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As much as one-third of commercial real estate in the US is “under-utilized,” according to the IBM Institute for Business Value. That is approximately 4 billion square feet of space that could be used better to add value or let go to save cost.

The problem is that companies and building owners aren’t always sure exactly which areas can be repurposed and which are vital for the building’s operation. It is therefore of little surprise that this is a growing area for Building Internet of Things (BIoT) related investments.

The occupancy analytics market in commercial office space achieved systems sales of $1.54 Billion in 2017 and could rise to $4.60 Billion by 2022, growing at a robust rate of 24.5% CAGR, according to our report: Towards Data-Driven Buildings – Big Data for Smart Buildings 2018 to 2023. The study found that these kinds of datasets were being used for a wide variety of applications, indoor mapping, people counting and occupant engagement. However, by far and away the most popular application for the data was for space optimization purposes.

“It’s hard to have a clear picture of true utilization without data. While office designers and building managers have sought for years to gather occupancy data to plan, design and optimize spaces, rather than one-time surveys or guesswork, space utilization studies can now be based on real-time data,” explains the report. “Insights into space utilization, people movements and interactions in offices can be gathered by a variety of different technologies, including RFID, Bluetooth / Wi-Fi tracking of smart device signals, or via static movement / occupancy sensors.”

The growing popularity of space utilization data is not just a result of the emergence of sensing methods and technology, however. It is also in response to mobility trends in the workplace. In the UK, for example, on average, almost half a worker’s day (43%) is now spent away from the desk but at the office. While in the US, about 25% of all employees now work remotely all or most of the time, according to a Gallup poll. Given the enormous costs involved in renting or owning office real estate, all this underutilized space is a huge drain on resources that could be used to add value to the organization.

Using this kind of technology, data can be gathered on the number of users inside the building, the utilization rate of particular spaces, or traffic volume on specific walking routes, for example. The data can then be represented spatially, through floor plans, heat-maps, and pathing to provide a dynamic understanding of usage and data correlations. This kind of actionable intelligence is becoming critical to building owners and operators, tenants, and architects, designers, and engineering firms. Who, along with developers, can then better visualize where and why people spend time in different places within the building environment.

“Analysis of these patterns of space utilization over time is used to identify excess capacity, inform planning for future ways spaces are used, balance space between different usage type requirements, as well as determine the physical and digital infrastructure required to best serve building occupants in different areas of the building. Unused space can be reallocated internally or rented out based on analysis of occupancy trends,” our Data-Driven Building report explained.

Space utilization data is not just useful in office buildings, all kinds of facilities can gain from this kind of insight. Location data analytics, for example, has been increasingly used in hospitals, where healthcare industry professionals can utilize the technology to save lives. Having a clear picture of what beds or operating facilities are vacant can have critical impacts on health outcomes for patients, and healthcare Big Data platform can provide insights on whether clinical space is being used effectively.

By integrating admissions and discharge systems with facilities data, for example, a hospital has a much clearer view of when a room is empty. Meaning the system could generate a work order for house-keeping staff to clean the room as soon as possible to make it available for a newly arrived patient. While monitoring of patient and staff flows can lead to re-configuring indoor areas to better suit patient and clinical needs, relocating diagnostic testing areas closer to patient rooms and flagging redundant uses of space.

In hospitals, under-staffing jeopardizes patient care but over-staffing carries significant costs. Some hospitals are now using data such as patient records combined with movement data analytics to monitor and predict daily and hourly patterns about when patients will be admitted to their facilities. Historical trends can then be combined with external data from local hospital communities to optimize staffing levels depending on variations in clinical demand.

Using RFID, wi-fi or Bluetooth based tracking systems healthcare managers can also gain insight into where doctors, nurses, cleaners and other staff are and exactly how long it’s going to take them to arrive. Medical equipment and devices can also be tracked to improving the efficiency of care. Doctors and health professionals can sync up with the local network to see when and where equipment is available, and how long until they can make use of it.

Be it in healthcare facilities, office buildings, retail outlets, or any type of commercial real estate, knowing how a building is actually being used provides invaluable information to owners, managers, and operators. The insight offered from occupancy tracking can improve efficiency and productivity, add value and reduce cost, or even pinpoint problems and opportunities for how space is being utilized. Data-driven, real-time occupancy tracking for space utilization has the power to make all buildings better.