What businesses can learn from smart home tech

Clare Hopping

Monday 1 May 2017

Gartner has predicted commercial buildings will include more than 6.4 billion connected systems by the end of 2016, but how should companies be implementing smart tech?

Research firm Gartner predicts that commercial buildings will have more than 6.4 billion ‘connected things’ by the end of 2016, whether smart lighting, heating or cooling. The most popular reasons for such implementations are to reduce energy consumption and make experiences more personalised for staff, the report revealed.

“In short, we are moving from “work” to “net-work,” Professor Carlos Ratti, founder of design and innovation firm Carlos Ratti Associates explained. “An occupancy response system allows us not only to create a more sustainable building, but also to create platforms for people to interact better – to book a room or set up a meeting on the go.”

Identifying the value of a smart office

Smart buildings, like smart homes, work best when they’re able to understand and communicate with the individual and base trends, Chris Lewis, a partner at Deloitte partners explained.

Once these are identified, personalised experiences for the occupant can be built, but that requires an element of consent in order to let a building or whatever it happens to be, communicate with you via your iPhone or smartphone.

“To date, it’s felt like that whole experience is very much one sided,” he explained. “So the user will give all the information to the smart building, and in return the buildings don’t give much back.”

He compares the future of the office to retail environments, where a user’s smartphone will send information and a retailer will respond by suggesting offers or a more relevant shopping experience for them.

“In this case, the end user can immediately see why it’s worth their while getting into some kind of relationship with the technology,” he explained.

Making data appropriate, relevant and functional – as an additive to the user experience in a commercial office context – really does relate to how he or she feels that their day in the office has been enhanced as a result.

Both Deloitte and Carlos Ratti Associates have used this premise as the motivation to build smart offices.

1 New Street Square

Deloitte’s new London office at 1 New Street Square has been designed with learnings from The Edge in Amsterdam, which is really a computer with roof. It’s about seeing what works and what’s relevant, what transportable and what fits into a London-based building.

Each employee’s smartphone will be able to integrate with the building management system, for example, the lighting directly above the user’s desk can be controlled according to their preferences.

Meeting rooms will be bookable via a smartphone and it is possible to see where meeting rooms are available in the building and where they’re not, rather than rely on a central booking desk.

If someone wants to hot desk, the building can tell them where to sit in order to collaborate more effectively with people working on the same projects, and identify colleagues who share similar personalities and skills.

“It’s not a revolution, but in terms of the experience today versus this [future] experience, it will be entirely better,” Lewis explained. “There’s kind of a Big Brother to it in one sense, but ultimately what it’s designed to do is just improve and make the whole experience of using and being in a building more efficient. It just makes it easier to work together, to collaborate and to ultimately get the job done.”

Agnelli Foundation headquarters

Like Deloitte’s office space, Carlo Ratti’s designs put the employee at the heart of the office, allowing them to control the heating, cooling and lighting system. As they move around the building, these features will be changed according to their preferences, meaning it’ll always be the perfect working environment for them.

“The system gives shape to a workplace that naturally learns and synchronises to its user’s needs, thus optimising space usage and limiting energy waste,” Professor Ratti explained.

“We are equipping the historic building with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that monitor different sets of data, including occupancy levels, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, and the status of meeting rooms. Based on this information, the building management system (BMS) responds dynamically – adjusting lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and room bookings in real-time.”

Once building occupants set their preferred temperature via a smartphone app, a thermal bubble follows them throughout the building, Ratti continued. This is made possible by the fan coil units situated in the false ceilings, which are activated by human presence. When an occupant leaves a given space, the room returns naturally to ‘standby mode’ and saves energy – just like a computer does.

The future of the smart office

Lewis thinks developers of real estate will begin to include some of this technology within the buildings that they build, rather than being the responsibility of the tenant.

“I can imagine a time when you’ll walk round an office and there’ll almost be like a mini hologram above your head that will say what your level is and where you sit,” Lewis said.

“I can even see a time when as you walk past somebody who’s on LinkedIn and you’re connected to them or you know someone who knows them, either something will appear above their head or something will appear on your phone to tell you.”

There’s so much technology out there; it’s just a question of using technology in an appropriate way, Lewis finished.

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