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Evolution of smart buildings into smart workplaces

The future moves beyond smart buildings into smart spaces, and true integration with mobile technology.


Johannesburg, 24 May 2018
Read time 4min 20sec

Going beyond energy savings and security into ambient intelligence requires big-picture thinking because digitisation is imperative and it's happening now.

'Smart' buildings are those that manage energy consumption and security well, but spaces like Microsoft's Redmond Campus set the stage for a quantum leap in smart spaces. With approximately 140 buildings and 65 000 people on campus, Redmond has become a flagship of innovation when it comes to getting the most out of technology, and empowering people to achieve more through technology.

With the Internet of things (IOT) in the form of a comprehensive network of sensors on everything from heaters, lights, access points and water consumption, Microsoft is able to harvest unprecedented amounts of data. This is then used to get a better understanding of the physical state of the buildings, as well as how those buildings are being used. Not only has this led to greater efficiency, but it's also resulted in cost-savings that run into millions of dollars.

Do we need smart workplaces?

Even though smart buildings have been identified as one of the key IT trends for 2018 in Dimension Data's 2018 Digital Workplace IT Trends, only 40% of companies have a digitisation plan, and without one, many businesses run the risk of being left behind.

The report also indicates that business leaders want their employees to work together, improve customer experience, and drive down costs through the smart use of technology. This is achievable through the use of smart building technology and through the creation of digital workplaces, especially now because the era of conscientious water and power usage, as well as reducing the costs involved, is not only important but significant, as found on the Redmond campus, where Microsoft saves millions of dollars. But innovation in this space is just as much about what's best for people and the planet.

Having a smart building isn't enough; companies need to focus on the difference technology can make to everyone using their buildings. By knowing what's possible, it's easy to imagine the workplace of the near future. Companies could do away with keypads or access cards and introduce sensors that pick up on employees' biometric data and grant them access accordingly.

With integrated security systems in place across all the company's buildings, employees can enter any office, anywhere in the world, and be recognised by the technology systems in place. Digital signage could light up in response, as employees or guests approach and guide them to the right meeting room. And temperature and lights could be programmed to respond to voice instructions, adjust and remember individual preferences for the future. Meeting rooms of the future could dial into Web-based meetings automatically, fine-tuning audio as others join, orienting pick-up as others enter the room.

We are at a point where underlying technology in both collaborative and individual spaces, and booths, should adapt to the needs of those using them. And architectural design should include various layers of technology and ambient intelligence (AmI), which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create an environment that is sensitive and responsive to those within it.

Starting point

Moving from systems integration towards digital business involves bringing siloed, disparate groups together, but given the incredible advances ambient intelligence adds to digital workplaces, many companies want to evolve their businesses, but aren't sure where to start.

First steps are really quite simple:

* Decide if this is a defined strategy for your business.
* While siloed solutions are possible, they're limited. Companies might enjoy an effective access system, and save on energy usage, but they miss out on the cumulative benefits of a holistic approach.
* Involve everyone. Executives from every department should be included from the beginning. This ensures everyone has equal voice, but also understands and agrees on priorities, resulting in common goals.
* Start with the end in mind. If your goal is to be within a 100% smart space by 2022, that allows you to work backwards, breaking larger tasks into small, short-term tasks. Knowing you need to have energy and maintenance in place in specific buildings within 12 months means you know what needs to be discussed with the owners and with the building owners. It also means you can create and share a project plan, and take a proactive role in the process.

Workplace as a solution (WaaS)

Pulling it all together into a smart, comprehensive solution may seem daunting, but with the right framework, the right people and the right strategy, all tailored around your business needs, digitisation becomes not only doable, but essential.

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