High-tech and human-centered: The rise of smart buildings
Smart buildings are gaining momentum – and as the technology behind them becomes more sophisticated and more prevalent, they’re set to change the way we live and work.
As connected solutions are introduced into buildings, real time monitoring will drive change in terms of how buildings are used. Meanwhile, a corresponding evolution in smart technology is focused on better facilities management – namely optimizing energy use and, increasingly, adapting the workplace experience to suit individual employees.
Real Views sat down with Akshay Thakur, Regional Director of the Smart Buildings Programme EMEA at JLL to discuss the development of smart buildings – and what they mean for the way we work and the built environment.
What are the key technologies currently used in smart buildings?
Right now, new technology is connecting different areas of a building either using wires, such as Power over Ethernet, where a single cable provides both data connection and electric power to various devices, or an array of wireless networks; Wifi, Bluetooth or short range radio are the most popular mediums at the moment. Increasingly, building sub-systems are being connected to a common network to allow for easier monitoring, better facilities management, and new user experiences. All of this is made possible by accessing data which was traditionally locked in each sub-systems management platform.
We’re already seeing companies adopt technology that enables workplaces to be more efficient; sensors can detect which areas of an office are in use and feed into an app that allows someone to find the nearest empty meeting room. Other apps might adjust temperature in line with the preferences of different workgroups.
Down the line, buildings could interact with both people and their personal devices to help further understand how they’re using a workspace – and optimize the environment and benefit they get from it. The key difference between where we are now and where we’ll be in the future is the interface we use to interact with buildings. Over time we should find that buildings are increasingly adapting to our requirements, almost predicting our demands and facilitating the environment to ensure the user experience is hassle-free or very intuitive.
What does the smart building of the future look like?
The utopian vision is that buildings will adapt to us. Instead of entering a meeting room, trying to find the light switch, and realizing the cables to connect your laptop to a screen are missing, you could walk in to a room that’s been automatically set to your exact preferences and requirements as stored in the room booking system. Projection, audio, and video requirements will be prepared beforehand to make it easier and faster to start meetings.
Building operations will also improve significantly. The building’s central system will guide users to their desks based on the predicted load for that day, thereby allowing the building to decide the optimal spread of users across floors to ensure the most efficient use of energy.
The ability for a building to generate power will become important amid a growing need for sustainable development. Current innovations include Pavegen floor tiles that convert the kinetic energy of footsteps to electricity, and Physee smart glass windows that reduce indoor glare while utilizing embedded solar cells to collect energy. Take The Edge building in Amsterdam – it has solar panels along the south-facing wall and rooftop, producing more energy than it uses. This was one of the first smart buildings and showcases what buildings can do, and there are many more in the pipeline vying to claim the title of the smartest building in the world.
How do we increase the speed of adoption of smart buildings?
Interoperability. Technology can enable all this – but one major limiting factor is the lack of standardization for communication between various smart building platforms and building sub-systems. Another is security concerns; some people still believe the only way to be secure is to not connect. However, this is changing – most people understand the benefits of a connected building and there is increasing recognition that we need to deploy the same rigorous security that is a given for any IT system, with clear policies on how building operators and other entities can use the data. Indeed, transparency on the use of data and subsequent added value to users is paramount to the success and adoption of smart systems.
There are other barriers such as the cost of investment, as well as regulations for smart technologies and the data collected that must be met, but once the limiting factors are addressed, a lot could happen with smart buildings within two or three years.
Who should be responsible for investing in a building’s smart technologies?
Investors and landlords often ask why they should invest in these technologies, when the tangible benefits go to the users of the space. Yet by enhancing the workplace experience within the building – by creating a space that encourages physical and mental wellbeing – they can charge a premium. Landlords and investors might additionally monetize the rich data generated by smart building technology by analyzing it for insights into how users behave in particular spaces, and providing these insights to various entities involved in smart building solutions.
On the operational end, this data has the benefit of allowing remote management and more efficient deployment of staff onsite, potentially reducing service costs.
How can IT teams work with corporate real estate teams to get the best out of smart buildings?
One of the biggest challenges is establishing a common way of working between these two functions. Strict IT policies around a secure connected system can clash with corporate real estate management when it comes to accessing the smart building software, for example, when external contractors need to check the lighting.
As more connected technology falls under the management of corporate real estate teams, they have to communicate with IT to understand the risks and why the building network must be treated with enterprise-level security.
The IT team should set out clear policies around who can access the data, when, and what they can do with it. For example, a restriction might be that not everyone who is in the building can access the heating, only if they’re sitting at a desk.
How do smart buildings fit into modern cities?
There is a big push towards smart cities – and indeed, connecting public infrastructure in a common network.
Smart buildings are a key component of smart cities, given all the data they can communicate to each other and to civic services. For example, during emergency evacuations, smart buildings can report back at regular intervals to help emergency services route resources more efficiently.
In the future, smart buildings would be connected in a citywide grid, generating their own energy that can be offloaded to any other space, helping contribute to more sustainable city development – and a more sustainable form of urban living. We’re only just at the start of the journey now but in 10 years’ time we’ll be in a very different place.