Imagine an office environment focused around you and your work day.

As you walk in to work, your building recognises you; you’re welcomed by name and handed a coffee exactly how you like it. You are directed to that meeting room you can never find. And you’re able to control the comfort settings around you from the phone in your palm.

Does this sound like your workplace? It might not now, but take note, because the third revolution of smart buildings is on its way.

Advancements in smart technology are transforming the old-style buildings of the past – inert containers of siloed information and services – into hyper-connected responsive and controllable machines. The result is converged technology in healthier buildings, which enables connected, flexible and ultimately, more productive, workplaces.

According to research published recently by Schneider Electric, industry leaders agree (83 per cent) that smart buildings should play an important role in any business strategy. However, under half (43 per cent) would actually be willing to invest in moving to a smarter building.

So, what is the smart building revolution? Can smarter technology really improve workplace performance? And, if so, why the hesitation to invest?

Creating smart buildings

We are used to buildings where everything is separate, nothing talks to each other and data is in silos. Smart buildings are connected, joined up systems with networked nodes and sensors, creating a huge depth of big data that can be analysed to give an insight to a range of activities and systems. Whilst many current buildings have some of these characteristics, none of them are as smart as they could be. A smart building should have:

  • A centralised system and services enabling control and maintenance of lighting, heating, cooling and networks. This helps to provide exceptional operating efficiency that monitors and reports on the performance and maintenance of devices
  • An integrated system offering an enhanced experience for users through an app interface
  • An IP-based network connecting devices, sensors and critical plant systems to a main backbone BMS or ICMS, which proactively optimises the building
  • Open software architecture and a common protocol language, such as BACNet, that allows future adoption of new devices, sensors and systems as they become available
  • Personalised comfort conditions and collaboration opportunities that promote increased productivity
  • Air, light, space and activities that are designed to support a healthy lifestyle
  • Occupancy and usage that are monitored so that space can be adapted, reconfigured and re- zoned depending on need

Driving efficiencies and productivity

The difficult question that most organisations ask regarding investment in smart technology is whether it will actually produce the desired results – will smart technology and smart buildings make our staff more productive and our workplaces more efficient?

Creating a building that supports optimum performance starts with getting the basics right. One of the core elements of smart building capability is the integrated control and monitoring of comfort conditions, including temperature, light levels and air quality.

Buildings at the forefront of the smart revolution have introduced apps into the workplace to allow staff to control their own comfort settings. This allows for a personalised experience that is all about making the work environment as comfortable for employees as possible and helps get the best out of staff.

Beyond comfort, apps have the power to infiltrate every corner of office life – from being used to book and monitor meeting room availability to guiding employees around complex buildings to locate other colleagues.

The use of space and energy can also be controlled and optimised at a more macro level. Through the use of badge-holders and smart devices that identify who you are or what you do and how you move around in a building, the key interactions that increase productivity can start to be analysed. Buildings are beginning to use occupancy data to support collaboration, to influence how people work and to ensure that people and knowledge do not remain in silos.

Buildings account for almost 40 per cent of energy used in the world today; with greater control over energy consuming systems and the integration of automation, inefficiencies can be reduced and cost savings made.

Making smart buildings a reality

We have seen how smart buildings are evolving to the next level: a connected, human-centric workspace that has an intuitive awareness of its occupancy and utilisation, with an app-centric interface that makes everything easy. But ultimately, buildings are only enablers of economic activity, with better buildings producing better work outcomes. The challenge of increasing productivity and efficiency must be seen as a mix of people, place and technology.

In order to reap the benefits of smart building technology, tenants and developers together must take a brave step forward and both invest in this new technology. Only then will the next generation workplace become a reality for many, rather than a few.