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Smart cities, smart buildings, smart workplaces – Where are we and what’s to come?

Advances in technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are changing the environments where we live and work. Within the workplace environment, there is no doubt that a smarter building enables a more efficient, productive and happy workforce. New technologies are being introduced and used in all aspects of our lives, and smart buildings are becoming a normal part of our technology-focussed world. In this blog, we explore how smart IoT technology is influencing the workplace and what the future holds.

What are Smart Buildings and Cities and how can they improve the Workplace Experience?

There’s no single set of standards that defines what a smart building is exactly, but in simple terms, a smart building is a structure that uses automated processes to control the building’s operations. This can include systems such as heating, ventilation, lighting, security and more.

A smart building uses sensors and microchips to collect data and manage it according to the business functions and services of its owner. This helps owners, operators and facilities managers improve efficiencies and building performance, resulting in reduced energy usage and an optimisation of how space is used. The wellbeing of individuals in the space can also be positively impacted, as smart buildings can make occupants more comfortable and productive with lighting, air quality and security.

The technologies used in smart buildings can facilitate better decision-making and result in a much more efficient space, which is beneficial both for the owner and the occupiers of the building. At the moment, most systems in a building operate independently, which often results in inefficiencies, as they don’t have the capability to automatically adapt to different conditions in the environment.

A smart city, similar to a smart building, is classed as a municipality that uses technologies, and the data gathered by these technologies, to increase operational efficiencies and improve the wellbeing of its inhabitants. There are many systems and processes being used currently that could make up part of an eventual “Smart City”, but it could be argued that a smart city won’t actually exist until these systems are interconnected. For example, the smart motorways currently being installed across the UK use data to optimise the flow of traffic, reducing congestion, and smartphone apps that use parking data to help drivers find available parking spaces without having to circle a crowded city to find one, but at the moment these two systems are distinctly separate and cannot share information to further improve efficiencies. At this point in time, there are several barriers to a properly working smart city, the main one relating to how the data collected is stored and used. Like with most new tech, until the general public fully understands the benefits and implications of a given technology, there is likely to be pushback. Without open communication between governments, tech companies and citizens, it’s unlikely we’ll see a fully integrated, connected Smart City any time soon.

How has technology changed the workplace, and what are the benefits?

Advances in technology have massively impacted the workplace. Every aspect of our lives is filled with technology, from the computers we work on to the smartphones we carry in our pockets, and the workplace is no different. The world of technology is in constant change and the things we see as being the norm now, such as smartphones, were only available to the elite few 10-15 years ago. Similarly, in years to come we can expect to see things such as augmented reality and 3D printing become the new normal.

Both operationally, and at an individual level, technology in the workplace has many benefits, and fundamentally, it makes life at work simpler and acts as an enabler for productivity, collaboration and wellbeing. The use of interconnected technologies, as used in smart buildings, makes buildings more intelligent and responsive and ultimately improves their performance.

Ending the use of guesswork is probably the most significant and most useful benefit as the effects of this trickle down to other areas. The use of cameras and sensors provide very precise data on how and when the building is being used, and this data can be used to drive automators and to make insightful decisions. This often leads to significant cost savings, both in everyday spend and maintenance of equipment and the fact that this data can help organisations better manage their space, identifying under-utilised resources and re-distributing to where they will be most useful.

On an individual level, smart buildings and appropriate use of technologies makes the occupants happier, healthier and more productive (click here to read about why employee wellbeing is so important). Air quality, physical comfort, security, refreshments, sanitation and lighting can all be controlled efficiently in a smart building, ensuring they are delivered at the optimum level to enable occupants to be at their most productive.

Smart Buildings: What does the future hold?

As more buildings evolve into “smart organisms”, our reliance on technology will only increase. Smart buildings will be able to monitor and collect data that will be used to make our lives easier, from letting us know when to change lightbulbs, to adjusting the heating in order to make us more comfortable and productive. Smart buildings will pave the way for a more environmentally focussed world, and the future of smart workplaces, buildings and cities is a green one. It is estimated that buildings consume about 30% of the world’s energy, and when you consider that on an average weekday, office buildings are underused by up to 35%, the move to smart buildings, where usage can be optimised using sensors and automation, will have an enormous impact. Even small changes that increase energy efficiencies by a tiny amount will have a monumental impact when they are taking place in smart cities throughout the world.

The future of smart buildings will see us even more reliant on our smartphones than we currently are, as they become the key to our smart cities. Our phones will be connected to everything, from the doorbell at home to the car park at work. We will use them to find parking spaces, find out where our colleagues are in the office, order our morning coffee, report issues to facilities teams and customise the temperature and lighting in our space, and more.

At the moment, most of the interconnected systems in a smart buildings relate to the overall running of the building (such as heating, lighting or ventilation), but the future will see connected systems and devices of all kinds all talking to each other to improve performance and efficiencies.

For example, at Scanomat, we are ahead of the game in terms of smart & connected coffee machines. The TopBrewer coffee machine is a fully connected system that can be integrated into a Smart Building via the CoffeeCloud API. The data offered by CoffeeCloud, the TopBrewer’s cloud management system, is real-time and is used to improve efficiencies and offer a more proactive service (click here to read more about how IoT is shaping the coffee industry). But this is just a small drop in the ocean. In the future, buildings will likely have the ability to adapt in a proactive way, predicting our demands based on past behaviours. As businesses become more comfortable with these new technologies and ways of working, we’ll see more connected systems and the first Smart Cities won’t be far off.


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