In 2022, we already have the tools to make buildings smarter. What the smart buildings industry needs to do now, is to make their technology more accessible.
"What the next decade is likely to bring us in building automation and integration is access. This means access between systems that have traditionally been independent, access to the systems for the technical people supporting buildings, and access to information the building has about use and performance for decision-makers,” says Kyle Knudten, principal at McClure Engineering. “This access will let building owners and operators make more informed decisions about space utilization, improve the user’s environment, and meet energy and carbon reduction goals."
You can compare the evolution of smart buildings with the evolution of the internet. When the internet was launched in 1983, only the few people involved in creating it had access. Gradually, that circle of people widened and pioneering first movers emerged to drive the technology forwards, but that is still far from the internet accessibility we see today. True internet accessibility came about when personal computers (PCs) became popular in homes and workplaces. Accessibility then grew further when laptops brought about mobile computing, and smartphones then took accessibility to the next level through user-friendly App interfaces.
“By distilling and digesting the vast landscape of possibilities on the internet in easy-to-use apps, smartphones put the possibilities of the internet in people’s hands in an approachable and useful way. For many managers, the interfaces with their buildings and the data they house are more akin to that early information superhighway, a vast landscape rich with data and opportunity, but without tools to guide them how to utilize it,” continued Knudten. “The next decade may not see a revolution in available technology for our buildings, but we also may not need it. The tools that exist and are poised for proliferation enable use of the data that our buildings have been generating, fulfilling the promise of ease and efficiency that, in large part, have not been realized for many building owners.”
Smart building accessibility is about making the smart technology we already have easier for buildings and users to adopt and operate. The options available to the market today are too complex, with too many technical considerations and vendor lock-in issues, and also too costly and disruptive for buildings to experiment with freely, through trial and error. In order to remedy this, the smart buildings industry must consider the evolution of internet accessibility and move towards an app-based model for buildings. Apps allow broad development opportunities within a set framework that allows new software to immediately integrate with all hardware and systems in a smartphone. A shift towards an app-based model should be able to foster the same interoperability and accessibility in buildings.
“The heightened level of investment activity for workplace experience apps began around three years ago as human-centricity came to the fore. The trend has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as technology to manage the workplace became a necessity rather than a “nice-to-have” feature. The goal is to create a single portal where landlords can engage with their tenants to entice them to lease in their portfolio, increase satisfaction, and ultimately renew at the end of their term,” reads our new workplace report. “As lease terms continue to shorten globally, building owners are now increasingly recognising that retaining tenants by providing vibrant, connected and engaging workplaces and quality customer experience ultimately results in asset value uplift and increased net operating income.”
The stage is set, an unprecedented number of building owners and operators are ready and willing to take big steps towards that interconnected smart technology future, but the industry is not ready. Fragmentation still reigns across the smart buildings market, creating a complex landscape for buyers. Cost remains high due to that fragmentation and technology adoption is slow due to the customized nature of smart building installations. Each building is unique and demands a unique combination of technology to optimize its spaces in tandem, so as long vendor lock-in exists, silos will persist, growth will be limited, and the market will miss the unique opportunity being presented to it.
“While interest in smart building technology had been primarily driven by the need to save energy and money, today, as we look to return to a trusted workplace, the data from that same converged, interconnected IT/OT network can be used to bring people back to an in-person workspace in safe, socially distant, and compliant ways,” says Jeremy Witikko, CTO and Global Director of Smart Buildings at Cisco. “While managing multiple systems from different vendors can be an operations headache, these different systems create another problem – siloed data sources – meaning devices and sensors in different systems can’t talk to each other… But they want to!”