Do smart buildings make smarter people?

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about smart this and smart that and the conversation seemed more aspirational than tangible, but now I am seeing customers starting to adopt ‘smart building’ technologies as part of a longer term strategy to better harness the talent of their workforce, provide a more enjoyable working environment and build a better employer brand. Other drivers for smart building technology are the containment of facility expenses, optimisation of security and a more streamlined access for staff, visitors, customers and suppliers.

However, there are so many things that can be done with technology, and this is being accelerated by the Internet of Things, the trick is to prioritise what will have the most impact. Franky, I’m getting tired of people trying to sell me ‘smart home’ solutions that do things like turn my lights on. This isn’t creating much value, if any, I mean how hard is it to turn on a switch. And it comes at a cost.

New work practices are an important factor driving the requirements of the ‘smart building’. The increasing role of collaboration, BYOD (bring your own device) and use of video-based meetings impacts the design of spaces as well as the enabling technology. I don’t know how much time I see wasted at the beginning of every meeting while remote video links get set up and the meeting organiser fiddles with a spaghetti of cables. Smart buildings can instantly set up meetings, bring in remote video links and make available all relevant documents. It means a huge improvement in productivity.

Another pinch point is the management of people in and out of the building. Staff want to be recognised and ‘authorised’ quickly – and why not, they walk through the same gates every day. Facial recognition is increasingly being used here. And when customers visit your office, their experience impacts your brand, so it needs to be fast and pain free. Increasingly businesses are using self-service check in kiosks: powered by AI and accessibility features such as facial recognition, voice to text and audio cues. This reduces check-in time, but it also frees up reception staff to focus on hospitality and personal interaction with visitors. The kiosk check-in also has the benefits of collecting and consolidating data so the staff-kiosk mix can be optimised.

If you further investigate smart buildings, you’ll discover an almost endless list of possibilities: lighting and energy management, carpooling, cafeteria pre-ordering, parking management, LED displays run over an ethernet cable that can also ‘sense’ at the endpoint and send back information, workstation allocation and so on. But when evaluating any of the possible options, I recommend referencing three simple questions. Will the proposal:

  • Make my staff more comfortable and productive
  • Improve the experience of people entering and leaving the building
  • Reduce costs through better management of energy or simpler infrastructure