How the IoT will create the smarter, greener workplace of the future

The future is a talkative place. Not only are we more connected, but so too are our machines, environments and systems. Enhanced sensors, connectivity and software are at the heart of a new wave of technology that has the ability to reimagine our lives.

Our working ones in particular stand to benefit with the rise of smart, efficient spaces and buildings.

Gartner tells us that by 2020, 25 billion ‘things’ will be connected. To date the conversation has been dominated by talk of how these devices will transform consumers’ lives. Smart fridges, ovens and TVs may make leisure more leisurely, but the benefits when it comes to intelligent workspaces are countless.

The Internet of Things is starting to make its presence felt in the workplace, with the likes of printers, security systems and wearables connecting. Commercial buildings that take steps to become smarter stand to make their companies operate better and realise considerable cost savings.

> See also: 4 things the IoT will make redundant in everyday security

Whether that’s in terms of improving operations, security, sustainability, optimising assets or enhancing well-being, there are fascinating possibilities.

Connected spaces for a connected generation

Our traditional office is changing and so too are those working in them. Within the next decade, we will need to adapt to a hyper-connected workforce made up of digital natives.

These workers are early adopters of connected consumer devices and have adapted quickly to the convenience the Internet of Things can offer. With Millennials predicted to make up 75% of the overall workforce by 2020, it’s important for businesses to take steps to meet their needs.

So what does this all look like in practice? Well, for millennials in particular, who expect technology and connectivity to just work, it means everywhere access. Workers are cutting the cords that have tied them to their desks and better connectivity is facilitating the revolution in collaborative and flexible working.

More automation and coordination will be required to ensure spaces and technology are equipped for hot desking, remote working and more fluid office structures. When that happens, collaboration becomes much easier and efficiency is improved.

Workplaces that learn and adapt to the needs and preferences of their workforce will quickly become the norm.

Businesses should inter-connect different pieces of hardware and equipment as well as streamline and automate daily tasks. For instance, certain IT services, say video conference and collaboration tools, and compute devices such as PCs and tablets could only be made available when a particular person enters a room.

Likewise, solutions enhancing the ambience and quality of space – think adaptive lighting and temperature – can boost productivity and enhance employees’ health and emotional well-being. Convenience and personalisation will be transformative and will prove valuable in attracting and retaining top talent.

Like clockwork

Automation and smart building technology provides an unprecedented opportunity for facilities and office managers to gain oversight and control. Take, for example, building access and security. You’re probably used to using a key, a fob or a card to gain entrance to your place of work.

But what if a mobile app or even biometrics could replace them and keep track of who was in the building? Or how about simplifying meeting room bookings and regulating the environments accordingly? Beacons or personal devices such as a mobile phone can feed information into apps on who is in a meeting room and when it becomes available, regulating lighting, HVAC systems, audiovisual applications, WiFi and network services.

Then there are the environmental benefits of smart buildings. Lighting, heating and cooling empty rooms wastes a huge amount of energy and costs businesses a significant amount of money.

According to the Carbon Trust, lighting costs alone can equal as much as 40% of a business’ overall electricity consumption. A smart workplace can take advantage of natural daylight, automatically turn off lights or tune the air conditioning when rooms are empty or less busy. As a result energy wastage can be dramatically reduced.

The disconnect in the connected workplace

But with such results at our fingertips and such simple systems involved, why isn’t there bigger uptake? It’s true that many companies already have the basic building blocks to roll out smart building features, namely the connectivity and the things to connect.

But where it can start to get complicated is coordinating all the elements. In addition, because this is still an emerging trend, there’s a lack of familiarity. It means that benefits are not always captured and aligned with the business objectives so managers can struggle to get their ideas past the CFO.

At the moment many of our connected devices can talk, but not the same languages. There’s a danger of creating chaos with a smart system if all the aspects within it aren’t singing from the same song sheet. This creates a barrier in unlocking the real value of IoT.

It’s still possible to tie everything together in a way that properly coordinates the hardware and software – provided a platform sits at the heart. In simple terms, an intelligent, scalable and simple-to-use middleware system is required to pull all devices and services together to give the IoT environment a ‘central nervous system’.

> See also: Why the IoT will be at the heart of the next social innovation

We have seen a few examples of vendor-specific middleware already. For example, some vendors are focusing on enabling smart lighting middleware solutions, often as a way of connecting their own products.

But history has told us that to enable true innovation, for a trend to take off, to transform industries and create new ones, a platform must be the central part of the story.

Most businesses haven’t yet begun the journey of making their buildings smarter, despite the influx of connected devices into our lives. But there is a huge amount of potential to be explored in terms of efficiency, cost savings, sustainability and more welcoming work environments.

A tidal wave of intelligent things and next-generation digital service is approaching. Businesses can capitalise by making sure they’re fully equipped to make smarter, and more rewarding choices for their workplaces.

Sourced from Mark Furness, CEO and founder, essensys

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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