Definition

With the advent of technology, buildings which were once solely meant to provide shelter, are now capable of doing a lot more for us. Thanks to technological advances and new connections between different kinds of software and hardware, smart buildings allow for more convenience, customizability, reduced waste and lower overhead costs than was every thought possible. But let’s back up.

At their core, smart buildings use wireless connections that record and share information about the building’s functions (such as water use, heating and other utilities) to streamline their use. This information allows users to better see when and what resources are in use, control them remotely, and even automate processes.

A core component of every smart building is their use of sensors to gather data. This means they might track when a room is in use, at what times lights are turned on and off, which areas of the building receive the most traffic, and what the average temperature is.

The data collected by smart buildings is of high value, as it gives building managers great insight into what resources are underutilized or wasted. It can help them see which spaces don’t get used, which lights are kept on and which entrances create opportunity for security breaches.

Next, this information is used to automate processes from heating to lighting to security. So users can adjust settings so that, for example, the heat is turned off on the weekend, lights are motion activated or door lock automatically.

Finally, data is shared with users so that action can be taken remotely in cases where it is necessary. In many smart building, users who forget to lock up or turn off lights and even appliances can do so at the click fo a button. They may even be able to use their smart building interface to get directions to a certain part of the building or to an open parking spot.

So why is this important? Smart buildings cut down on waste, increase security, and can help users save money. When managers know which offices, meeting rooms or floors go unused, they can reevaluate their use and prioritize other features. They might rearrange seating or decide to rent out a section of the office. At the very least, they can shut off heating and light systems while not in use, or automate the building to do so, saving money and promoting a more sustainable lifestyle. With their increased efficiency, smart buildings are inherently greener, while being long-term cost savers. While the technology needed for a smart building does present high upfront costs,  tracking energy and resource use with greater precision can be used to track the amount of money saved in the long term compared to tradional building structures.

Security is also a huge factor contributing to the rise of smart buildings. In a smart building, employees wouldn’t have to remember to lock up or trust that the security guard is checking everyone’s ID. With smart buildings, you can have doors lock automatically or at certain times, you can customize who has key card access to which areas of the building and protect important data from breaches. Smart buildings are, in short, the future of construction and architecture. 

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Technology

Smart buildings track and record data which gives users greater insight into their energy and resource consumption, allows them to automate and control processes remotely, and allows for increased efficiency and sustainability. Here’s how they work:

Sensors

The core technology that sets smart buildings apart from traditional structures are  the sensors that are constantly collecting data. They track and record everything from occupancy, the amount of traffic to certain rooms, and the weather outside. This data is invaluable, as it gives managers insight on what resources are being used versus wasted, and can predict the needs of users. For example, at the Mirage in Las Vegas, when sensors indicate that it’s particularly hot outside, signals are sent to the building’s water system to reserve extra cold water to be distributed as needed. 

Energy Efficiency Technologies

Data collected from both inside and outside the building can help inform property owners on how efficient and cost-effective the energy use is. Lights and heating can be set to turn off automatically  when a room is empty, during certain times or on weekends and holidays. Data collected about outside weather can be used to adjust the thermostat accordingly, without the need for human intervention, for example averting air conditioning to areas of the building that receive the most sunlight. In one museum in Washington D.C, sensors track the location of occupants, only turning on lights and video in exhibits when there are visitors there to see them.

Sensors can also measure the quality of systems like heating, air conditioning, ventilation and water supply and alert managers when they need to be repaired or replaced. Proactive maintenance on pipes, fixtures, and other moving parts that bring buildings to life can save a lot of money in the long run by allowing managers to fix problems before they occur. More than that, it can measure the efficiency of systems like air conditioning and weigh the costs and benefits of upgrading to new models versus keeping less efficient ones.

Safety Measures

Sensors also have the potential to monitor structural integrity and even anticipate power outages, ensuring elevators don’t get stuck between floors or appliances don’t short circuit during power surges.

Smart Security Systems

Smart security systems increase building safety with ease and minimize the risks that come with traditional keys and door locks. They include things like remote access control, key card access and doors that can be locked remotely, with an administrator able to track and program door unlocks at any time. You can even customize who has access to which rooms.

Intelligent Lighting

Lighting that adjusts to employee preferences can increase productivity. It can also adjust throughout the day to mimic natural sunlight which may help regulate the circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle of the user, improving quality of sleep and overall health.

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Building Examples

The Edge - Amsterdam

The Edge is the recipient of the highest sustainability score a British agency BREEAM has ever given: 98.4 percent. It’s exterior is made from solar panels, which generate more electricity than the building uses each day, and advanced ventilation composed of mesh panels in each floor which let hot air rise to the ceiling, mimicking the airflow outdoors. It’s connected to an app that directs guests to parking spots, finds them desks, which are made available based on individual schedules, and automatically adjusts the lighting and temperature for each space that a guest enters.  

