Making connections

A panel of industry experts discuss how developments in AV, IoT and the workplace are creating a perfect opportunity to make the dream of ‘smart buildings’, powered by interconnected systems, a reality.

Pushing productivity remains the focus of corporate spaces but the trials and tribulations of Covid-19 have shown that other factors, health and wellness for example, can no longer be relegated to being secondary considerations.

We are seeing an evolution of the places where we work, and this has brought attention to smart building solutions based around interconnected systems where AV and IoT technology are coming together to provide the user greater control and greater insight into their environment.

The case for interconnectivity Sanjeev Tullicherry, director at Legato Health Technologies, says: “We’ve been managing real estate in the same way for decades and not using technology to its full potential. But we have an opportunity here with technology and IoT to drive efficiency and to start moving away from ‘a desk’ towards activity-based working. This in turn means that we can start to make better decisions about the size of portfolio in terms of square footage when it comes to real estate which means we can reduce operating costs. The entire domino effect begins with effectively leveraging technology.”

Mradul Sharma, founder and managing director at 3CDN Workplace Technology Consultants, goes into further detail regarding the new light in which technology is being viewed: “Prior to 2020, the focus of IoT was mainly around optimising building resources while focusing on HVAC and lighting systems. Space utilisation has become the focal point now and, in many ways, it has evolved in its definition. Earlier it was about understanding underutilised and wasted spaces which led to significant cost savings by eliminating inefficiencies. Now, it is more about controlling crowd density and guaranteeing a safe working environment. Companies are looking to maximise operational data, better track workplace occupancy and utilisation.”

There is also the consideration that technology can help workplaces tackle the challenges presented by the pandemic. Dr. Simon Benson from Levaux adds: “The real problem for employers right now is how do they get people back to work safely? How do they ensure their wellness, give them the confidence to return to work and make sure that they are productive? At present, we can all be on a conference call and it is a good stopgap measure but there is something important about having people work shoulder to shoulder. For technology, it is incredibly important to have the endpoints that provide data about the health of the space and assist in the implementation of measures such as contact tracing and social distancing which help ensure that the workers have a safe environment.”

Achieving repeatability

The idea of a ‘smart building’ is not new. But for a long time, such systems were bespoke and custom undertakings. This is changing as Sharma from 3CDN details: “We are getting there, and the marketplace will have a ‘repeatable’ story around it soon. As it stands, smart devices and buildings are proliferating but they need to be interconnected. High-speed wireless access and AI-driven technologies in our everyday lives have made it so that the demand for smart solutions is already present. But it is key to understand that these interconnected systems will be both hardware and software based. The biggest step forward will be common standards and open APIs. There is an abundance of computing power and storage on the cloud which has seen the cost of employing sensors come down. But there is still an opportunity when it comes to certifications and programming of smart buildings.”

Benson from Levaux details: “There is certainly a repeatable route and that is the approach being taken by consultants and professionals in terms of what they present to their clients. They want a solution that is repeatable in terms of looking and working from floorplans and planning out exactly how the space can be interpreted and how the project can be moved forward. More and more solutions are attaching to the electrical infrastructure and piggybacking on that and it is a standard grid format. So, the technology is at a point where it is definitely repeatable.”

He continues: “We developed our technology, particularly for our integrators, to make it easier for them to have a repeatable procedure for commissioning the technology. And where this is driving us is to have a solution that can be remotely managed by the professionals doing the integration.”

Repeatability will also aid in the execution of interconnected systems as Tullicherry from Legato Health Technologies adds: “From our perspective, the most important thing is ‘what does it cost me?’. Then, the ease of deploying and execution is also big. Having technology solutions that are preconfigured is a big step forward because it makes them easier to use and easier to integrate. But you must also consider the existing real estate of the user. They have already invested money into technology, and they can’t just throw that out of the window. So, if you are coming with a new solution, you need to make sure there is a way for it to integrate with the technology that has already been deployed.”

Route to implementation

With all the pieces seemingly falling into place, what are the final hurdles that need to be overcome to make smart buildings a widespread reality? Tullicherry from Legato Health Technologies says: “To really enact important change from the IoT perspective you have to look at technology very differently. The additional challenge is that all the important stakeholders on the end user’s side, from tech to procurement to finance to C-level executives, need to share this perspective and without their buy-in it is difficult to roll out interconnected systems. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in organisations where I built up enough ‘capability capital’ based on my work, the projects I delivered, and my time spent with the organisation. I was able to use that along with ROI numbers and other pieces of information to drive change. The way to get ambitious ‘smart building’ projects off the ground is to really have that one person who will drive it and evangelise the benefits of the technology.”

Benson from Levaux presents the solution provider’s perspective: “I think what is very important is return on investment. You can’t just talk technology; you have to tell them directly how they are going to make their company more profitable and how they’re going to be able to do their jobs more efficiently. What is the time for the return on the money they are spending on technology and what is the associated risk? You have to articulate this clearly and this brings the conversation to the real value you are trying to provide and the problems you are immediately trying to solve for their business.”

Sharma from 3CDN turns the conversation towards execution: “The biggest objection towards adoption of IoT systems is security. How can IoT systems protect confidentiality and integrity of data that is collected, stored, processed and transmitted through the network. Technology professionals have to be able to address security concerns.”

Benson from Levaux agrees: “More and more the conversation is coming towards security. We are working with some high value institutions and their data is extremely sensitive. You have to be compliant. You have to be ISO certified and you must address these security concerns seriously. The transmission and control of data, its security, how people will access it, you have to be professional and you have to have a game plan to present to the clients regarding how you will be handling their most valuable assets.”

Sharma from 3CDN believes that there are steps technology professionals can take that can set them on the path to overcoming client objection. He concludes: “Businesses are looking to reduce facilities and operation costs while improving profitability. So, lack of understanding around the ROI of the investment in this package is another barrier for us to make a viable business case around it. But this can be overcome with the right messaging and education drive. The last barrier would be on the end of the technology professionals, which is a dearth of talent and knowledge and skills and understanding of which devices, communication technologies, software and platforms are best suited for interconnected systems. We have to make an effort to ensure we have the relevant skills to deliver.”

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