We’ve often heard that smart buildings simply have a fourth utility, technology, in addition to the traditional water, gas, and power. But smart building technologies are more than just another utility. More than smart, they’re transformative. In many ways, they allow buildings to become living organisms that are able to sense the world around them, make decisions that impact themselves and others, and interact with devices and humans in a variety of ways.
Smart buildings are also surprisingly intuitive. By using a variety of technologies to collect, aggregate, and analyze user data in real time, they provide insights and analytics that enable them to rapidly adapt to their users. A key result is better resource management and more sustainable outcomes, both physically and financially. But this intuitiveness can also enable buildings to create user-centric experiences to promote a trusted workplace environment that:
Typically, when people think of smart buildings, their thoughts drift to shrinking carbon footprints, lowering building and labor costs, and of course the biggie: reducing energy usage. These are all important. But recent events have shifted a key driver of smart buildings away from benefits to the building and back to where it should be—the building’s users.
Challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic brought a renewed interest in making smart buildings serve their users first. As public and private sector organizations seek to safely welcome users back into their buildings, they’re seeking solutions that will proactively defend their occupants against current and future health concerns while still enabling new operational models, like hybrid work environments. But the rules for what makes a safe, efficient, and effective workspace have changed. Solving these challenges will require a new way of thinking in office and building management.
The rules for what makes a safe, efficient, and effective workspace have changed. Solving these challenges will require a new way of thinking in office and building management.
Much of the renewed interest is being driven by the need to retrofit facilities with capabilities to sanitize and disinfect physical surfaces, air systems, and controls. Existing structures also need solutions that aid social distancing and contact tracing. There is also the need to ensure business continuity by providing safe physical and remote access to facilities. This is especially important for public sector or healthcare entities tasked with providing continuity of critical services for citizens. And across all industries, there is the need to provide immediate flexibility in workplace location and workspace configuration so that unexpected health events do not impact resiliency. This is already driving a rapid transition to hybrid work environments, giving workers freedom to work remotely or at their office as personal needs change. This transition was in play but accelerated significantly due to the pandemic.
The move to smart buildings is also being driven by rising energy and operational costs. As traditional utilities become more expensive or difficult to deliver (whether through scarcity, labor costs, or government mandates), there is the need to optimize resources to hold down costs. The same is true of staffing, which can quickly escalate to include training, benefits, and any associated work tools. These, along with the occasional government incentive program, have combined to drive sustainability as a cornerstone strategy for many organizations. Some have merged these issues into corporate responsibility programs and green certifications like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Our increasingly digital world is also lifting expectations of facility users. As we’ve become more accustomed to using mobile technologies throughout our day, it just seems natural that they would follow us into the buildings where we work, learn, and live. As they do, we expect them to do so seamlessly and in a personalized way.
When discussions turn to the inner workings of smart buildings, environmental controls that autoregulate building temperatures often steal the limelight. And they definitely play a key role, sensing vacancies and adjusting for better efficiency. But to operate at their highest efficiency, they need a little help in the form of a single management system that unifies a variety of smart building functions to simplify oversight and better coordinate response. This requires an intuitive and secure network powered by devices at the edge that can collect real-time data, enhance collaboration, and enable a wide variety of unique applications.
Smart buildings start with a central network connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). Think of IoT as the “edge” of your network. Often located in remote or hard-to-reach areas, IoT devices can be sensors that collect and transmit data securely back to the central network. They can be automated mechanisms for environmental control of lights and window blinds. Or they can serve to enhance workplace productivity by connecting to and enhancing the flexibility of conference room equipment and workspace furniture. And they can be security-related devices, such as badge readers, remote cameras, and automatic door locks.
Devices blossom in purpose when they connect to the network wirelessly and share data.
Even though they are smart and can perform many functions by themselves, these devices blossom in purpose when they connect to the network wirelessly and share data as they gather, aggregate, and analyze it. As part of a larger collective of “things,” these devices work together to deliver smarter outcomes for users and building operators. But since they are connecting to your broader network, they must remain secure at all times. That’s why smart building networks should enable pervasive connectivity for any networked end devices. Networks should also be built around a core that features automation, security, and ease of integration. And they should be mobile friendly, easily scalable, and provide some level of future-proofing.
The greatest value for most organizations that transition to smart building technologies is the capability to use all the data that previously sat unused. Real-time data gathering and analytics is the pivot upon which smart buildings constantly churn. And the product they churn out is extremely valuable in helping your smart building determine which course of action to take. In the past, data was compared to oil and the network to a pipeline. That is true to some extent. But due to the rapid evolution of edge computing (placing computing capabilities on edge devices themselves) and IoT, the distinction between well, pipeline, refinery, and gas station has blurred. And that’s a good thing.
