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Friday, 08 January 2016 09:08

Smart working needs smart buildings - Unlocking IoT to shape the businesses of the future

Posted By  Mark Furness

The business devices and processes we use are starting to change the design and functionality of the buildings we work in, and are in turn, are starting to shape the businesses of the future

We are at the beginning of a very exciting time for connectivity. Not only are we more connected, but so too are our machines, environments and systems. Enhanced sensors and software are at the heart of a new wave of technology that has the ability to reimagine our lives. Our working ones, in particular, stand to benefit with the rise of smart, efficient spaces and buildings.

Gartner tells us that by 2020, 25 billion ‘things’ will be connected. To date, the conversation has been dominated by talk of how these devices will transform consumers’ lives. But commercial buildings that take steps to become smarter stand to make their companies operate better and realise considerable cost savings. Whether that’s in terms of improving operations, security, sustainability, optimising assets or enhancing well-being, there are fascinating possibilities.  

Connected spaces for a connected generation

Our traditional office is changing and so too are those working in them. Within the next decade, we will need to adapt to a hyper-connected workforce made up of digital natives. These workers are early adopters of connected consumer devices and have adapted quickly to the convenience the Internet of Things can offer. With Millennials predicted to make up 75% of the overall workforce by 2020, it’s important for businesses to take steps to meet their needs.

So what does this all look like in practice? Well, for Millennials in particular, who expect technology and connectivity to just work, it means everywhere access. Workers are cutting the cords that have tied them to their desks, and better connectivity is facilitating the revolution in collaborative and flexible working. More automation and coordination will be required to ensure spaces and technology are equipped for hot desking, remote working and more fluid office structures. When that happens, collaboration becomes much easier, and efficiency is improved. Workplaces that learn and adapt to the needs and preferences of their workforce will quickly become the norm.

Like clockwork

Automation and smart building technology provide an unprecedented opportunity for facilities and office managers to gain oversight and control. Take, for example, building access and security. You’re probably used to using a key, a fob or a card to gain entrance to your place of work. But what if a mobile app or even biometrics could replace them and keep track of who was in the building?

Then there are the environmental benefits of smart buildings. Lighting, heating and cooling empty rooms waste a huge amount of energy and costs businesses a significant amount of money. According to the Carbon Trust, lighting costs alone can equal as much as 40% of a business’ overall electricity consumption. A smart workplace can take advantage of natural daylight, automatically turn off lights or tune the air conditioning when rooms are empty or less busy. As a result, energy wastage can be dramatically reduced.

The disconnect in the connected workplace

But with such results at our fingertips and such simple systems involved, why isn’t there bigger uptake? At the moment many of our connected devices can talk, but not the same languages. There’s a danger of creating chaos with a smart system if all the aspects within it aren’t singing from the same song sheet. This creates a barrier in unlocking the real value of IoT.

It’s still possible to tie everything together in a way that properly coordinates the hardware and software – provided a platform sits at the heart. In simple terms, an intelligent, scalable and simple-to-use middleware system is required to pull all devices and services together to give the IoT environment a ‘central nervous system’.

We have seen a few examples of vendor-specific middleware already. For example, some vendors are focusing on enabling smart lighting middleware solutions, often as a way of connecting their own products. But history has told us that to enable true innovation, for a trend to take off, to transform industries and create new ones, a platform must be the central part of the story.

A tidal wave of intelligent things and next-generation digital services is approaching. Businesses can capitalise by making sure they’re fully equipped to make smarter, and more rewarding choices for their workplaces.  

About the author

Mark Furness is CEO of essensys, a business he founded In 2006 on the premise that orchestration, automation and self-service would completely transform the world of IT and had the potential to deliver huge benefits. Mark has over 15 years of experience building IT and telecommunications organisations in both Europe and Asia Pacific.

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