24 August 2021

The impact of PropTech on the office of the future

In the years to come, office buildings will transform faster and more dramatically than ever before. They will have to fulfil the changing needs of employees and visitors. In this blog series we examine three recent developments that are driving innovation in real estate and facilities management. While our previous blog focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this one is about the influence of Property Technology (PropTech). Increasingly, devices are able to generate data. How do we use that data to shape the office of the future?

Webinar - Noise or Necessity: How to Choose the Right Smart Workplace Technology
Webinar - Noise or Necessity: How to Choose the Right Smart Workplace Technology

With the surge of PropTech and the focus on return-to-office and hybrid work strategies, there is no shortage of options in the smart workplace technology market today. But, how do you choose from this complex landscape of smart workplace technologies?

 

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IoT fuelled by rise of PropTech

The development of Property Technology - or PropTech - represents a fundamental move towards broad-scale digitisation of buildings, with solutions provided by a variety of technology vendors for a multitude of purposes. As PropTech in general is quite extensive and covers a wide variety of use cases, it certainly supports the growth and possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Real-time office data

Many types of IoT sensors are able to provide data on an actual office situation. For example, they can measure temperature and humidity, but also air quality in terms of CO2 levels and other components - a topic that has increased in significance due to COVID-19. In addition, cameras and motion sensors can provide insight into the number of people present in the office. You could even chart their movements through a building.

McKinsey expects that organisations will spend six times more on IoT technology in 2023 than they did in 2014. According to various forecasts, more than 30 billion devices worldwide will be connected to the Internet via IoT technology in 2030.

Soap dispensers with Wi-Fi

However, McKinsey's forecast might prove to be rather conservative. Sensors are becoming more affordable and have a long lifespan. You can buy soap dispensers or toilet roll holders with a sensor and an internet connection, alerting the facilities department when refilling is required. Is such a small-scale application necessary? Probably not, as these things are checked by the cleaners on their usual route. They do not have someone running around filling up soap dispensers just in time. Data is valuable when you use it in a way that has a positive impact on productivity or user experience.

In other words, it is not about having the data, but about what you (can) do with it. What insights can you get out of it? How can you turn information into knowledge and eventually deepen your understanding? This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) starts to play an increasingly significant role.

AI could benefit businesses in terms of time, efficiency and money. For example, an air conditioning (HVAC) installation that uses AI to predict when the filters in its equipment will need to be replaced. If the filters are not replaced in time, the machine will use more power. Such a warning is useful, but you can only align policy to that information if you know when a maintenance visit is planned and can directly interact with the planning system of the relevant service provider in charge of replacing filters in this building. Secondly, you do not send a service engineer to replace one filter. But for a hundred then? That's probably too late. Value is created when you know exactly at what point you are operating most efficiently. AI supports you in making optimal use of your data and sending the right service engineer to the right building at the right time.

PropTech and the work environment

The data from different sensors and smart assets is not only useful for facilities management and maintenance. It can also be used to enhance the workplace experience.

A healthy, comfortable employee is a happier and more productive employee. Sensors can measure temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and much more. Algorithms can use that data to adjust the heating, ventilation and air conditioning. This ensures that the environment remains comfortable at all occupancy levels. It can also save energy by ensuring that heating and lighting are switched off when no one is in a room. In combination with an app it is possible to get direct interaction between a user and a room, by automatically adjusting the climate, lighting, and desk height to predefined levels. The workplace adjusts itself to the user.

Predicting behaviour and outcome

If all the relevant devices and components in an office building generate data about the elements that have an impact on the office, it is even possible to build a digital copy of the office and perform tests with it. This ‘digital twin’ provides an exact copy of the office allowing you to simulate how adjusting one variable might affect the occupancy of a department or the energy and maintenance cost for example.

With the help of machine learning and AI, smart software can create a best practice for running the office. Based on relevant data, it will allow you to find the perfect balance between comfort and costs, between occupancy level and well-being.

Fully exploiting the potential of data

Many workplace and facilities management specialists still lack a full understanding of how much value their organisational data holds and how to utilise it effectively for their digital strategies. Is your organisation fully exploiting the data already available? Recently a joint webinar brought experts from IWFM, 3edges and Planon together to discuss the usage of data in workplace and facilities management. Watch the webinar on-demand and gain practical guidance on using data in an increasingly digital world.

Like in other industries, data will considerably change the way we manage buildings in the coming years. As an FM or CRE manager, now is the time to get prepared for this revolution.

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