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - London

At this London sports arena, highspeed WiFi and thousands of Bluetooth connects allow fans to use an app to direct them not only around the stadium but to bathrooms with shorter lines. Complex hardware systems make the venue multipurpose as well, its  automated floor system allowing the field to switch from grass to turf in just 25 minutes, equipping it for even American football. 

Sheraton - Los Angeles

The Sheraton Los Angeles has robots that greet guests at the door and assist with duties like taking luggage and navigating guests around the hotel. They can even open doors and take themselves back to their charging stations when they need to power up.

The Crystal - London

The Crystal generates 100 percent its own natural heat through a combination of solar power and a ground heat pump. It’s equipped with a rainwater harvesting system, and according to their website, the building has CO2 emmissions that are on average 70 percent lower than other London office buildings. It’s the first building in the world to reach the highest sustainability rating from both British and American organizations. 

Apple Park - Cupertino

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Apple’s corporate headquarters were bound to involve cutting edge design, and they don’t disappoint. The ring-shaped building was created to hold 12,000 employees, is open to visitors, and was entirely custom made. It is thought to be one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world. Temperature is regulated with high tech ventilation, as well as tubes laid in the ceilings and floors which help keep things cool. It is estimated to be worth over $4 billion, making the 1% property tax $ 40 million. 

Bahrain World Trade Center - Bahrain

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Generating about 15 percent of its energy needs from wine, the Bahrain World Trade Center was the first skyscraper to incorporate windmills into its design. The 240 meter twin skyscrapers are joined at the center by three windmills, each 3 meters wide, which are attached to walkways. The building was designed and built by the Atkins company and is in the Bahrainian city of Manama.

Allianz Arena - Munich 

Nicknamed “inflatable boat” in German, the blow up looking exterior of this German stadium is filled with millions of LED lights that can turn one of 16 million different colors at a moment’s notice. Sensors throughout the stadium monitor the health of the grass, adjusting the temperature and irrigation to keep it at optimal performance.

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Smart Offices

Smart offices, just like smart buildings, are the future. Let’s dig more into this subset of workplace innovation:

What is a Smart Office?

A smart office can be defined as an intelligent workplace designed to leverage technology to help employees stay connected with their environment. 

Smart technology includes software, IoT technology, sensors, and secured networked platforms. They all improve automation and work together to increase comfort and productivity.

A smart office may sound a little complicated but it's quite easy to build one. Plus, the motivation is also there since about 80 percent of millennials prefer the idea of working in a smart office.

What Technology Tools Can People Invest in to Make a Smart Office?

The concept is simple but how you build it depends largely on organizational profile, goals, and employees. However, some elements are common among businesses and niches.

Design and Floor Plan: You need to come up with an office plan that accommodates different work styles and environments. For example, it may be a good idea to create a silent corner where employees can work without being distracted. This is important since distractions can result in poor productivity.

In addition to this, smart businesses also have entertainment zones where employees can relax and chill. It can be difficult to accommodate all this if you have limited space but if you plan intelligently then you will be able to come up with a solution.

According to reports, only about 60 percent of office space is properly utilized. Hence, there’s a need to get in touch with a professional and prepare an efficient design.

Activity-based Workplace (ABW): The ABW is one of the most popular design strategies. It involves an open space and hot desks designed to allow proper communication between employees.

According to reports, about 70 percent of offices in the country have an open floor plan. But, very few use it efficiently. Plus, organizations are constantly working to come up with newer and more efficient strategies. In fact, according to reports, it may be a good idea to keep upgrading the office plan which can improve productivity by up to 67 percent.

Sensors and IoT: IoT is one of the most important parts of a smart office. This technology allows employees to stay connected with each other. IoT sensors are in high demand. Companies in the real estate sector are expected to spend about 1.3 billion on IoT sensors in a period of five years.

Sensors can make everyone's job easier. It allows for better management and control. Plus, it also improves productivity as the time saved can be used to perform other tasks.

Products like keyless entry systems can also make management easier. 

Artificial Intelligence: AI is becoming ubiquitous in the modern workplace and smart offices are no different. AI uses IoT and available data to allow proper decision making which can make business more profitable.

For example, AI can help you determine the right time to replace equipment. This will allow you to use your equipment efficiently and find a replacement at the right time.

How to Go Smart

Directors need to make an intentional decision to go smart. Managers can make a presentation to the directors highlighting the benefits of going smart and the steps involved in the process.

It may take a little bit of time and investment to turn a traditional office into a smart office but it’s worth the time and effort.

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IoT Solutions

When making the transition from traditional office building to a smart building, the number of available technology solutions can be overwhelming. It’s hard to decipher between the technologies which will actually improve efficiency and encourage productivity and those that are just expensive bells and whistles. From smart lights to security systems to energy conservation technology, here are the best IoT solutions for your smart building. 

