smart buildings are now starting to come online, notes the JLL report Workspace Reworked.

The Edge, the Amsterdam headquarters of Deloitte, for example, is equipped with more than 30,000 sensors that track the movement of staff throughout the building.

Each of the 6,800 LED lights in the building are powered through low-voltage Ethernet cables and are equipped with a sensor monitoring temperature, movement, light, CO2, and humidity.

The BMS then uses this data to adjust the lighting and heating in vacant parts of the building, helping to make The Edge one of the world’s most sustainable office buildings.

The location of every employee at The Edge is tracked via their smartphone, allowing users to locate colleagues via an app.

Majunga Tower, a smart building situated in the La Défense district of Paris, tracks building occupancy in real time using sensors embedded in staff badges. Software allows building users to change the lighting and temperature settings of meeting rooms via a mobile application.

In 2015, Steelcase unveiled a version of its Gesture chair that not only monitors usage, but also the heart rate, sitting habits and stress levels of users.

Hitachi has recently unveiled a wearable badge which, claims the company, can measure the happiness of an employee by looking at their physical activity.

Fitness trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone wristbands, increasingly common in employees’ personal lives, are finding a new lease of life in offices.

According to Gartner, 10,000 companies offered employees fitness trackers in 2014.

Ernst and Young has trialled giving their employees Jawbone wristbands that monitor how active they are inside and outside of work, capturing this data to help employees understand their health habits.

Facial recognition technology could be deployed in a smart building to alert reception to returning guests and important individuals, sending a visitor’s name and details to a receptionist’s display screen as they enter the building.

The faces of authorised building users could even be linked to the control of access gates or the operation of lifts. Smart buildings can offer services like people-tracking and navigation that also help enhance the experience of users.

Sociometric badges, a wearable ID badge developed by Pentland, can record where an employee goes in an office, who talks to who, and the character of their interactions. This data can then be used to optimise space to improve business outcomes.

The Bank of America used sociometric badges to identify why some of their call centre employees were more productive than others.

Realising that the most productive employees were those that took breaks together, the bank rescheduled employees’ breaks to maximise interactions and saw a 10 percent increase in productivity.

To some individuals, these developments conjure up visions of Big Brother management.

Robust data policies and change management processes must ensure that employees understand what data is captured and how it is used, so that they do not look elsewhere for work.

This, however, is sure: The IoT is already here, it is growing fast, and it will dramatically change the buildings of the future.