By moving the processing of data to the edge, we’ve been able to reduce latency (the speed of transmitting information) and speed decision making. This lets you take all the raw data collected throughout your building, via sensors and other devices, and quickly understand user behaviors, detect patterns, and even anticipate threats. The results are powerful: increased situational awareness, real-time decision making, and greater efficiencies.
The universal nature of wireless communications has been critical to making buildings smarter. It’s a well-understood technology that helps eliminate many fears while empowering real-time collaboration and information (or data) sharing. Plus, it’s readily available and relatively inexpensive to implement. As wireless devices have evolved, there has also been a trend toward simple user interfaces that help break down complicated or information-heavy data. In combination, these have worked to accelerate the adoption of smart building technologies among users who otherwise might hesitate to do so.
Building operations like scheduling, mapping usage, running diagnostics, and submitting paperwork (or just retrieving associated physical tools and documents) can slow productivity dramatically. Real-time communications tools and streamlined user interfaces bypass all that, speeding collaboration and information sharing. They provide direct access to a building’s operations and its multiple connected systems, increasing situational awareness in real time to deliver more accurate diagnoses, better service, and faster responses—all at less cost.
Smart building users and visitors gain similar value. Through mobile devices and innovative workplace solutions, they can gain instant access to real-time information and user-friendly apps for an enhanced user experience. And smart buildings can do so while embedding personalization based on an individual user’s behavior, enhancing their experience even further.
From onboarding and secure access to wayfinding and safeguarding health, wireless technologies help create a trusted workplace environment. A key example of their value can be illustrated via the current pandemic. In a trusted workplace, an employee’s personal mobile device can let them check in virtually when they enter their building. As they do, they receive instant real-time stats on social distancing, plus any alerts. When applicable, they are instantly notified that COVID-19 densities have been reached in their assigned workspace and then are quickly redirected to a safer location. And it all happens through the collective power of personal mobile devices.
By leveraging technology as a force multiplier, building operators can do an end run around budget and staffing constraints.
Creating a trusted workplace means making users feel safe. Fortunately, IoT devices are good at this. They excel in providing a sense of security to smart building users while also being functional. Cameras, sensors, badge readers, and other devices can all coordinate to provide more accurate and timely data for better decision making. They can also implement automated policies and controls to restrict access or provide a predetermined response based on user behaviors. By leveraging technology as a force multiplier, building operators can do an end run around budget and staffing constraints.
Smart buildings are best known for their promotion of security- and safety-related environmental controls and building automation systems. Depending on a facility’s use, these could be deemed mission critical (e.g., healthcare, research, utilities). These systems can be enhanced to protect the health of users via apps for social distancing and contact tracing, and even for automated disinfection. More important, these solutions can be applied to existing buildings to mitigate various risks, including to health, while ensuring business continuity.
A smart building’s network must also provide end-to-end threat-centric security, including for all connected end devices. Establishing a proactive defense that searches for threats or issues before they take hold prevents downtime and loss of services. Plus, it keeps facilities operating at peak efficiency. But more important, it keeps facility and user data secure.
The transition to smart and intuitive buildings is an especially beneficial strategy for owners of existing properties. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to retrofit their facilities to offer healthy and flexible hybrid workspaces adds immediate value to a property by creating a trusted workplace environment. Solutions like Cisco DNA Spaces are a key part of this by providing insights into users’ behaviors that help you create an experience centered on your occupants’ well-being. While these and other solutions enable smart buildings to provide value in a variety of ways (see “Smart Building Use Cases,” Page 11), there are three key ways they do so.
Smart buildings provide personal protection and peace of mind for their occupants by leveraging innovative technologies that monitor spaces, detect risks, and implement automated responses. But they also serve to protect physical assets and brand value, adding to users’ sense of well-being about their environment. When properly designed, smart buildings promote workplace health and safety through various means, including:
Smart buildings add significant value by providing smart and flexible spaces that deliver better experiences for users, enable greater collaboration, and optimize a building’s usage rates.
Smart, intuitive spaces provide:
Smart buildings empower advanced monitoring of building performance and system utilization, quantitatively, to lower resource usage and costs, increase revenue, and align with the expectations of corporate programs and applicable regulatory and certification bodies (such as the U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system). They accomplish this by:
Smart buildings are becoming a transformative force in our society. Through a variety of technologies that revolve around networking, real-time data analytics, wireless communications, and advanced physical security and cybersecurity, they’re realigning workplace and user experiences to create trusted workplace environments. This has been accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to create smart and intuitive buildings that provide a sense of health and wellbeing for users while maximizing space utilization around social distancing and other mandates. In addition, the desire to increase resilience to ensure business continuity, especially for critical government services, is powering a move to smart and intuitive buildings.
By leveraging innovative network and wireless technologies, architects, developers, and operators can add value to planned or existing structures. Through design with technology, they can build trusted workplaces featuring improved health and safety, smarter and more intuitive spaces, and reduced costs and resource usage, all while increasing sustainability. And together with their technology partners, they can help shape the next generation of smart and intuitive buildings.