The Future of Buildings
Workforce globalization, environmental responsibility, and a growing and aging worldwide population are prominent trends that are shaping our future. Today, companies are grappling to address them within their respective industries. Ironically, in their searches, they are all happening upon a common and compelling solution: the Internet of Things. IoT signifies the network of physical objects that are connected to the Internet and that consequently have the ability to share information (ie. data) not only with humans, but also with one another. The number of things waking up is increasing at an unprecedented rate, disrupting and challenging traditional business models. During 2008, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on Earth. By 2020, this staggering number will exceed 50 billion. Now, the term does not only mean smartphones and tablets – it includes something as simple as an alarm clock, and as complex as a cardiac monitor. In fact, many components of a modern building’s infrastructure are joining this “connected” category, such as lighting, security sensors, and HVAC. One edifice alone can produce millions of data points in just one day – this is what’s known as an smart and connected building.
IoT connects building systems that were once silo’ed and proprietary, transforming a static, systems-based infrastructure – a pre-IoT building – into a dynamic, cloud-based responsive organism. The concept of a building coming alive and communicating information is novel and exciting. However, it is only useful once the accompanying opportunities are seized, ie. once the data generated is translated into value added. This means tangible business outcomes that benefit those who own, manage, and occupy a building. The network is what makes this possible, as it allows maintenance, security, and communication systems to converge, streamlining IT operations. The technology itself, even, reduces the physical space requirements that have been traditionally allocated to stand-alone dedicated services and systems, compacting them into an intelligent building infrastructure that adds value to the project. This overarching consolidation can reduce operational expenditures (by 25% or more), reduce energy consumption (by 30% or more), increase workforce productivity, and allow for more efficient space utilization, significantly enhancing return on invested capital.
The network is crucial for developers who want to remain competitive in the real estate industry. It is adaptable, and prepared to take on the new opportunities that technology is constantly presenting. This feature itself has significant financial leverage for building owners, who differentiate themselves significantly based on features that pre-IoT buildings do not have. Other key players, too, benefit from connectivity. Building managers control operations centrally, increasing social, environmental, and, of course, financial efficiency. All of these unique benefits trickle down in the form of tangible amenities to two types of building occupants: employees and residents. For the former group, a connected workplace offers choice, freedom, and flexibility. Digital floor plans allow employees to view and reserve open workspaces and connect with their peers. In addition, they can customize the environmentals, such as lighting and heating, of the specific area in which they are working. This network feature is even more extensive for residential tenants. These individuals can control not only climate, but also security and entertainment, either remotely or from the comfort of their own homes. Intelligent buildings also provide virtual delivery of numerous city services, such as healthcare, eLearning, concierge, and commerce. And to think, that all of the functionalities and amenities of an intelligent building are customizable and can be controlled simply from a connected smartphone, computer, or tablet. The network allows for improved services, enhanced processes, and cost-effective operations – it is the backbone of intelligent buildings of the near-future. Ultimately, no matter whom the stakeholders, all are beneficiaries.
Today, there is a growing interest within the real estate development industry to embrace the Internet of Things. Companies are starting to imagine, design, and construct “smart buildings” that bring incremental advantages in both operating cost and operational efficiency. Unfortunately, such practice is not yet the norm, as many are hesitant to take the metaphorical plunge into the depths of IT. However, as the real estate industry accumulates tangible proof points to rest upon, the positive buzz around how integrating technology into the design, construction, and operations of buildings will show that it is ‘the way to go.’ Eventually, the Internet of Things will have a wide-spread transformative effect, similar to that which elevators and HVAC once had decades ago. For now, however, there remains a drastic gap between intelligent buildings and pre-IoT buildings: there are those that are connected and those that are not. The competitive advantage in the real estate industry is simple – it is really just about who is willing to take the leap and turn the trend into profit.