A building that tells you what it needs sounds very futuristic. The reality is that this vision of the future is closer than you might think. So-called smart buildings offer enormous advantages for users and managers of office buildings. However, before this can happen, an essential step must be taken in the area of data integration.
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Sensors and smart devices are important components of a smart building – organisations can use these to collect a wealth of data. They can see how many people are using the office at a given moment, which workstations are used most and what the peak times are with regard to energy consumption: and that’s just a small sample of the possibilities. A sensor can also provide insight into humidity or even measure something as small as coffee machine use. Building managers can then take action based on concrete data.
Benefits for the building’s users
Smart buildings yield considerable returns in the area of efficiency and cost savings. However, the focus above all must be on the benefits for the building’s users. That’s because by creating a work environment that is as comfortable as possible, an organisation can get more out of its employees. Happy employees perform better, which benefits productivity. Moreover, a smart building can contribute to the safety and health (CO2 and humidity control) of its users.
I came upon a good example of the above during my visit to CeBIT. Toshiba has ‘smart’ elevators in their office because it has equipped them with embedded software that is linked to their cloud environment. Thanks to a camera, this cloud is able to measure how many people are waiting for the elevator at a given time and adjust the elevator movement algorithm accordingly based on the data. The result is improved traffic flow during peak times, which eliminates lots of frustration for employees. Using the acquired data, Toshiba is able to compare failure patterns and use this information to reduce the chance that something will break by deploying predictive maintenance.
An additional benefit of collecting data is cost savings, for example, by linking maintenance and cleaning to a building’s actual use. When it appears that a certain wing is hardly used, you can decide to have the space cleaned less frequently. You can also limit the CO2 emissions by conducting an analysis of the energy consumption. The combination of happy employees and sustainability is, in turn, good for the organisation’s appeal, which results in talented employees having more interest in coming to work for the organisation - or to keep working for it.
The advantages are numerous, but when is a building truly smart? An important initial step towards a smart building is setting up a central location (possibly in the cloud) where all building data is collected and processed into concrete assignments. If the sensors see that maintenance is necessary, a technician will be informed about this automatically. However, in order to achieve full integration, all applications must speak the same language. Currently, almost all of them have a different type of interface. Integration is akin to building the Tower of Babel in this case.
That is why for the time being I, just like my colleague Erik Jaspers, prefer not to talk about smart but rather quantified buildings. The difference is in the integration of applications. So while we work towards full integration, we can make some big leaps forward by translating the data collected by the sensors into actions in the workplace. That’s good for our wallet, but above all good for the users.
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