Kisi

With its cloud-based platform, Kisi takes the guesswork out of making your building secure. Its network capabilities allow users to lock and unlock doors remotely from a smartphone . Eliminating the need for physical keys that can be easily copied or stolen,  admins can easily grant and revoke access to the right people  when and where they need to. Kisi systems can be customized to allow specific users into certain parts of the building or limit access to certain days and times, offering the flexibility and agile tracking and monitoring capabilities that smart buildings need. Kisi also integrates with dozens of business management and productivity tools, making it a highly efficient option for cutting out tedious processes. 

Ring Doorbell

Ring Doorbell brings the peephole into the digital age. This electronic doorbell and the accompanying app notifies users when someone is at their door, allows them to view who’s there via the video app, listen and speak with them from a removed location. The Ring Doorbell also allows users to monitor package deliveries, adding an element of security and providing a backlog of recorded video to minimize theft liability. Users can also unlock doors remotely, eliminating the need for someone to sit by the intercom. 

Philips Hue Lights

These Bluetooth-controlled lights can not only be turned on and off via a remote app, but they can also be dimmed, change colors and adjust levels of warmth, be set to automated schedules, and controlled via voice. Smart lighting is important for modern buildings to conserve energy, have greater control over the emotional environment, and optimize certain areas of the building for different purposes. 

Nest Thermostat

This smart thermostat learns from user behavior. Using an extensive system of sensors, the thermostat spends the first few days of use monitoring and analyzing the behavior of the building’s occupants: which rooms they frequent and for how long, when they typically leave, and more. If someone forgets to turn the heat or air down when they leave the building, Nest can be controlled remotely by an admin. Nest can sense when a building is unoccupied , and will automatically adjust  the temperature to conserve the most energy. In a study funded by the company, Nest users saved 10-12% on heating and 15% on cooling their properties over the course of a year. 

Robin

Robin is a room booking software that takes the guesswork out of finding a space to work in a crowded space. It will mark when conference rooms are available and will recommend appropriately sized spaces, so rooms aren’t wasted when meetings are canceled or space is monopolized by the wrong number of people. Users can search Robin for an appropriate space, and the more the app is used the smarter it gets at suggesting a room, factoring in things like proximity to adesk and amenities available. Managers can adjust settings to enforce maximum meeting lengths or allow meeting times to extend only if the room is free. Robin can be integrated with Google Calendar, Office 365 and Exchange, so all of your meeting info is in one place. 

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Plan Smart Buildings

Creating a smart building is an ambitious and sometimes overwhelming process, to say the least. You’ll need to wade through the sea of information on both specific products, new technologies, and overarching goals for your project. Are you most concerned with building security or its environmental footprint? Are new technologies that promise to improve employee productivity conducive to your overhead budget? Here are some foundational components to consider.

Consider a Consultant

If you’re building a smart building from the ground up, it’s probably a good idea to take some help from an expert. There are tons of consultants out there that can handle the technical part of your construction process. They can help you choose which technologies are appropriate to help achieve  your goals, manage their implementation and integration and make sure you have a strong foundation for future technologies. Some examples include Johson Controls, GPG Advisors and Intelligent Buildings

Define Your Goals

You’ll want to define your goals from the start so you can use them to inform the overarching systems you use. If sustainability and cost-effectiveness are central, that should guide which lighting and HVAC system you use, inform the goals for water conservation technologies, the architectural layout of the building, and more. 

Components to Consider:

Data Collection

At the core of every smart building is the collection and analysis of data, usually through a network of sensors, cameras and integrated tools. This is really the groundwork that enables every other type of smart technology. How you collect data, through what technology and which supplier, is up to you. Data analysis is the greatest way to gain deep insight into how your property is functioning and identify areas for greater efficiency.

Equipment Monitoring

Smart building sensors can monitor the quality of your equipment, from HVAC systems to lighting, to make maintenance more proactive and fix problems before they become disasters. With modern equipment monitoring, it will be very easy to set up alerts for maintenance or automatic updates to preserve the quality of each system.  

Space Management

One of the biggest benefits of data gathering and analysis is the ability to use it to identify wasted or overcrowded spaces in your building, and any inefficiencies that arise in the general management of a commercial property. This encompasses room booking services, GPS enabled apps that guide users around the building, or technology that directs cars to empty parking spaces or people to empty conference rooms.

Inventory Management

Smart technology simplifies the tracking and management of inventory. Often users set up alerts when supplies are low, track the shipment of inventory and who has interacted with it. Innovations that streamline inventory management will shape the future of how business is conducted. 

Security 

Smart technology allows for better and more customizable security options. It makes onboarding new employees or visitors to the building simple and deleting former employees more secure. It allows for remote and automatic locks and allows users to limit access for certain people and at certain times. By implementing smart security technology, building managers and administrators can have greater control and flexibility to adapt to changing environments. 

Interoperability

Interoperability is jargon for the ability of devices to communicate with each other. By integrating the data collected by each system so that they can communicate with each other, building managers can maximize the efficiency of the property and ease any pain points for occupants.