Our buildings are in the midst of a crisis, not just the pandemic that has reduced commercial building occupancy to zero for extended periods in the past year but also a crisis of how to operate in the post-COVID environment. Public health will remain center stage even after lockdowns end and employees are allowed to return to work. So, our commercial buildings will be in the spotlight as potential hotbeds for infection where any outbreak could lead to building closures that will disrupt enterprise tenants. Building owners, therefore, are striving to develop their buildings in any way that can monitor, manage, and prevent occupant behavior that could lead to infection. For many, this means making their buildings smarter with IoT technologies.
“The built environment has never had it tougher. First buildings lay dormant; now, they are under increasing pressure to deliver a greater return on investment (ROI) and protect returning occupants in a post-pandemic market where supply outweighs demand. It’s placing a strain on decision-makers to keep tenants’ environments safe, comfortable, and efficient,” says Hima Mukkamala, CEO of Pelion in a blog post which formed part of the inspiration for this article. “Those turning to the IoT for answers certainly see results, but with the appetite for truly smart spaces comes complexity and risk.”
For most companies, the first foray into the IoT typically focuses on single, application-specific projects that provide a clear return on investment. However, value is proven to increase as this IoT data is merged with other data sets, incorporated into predictive or prescriptive analytics, and used to integrate processes that cross-divisional and organizational boundaries. It has been shown that successful IoT deployments are those that plot a clear multi-year path towards these higher-value capabilities. Yet, only 16% of companies “strongly” agree that their use of the IoT has been informed by an overarching data strategy, according to surveys for The IoT Business Index 2020 by the Economist.
Security concerns are also still a primary barrier to IoT adoption according to the survey. 45% of respondents say that security concerns have held back consumer adoption, although respondents from the consumer goods and retail industry were the least likely to agree. 37% say these concerns have discouraged their companies from pursuing an IoT strategy. The survey also reveals that security capabilities grow as companies implement to greater levels, with 55% of respondents whose organizations have reached “extensive” IoT adoption say they have the internal expertise and resources that IoT security requires.
"Devices are exploding, both in terms of the number deployed and their diversity, monitoring everything from temperature to air quality and present a growing target for criminal activity. Previously standalone networks, each with their own method of communicating, now have to integrate with systems that they were never designed for,” says Mukkamala. “And this landscape remains complicated in post-deployment as devices and systems that were initially standalone receive updates that could compromise system interoperability throughout their prolonged life cycle... Those longer life cycles will become an increasingly important factor as a building’s operational life extends and is managed by an assortment of systems that are introduced over the years.".
To address this increasing complexity, a partnership between Pelion and Johnson Controls has been established to accelerate innovation in building connectivity, security, and intelligence. Focusing on extending the capabilities of Johnson Controls' OpenBlue technology, the cooperation will pursue changes similar to those that have been achieved within the automotive sector where software, multiple sensors, and AI-trained models have transformed the industry by enabling autonomous driving and software updates that blend data to continually improve vehicle capabilities and experience.
The new partnership aims to create a secure, open approach to device management that will allow OpenBlue to run any device and hardware configuration, from hardware gateways to constrained temperature sensors. In order to provide low cost and low-power intelligent processing at the edge, the partnership will also utilize energy-efficient processors from Pelion’s parent company, Arm, which are a key part of Johnson Controls’ distributed hardware deployment.
AI is proving vital to realizing the true value of IoT data. In the Economist survey, 26% of respondents say that IoT data is pivotal to their current or planned use of AI, with 56% identifying IoT as “one of many important sources” for AI initiatives. A further 64% agree that the value of IoT data to their organization has increased as we have developed their AI capabilities. Many interviewees in the survey view IoT and AI as two components of an advanced analytics capability, many commonly reporting that algorithms trained on data sources including IoT provide the greatest value and competitive differentiation.
In a post-pandemic world where a virus outbreak in a single building could disrupt the operations of multiple companies, the competitive advantage of having a virus-smart building has never been greater. Buildings will be striving to apply IoT approaches to health and safety to keep their tenants happy but also to attract new tenants seeking to minimize the risk of COVID-related disruption.
This should lead to greater IoT adoption in the short term, and the smartest buildings will be planning ahead to use post-COVID upgrades as a platform to develop even greater IoT capabilities in the future.