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Real estate companies can be tenants too, and when they are tenants in a smart building the technology can influence their decisions in the same way it does for their real estate clients. That’s what is happening in a four-story building near Schiphol airport, just outside Amsterdam, where $14.2-billion real estate services firm CBRE is reconsidering its own office space needs after gaining insight from its recent smart lighting installment.

CBRE has been trialing some 400 ceiling luminaires from Aurora, outfitted with chips and sensors from Gooee, a company developing enabling technologies for lighting-centric Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The lighting installment is spread over an area of 4000m2 that covers the entire second floor, occupied by 80 employees, and was meant as a trial for the firm who intended to expand their office over the entire first floor of the building too. The data produced during the trial, however, has demonstrated that they only need half the space they originally thought.

“We were already looking to expand our office space and because we didn’t have any structured data, the belief in our organization was that we had to get two full floors, because we’re a growing organization in the country, and that’s what it would take for today and in the future,” said Rick Jacobs, CBRE’s managing director for Benelux and France. “But after honing the data and really looking at what is happening in the office, and having that specific data available, we were able to shave off 50% of our needs, because the data shows that we don’t need it.”

Lighting systems have long promised to play a leading role in the smart building ecosystem, not just to advance illumination but to create the infrastructure upon which a wide variety of data can move. The ubiquitous nature of lighting in building and other human environments makes it the ideal platform for a range of smart features to improve the occupant experience. “This proposition is not about lighting,” said Jacobs. “Lighting is just the medium through which data flows. You can hang everything from it.”

The luminaires installed at their Amsterdam office are embedded with sensors and communication chips that note occupancy, activity, temperature, humidity, air quality, noise and other dynamic space characteristics. Sensors embedded in luminaires send data about their observations to the cloud where it can be analyzed for use by facility managers. The analyzed data provides insight to help buildings better manage their space or even reduce its size, as CBRE found.

The intelligent lighting system could connect to the building’s heating and cooling equipment, and automatically adjust the indoor environment in line with building manager and occupant preferences. The system could inform employees about which workstations or conference rooms are free, prompt window blinds to open and close to optimize light and temperature, or even offer wayfinding services to visitors via Bluetooth to individual smartphones.

The lighting system offers illumination. The lights can automatically turn on or off when required, their brightness and color temperature could be tailored as desired by users. This could be achieved by pre-programmed individual preferences of the occupants or real-time control via smartphones. In doing so they can deliver the appropriate light for the different activities taking place around the building, be it sharp – bright light for alertness, or soft – warm light for comfort.

“Breakthroughs have inspired lighting systems that can benefit occupant health and concentration. Smart environmental controls are giving power to the individual, allowing them to create their ideal environment for maximum productivity at any given time,” we explain in our expansive report on the Future Workplace. “These business and scientific theories have converged at the same time as the emergence of smart buildings and the Internet of things. Intelligent technologies are enabling unprecedented optimization of the workplace by giving greater control to the individual worker.”

At the Schiphol Rijk-based building near Amsterdam, CBRE made the decision not to provide this kind of individual control to workers, opting for a highly automated system instead. This wasn’t a cost-saving decision, nor one based on avoiding conflict between workers with different lighting preferences. Jacobs explains that they made the decision not to provide individual lighting control because people don’t actually want it.

“I think the dirty secret is that where people [already] have the ability to change the temperature in the room and those type of things, nobody is actually using it,” said Jacobs. “If it’s intended for ten people, one person might use it. That’s what the data shows. People don’t use it, because they’re busy with other stuff, or their mind is not worried about it. Or they just don’t care if it’s one or two degrees higher, as long as it’s within a certain range. So we’re looking to automate a lot of these things.”

The digital ceiling provides the building managers with insights on what their occupants use, want, and need, meaning they can tailor the solution to fit the company’s best interests. In the case of CBRE, occupant and activity data has led to the realization that they only need half the space they initially thought, resulting in significant savings.

Their own experience as a tenant will allow CBRE to better serve their own clients, which may now involve advising them to install a smart lighting system and potentially only rent half the space they think they need.