What’s the smart idea?

July 2, 2018    Ann Clarke     

Over the last few years the conversation has turned to all things smart, as ever-changing technologies, apps and devices have opened up a new world of possibilities. The integration of smart technology into the very fabric of our buildings is one such idea, and it’s changing the way we use, interact and manage our environments as a result. So what can we learn from the world’s first smart buildings?

Smart or intelligent buildings use automated building management systems to take centralised control of operations such as heating, ventilation, lighting and security. Now, thanks to improved connectivity, Big Data and the Internet of Things, they also deliver an improved and personalised experience for the user by calling on a digital infrastructure to collect, manage and analyse information about users’ behaviours and preferences, in order to meet their needs.

Smart buildings use centralised building management systems as well as sensors, microchips, beacons, actuators and apps, to collect real-time information about the building and its users in order to optimise its performance on both a macro and micro scale. On a macro level a smart building will be able to respond to real-time operating conditions such as taking vacant areas out of circulation to avoid unnecessary heating and lighting or monitoring external weather to keep the building at an optimum temperature. On a micro level, smart building technology can verify employee identity, allocate a parking space, provide building entry by recognising a car registration and select an individual’s work setting based on tasks and heat, lighting and acoustic preferences.  The most common interface between a smart building’s centralised system and an employee is through a smart phone app – providing a means by which an individual’s activities and preferences can be recorded.

Global technology researcher Gartner predicts the number of connected things will grow from 21.1billion (2015) to 9.7billion by 2020  – a hike that is easy to imagine with the continued growth in smart, interoperable and wireless mobile devices and systems entering the market. It is clear that the more technology can assist in the workplace (whether in relation to its physical management or how work is done), the more efficient people will become and the more opportunity it will create for engaging personal experiences and innovation.

There are a handful of smart building exemplars around the world – each of which have embraced the full potential of today’s technologies to put the user experience at the heart of their operations. Cited as the world’s most connected, intelligent and sustainable building, The Edge in Amsterdam is perhaps the most notable example of what is possible when a business embraces its real estate and technology to enhance the user experience and reduce costs.

Such is the success of Deloitte’s home at The Edge that it now has a highly engaged workforce that is proud of its work environment and has experienced a 400% increase in job applications, reduced employee absence and its associated costs by 60% and halved the amount of space a business of its size would normally occupy. The building also uses 70% less electricity than buildings of a similar size and occupancy. The results are financially compelling.

When interviewed by Bloomberg Business, Erik Ubels, chief information officer for Deloitte said: “The building becomes a very important part of who we are and what we want to be. We have seen in recruitment that more people are now spontaneously coming to Deloitte because they want to work in our building.”

Transformed into a smart building at Deloitte’s request, The Edge leverages the Internet of Everything – which converges people, process, data and things onto one single network – to redefine how its people work. Thanks to a custom designed LED digital ceiling from Phillips which is powered by 28,000 sensors and a network of low voltage Ethernet cables, The Edge collects and processes vast amounts of data about user behaviours, preferences and building performance to operate efficiently and sustainably in real-time. In essence, the building is a living, breathing organism, able to anticipate, meet and even exceed the needs of its users.

The Edge has achieved this with the help of an employee app which makes it possible to: assign and help  employees choose workspaces in accordance with their daily workload (helping to reduce desks to 1000 for 2500 people and eradicate owned desks altogether); pair any smart phone or tablet with the building’s countless screens at the push of a button; decommission floors on quiet days to reduce heating, lighting and maintenance costs; identify when facilities are ready for cleaning and maintenance and schedule the work accordingly and know the temperature and humidity on each floor to identify the right space for employees based on their individual preferences.

While true smart buildings are still relatively few in number, best practice isn’t just limited to the Edge. There is a growing number of examples as other investors and property companies see the opportunity to integrate technology and real estate for maximum financial value. Employees at the Majunga Tower in Paris connect with the building management system through smart badges and an app to book workspaces and find colleagues; Al Bahr Tower in Dubai has halved its energy spend thanks to technology that allows building shades to track the sun automatically and maintain an optimum temperature and The Canadian headquarters of Cisco uses the data it collects from its digital ceiling to personalise spaces and reduce both CAPEX and OPEX costs.

We are developing new and far reaching applications for technology every-day and smart buildings are just one of the latest manifestations of technology’s reach. While The Edge is certainly an exemplar in its field, we can expect to see a growing number of innovative examples as more businesses harness technology and deliver tangible business benefits. It pays to remember that technology is no longer a tool we use within the environments we occupy, it is now shaping the very fabric and design of them to create the very best in smart workplaces.


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