As businesses look for innovative spaces that can help them retain and attract talent, what needs to be done to make workspaces smarter?
With the Smart Office Market expected to be worth $46.11 Billion by 2023, property owners have a huge opportunity available to them. But bringing Britain’s buildings up to scratch also brings significant challenges – for both the property industry and service providers.
The ultimate goal
To answer this question, it is first necessary to look at what defines a smart building – and this is exactly where a panel on Smart Building Connectivity at Connected Britain 2019 began. According to Richard Bourne, CEO at StrattoOpencell, a number of different views on that question exist within the property industry but for him it is ultimately about embracing technology to deliver sustainability in a building and to provide an end-user experience that delivers seamless interaction between humans and the building.
“There is a whole raft of things that can make a building smart but it is essentially about making people in the building happy,” he added.
Bourne went on to say that providing universal connectivity is also essential – which fellow panellist Leeland Pavey, CEO at Optimity agreed with. Despite the importance of it, though, he said that it is not often at the forefront of decision making when development a new building.
“We often go through an education piece of some of the products we provide in helping buildings become smarter but essentially the initial discussion is trying to find the right connectivity so they can get out to the cloud, provide the services and interact with other buildings,” he said.
Articulating the value
Pavey’s comment led the panel onto what became a recurring theme for the rest of the session – education. James Spires, Managing Director Smart Buildings at ENGIE UK and Ireland, summarized the challenge.
“Part of the challenge is how we describe the value that smart buildings can deliver as the investment results are often not tangible enough to truly understand ROI,” he said “[…] There’s an awful lot to do in the industry from an education perspective.”
William Newton, President & EMEA MD at WiredScore, underlined Spires’ point.
“The property industry often gets paralysed by not really knowing what to do with smart – for example, they are often not sure if they should put sensors everywhere or just in part of the building,” he said “But when you put it in terms of outcomes, the outcomes they want to achieve will either be to save money or to have happier tenants because of a better experience. Everything else we say builds up to these two points and unless we focus on those two points, we are going to have a confused industry.”
Future-proofing through flexibility
Newton also highlighted flexibility as being an important element in making Britain’s buildings smart as this will ensure that they can adapt to any future changes in technology, for example 5G.
For Craig Birchenough, COO – Indoor Networks at Wireless Infrastructure Group, this means that the days of installing single networks for different types of services are long gone. Instead, he said, service providers have to build a platform that can support all the technologies now but equally has a focus on what’s coming down the line.
In terms of what provides the best connectivity, the panel also agreed there was no single solution, with Bourne highlighting again that there was still education needed in regard to the importance of connectivity, whether that be fixed or wireless.
Bourne concluded: “The real job is to simplify it so you talk about services and outcomes; so you need low latency connectivity and we’ll decide how you get that – often different connectivity types are complementary. I think our job collectively as service providers is to make it really easy to consume so that whoever the end-user is and whatever application they want to use, we can deliver that and work with asset owners to make sure their building is future-proof and doesn’t need a forklift truck every time something new comes along.”