The value of sharing data with a broader building ecosystem

Buildings have always generated data. From peak times for air-conditioning usage, to the number of people coming and going, we have long been able to get a clear picture of what’s happening, if we wanted to. But in the past, technology focused primarily on controlling and automating HVAC, lighting, and security systems.

Now, high-speed data connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) are making it easy to use that data to generate insights centred on user controllability and comfort. This in turn is opening the door to cutting-edge, sustainable workplaces. This is not just about understanding how we use buildings, but about using that knowledge to learn, adapt and improve our working environments.

 

Ubiquitous sensing means the environment is aware, monitoring and recognising what people are doing, and using these insights to continuously optimise the space.

Everything is connected

Buildings under construction today feature highly connected or technology that aggregates data to make autonomous decisions on everything from lighting levels to rubbish collection to climate control. Ubiquitous sensing means the environment is aware, monitoring and recognising what people are doing, and using these insights to continuously optimise the space.

New mesh networking technology means devices no longer have to report back to a central hub – they can all talk to one another directly. This makes the size of a network virtually (no pun intended) limitless, so equipment, software and data can be shared across a whole building ecosystem.

Planning ahead is key. Your technology needs to be deliberately designed to capture and process the specific information you need. That means understanding what you want to achieve, creating fieldsets to collect the right information, and knowing what you’re going to do with it next.

The result? A clever network that learns from experience and predicts what needs to happen without intervention.

 

With all the technology, buildings should still be human-centric

People are at the heart of any workplace. A better working environment leads to better staff retention, more satisfied employees and increased productivity. And, given we spend more than half of our waking time in offices, providing the best possible space should be a non-negotiable for any business.

With insights from the data being collected, buildings can be designed to accommodate every kind of worker.

Creating a flexible workplace is easier when you know how it will be used. We’re all different, and so is the way we want to exist within these spaces. With insights from the data being collected, buildings can be designed to accommodate every kind of worker. That might mean hot desks in social or collaborative areas, group environments with brainstorming tools built-in, even outdoor zones for a change of scenery. Data on remote workforces means you know what kind of communication tech is required, from integrated video conferencing to dedicated quiet rooms where staff can chat with offsite colleagues.

 

Shared data means a building can appear to learn

A building that ‘learns’ is one that can adapt to every worker. More and more, we see devices that learn from what has happened before and self-regulate. 

Data is fluid – what happened yesterday isn’t necessarily what will happen today. A smart building will take that information and make decisions without human intervention, ensuring the workplace environment is always optimised. This data can be extrapolated across multiple locations, venues and environments throughout the broader ecosystem.

As workers’ needs change, so does the network. New knowledge doesn’t even have to be manually implemented – the buildings learn and incorporate it into their processes autonomously.

 

A $3 energy saving becomes $30 saved in building capacity, and that turns into $300 you don’t have to spend because you’ve engaged and retained staff members.

Data can make buildings more sustainable

Buildings are one of the biggest consumers of energy, and some researchers estimate that up to 30% of that is wastage. Lights are left on, coffee machines run into the night, and central ventilation systems heat empty rooms.

In a connected workspace, sensor nodes constantly collect, store and share information about what’s being used and how, while networks can monitor occupancy, luminaire performance and energy consumption. With this data available, companies can understand exactly how their buildings are being used, and where efficiencies can be made.

For example, centralised HVAC controlled by a digital portal can give businesses real-time information and allow for remote-control away from the site. Even better, the system itself can make decisions about what to heat and cool, delivering the right level of comfort to only the people who need it, saving on both energy costs and emissions.

Plus, small cost savings have knock on effects which offer even greater impact. Facilities Managers talk about this as the 3-30-300 rule. A $3 energy saving becomes $30 saved in building capacity, and that turns into $300 you don’t have to spend because you’ve engaged and retained staff members.

The sky is the limit

There are obvious everyday uses. Unseasonably hot? No one needs to walk over and adjust the thermostat. But this capability extends far beyond small tasks to provide much larger benefits. Asset tracking through sensors provides additional protection for expensive assets like computer monitors or medical equipment. Wayfinding solutions can help employees find the fastest route to their next meeting, or a free parking space when they arrive. And in terms of office space, utlilisation solutions like Serraview are able to develop an understanding of office and desk utilisation over time to optimise how workspaces are used.

A hallway can now sense when people are nearby and automatically dim or brighten the ambient light.

Imagine if a conference room could physically move its walls depending on how many people would be using it. A hallway can now sense when people are nearby and automatically dim or brighten the ambient light. Overnight, bins could be emptied, desks cleared, new stationery delivered. In the future you could use this technology to see how many people are booked into meetings for the next seven days, and connect to an online ordering system to ensure enough sandwiches will be on standby.

A smart building uses data to understand everything together. Knowing when to turn on the air-conditioning is one thing, but it’s infinitely more valuable when combined with presence data (knowing where people are in the building), or how people use the spaces on a Friday, or what we know about employee comfort in winter versus summer.

Using big data to manage the success of buildings means it can be scaled, from one building to several, or from several buildings to a whole city. The data analysis is transferrable to any other problem that needs solving – understanding how employees use a lunchroom could use the same type of technology as knowing when pedestrian thoroughfare is at peak usage.

This is what happens when we use data meaningfully – it evolves from numbers without context into real-life strategies to change workplaces for the better.