Smart building technology continues to evolve, but it’s not a thing of the future. Chances are you’re already using it in your facility. There are ways to leverage what you already have to drive improvements in operation, improvements in the business, as well as the client and employee experience.
Janelle Penny and Greg Carter discuss the potential for connecting the technology in your smart buildings. Listen now >>
*This podcast was created in partnership with Acuity Brands.
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Janelle Penny: Hi, I’m Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of Buildings.com. I’m here with Greg Carter.
This podcast was created in partnership with Acuity Brands. Today, we’re going to be talking about connected buildings and how to reimagine your building from a cost center to a strategic asset, as well as the use cases for retail.
Thanks for joining me, Greg.
Greg Carter: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Janelle: So, let’s start with the basics. What makes a connected building?
Greg: That’s a good question. I’m glad you asked that because people use a lot of different terms for this in the industry today.
You hear things about smart buildings, connected buildings, smart-plus connected buildings, and the fact is, we’ve been applying technology to buildings for at least 30 years, aimed at improving the energy usage or efficiency of operations in the building. So, technology’s nothing new.
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What’s unique now is that we’re hitting a tipping point with available technology where we can do so much more than we’ve ever been able to do before. And some of the key things that have come out is we’re seeing sensors coming down in price dramatically and being able to sense nearly everything about business processes and the way people operate in space.
(Image provided by Acuity Brands)
We’re seeing connectivity technologies evolve at rapid pace with lots of RF options available to you right at the edge, things like Bluetooth Low Energy, which are resident in all of our mobile devices, allowing us to be more and more capable of connecting to those sensors and connected to each other inside a space.
We’re seeing the new availability of cheap bandwidth and cheap cloud services that are getting more and more powerful every year. So, it’s allowing us to build all kinds of applications that leverage the data coming from those sensors.
“You have to take advantage of the sensors that are already deployed in your space and be willing to deploy more.” - Greg Carter
And then finally, we’ve got the wide distribution of mobile devices, tablets and phones, which allow us to use those applications at the point of impact.
[Related: Connected Buildings Increase as Companies Prioritize Advantages]
Because of all that, we’re seeing that buildings, when they’re connected—first connecting sensors to each other and then connecting those buildings to the cloud—are able to deliver all kinds of benefits, way beyond what individual siloed solutions were able to do in the past in terms of improving:
- Energy efficiency
- Utilization to space itself
- Efficiency of the employees that operate inside that space
- Revenue generation of the organization that exists in that space
So it’s really powerful.
What really makes a connected building is a couple of key components.
1. You have to take advantage of the sensors that are already deployed in your space and be willing to deploy more. So, we’re going to see a world where sensors are so cheap that they’re going to be everywhere.
2. Those sensors need to be connected to each other and they need to be connected to the cloud, so their data can stream to the cloud and we can take advantage of big data analytics.
3. The sensors and the people in the space need to be location aware. We need to understand where those sensors are and where the people are.
And then finally, we can use all of that data coming to the cloud to deliver applications to mobile devices and the web to be able to drive all of those improvements I just talked about.
Janelle: Interesting. So, let’s drill down a little bit and look at one specific application. Can you describe what the use cases for retail might look like?
Greg: Sure. Retail’s a good example. It’s one of the early adopters of connected building technology. And this was really driven by the fact that retail was at a transition point where online opportunities, online retailers, were threatening the success of traditional brick and mortar retailers. And we’re seeing a blending between our online experiences and our in-store experiences.
So, some of the things you can do with a connected building and that are being done widely in some of the biggest retailers in North America right now is leveraging connected lighting and the sensors deployed in connected lights to act as beacons.
There are several different kinds of beaconing technology available right now. And those beacons can be used to triangulate the location of either a mobile device or an asset tag.
Some of the ways retailers are using that is to provide in their own retail loyalty apps, they’re providing their consumers with the ability to do say a product search, and then have the product show up on a map in the app.
Then, position you with a blue dot, just like you’d be used to seeing on a mapping application that’s giving you driving directions. But in this case, it can direct you to the exact spot in the store where the product’s located.
Another similar example is once you get to that location where the product’s located and let’s say it’s a big box store, and you’re looking up at a whole series of racks and there’s a whole bunch of different brands and slight differences in the product you were looking for, and you need assistance, you can now use that same retailer’s loyalty app to ask for assistance.
“We can really start to think of our buildings as an extension of our IT infrastructure. It becomes the eyes and the ears and even the brain of our operations in our physical space.” - Greg Carter
Then, we can do the triangulation reverse, where the connected building now knows where you are, it can find a store associate that has expertise in the products that are located in the area you are. So, using some of that data analytics, and then pop you up on a map on the associate’s mobile device so that they can easily find you.
These are just some examples of the ways that retailers are using connected buildings to improve the consumer experience.
There’s a whole other set of use cases that retailers are exploring as well around employee efficiency.
One good example is at the end of the shift, you’ll always see a basket full of products that people have brought up to the cash register and decided not to purchase.
It’s a fairly time-consuming process to send somebody out to restock the shelves with all those products, especially if you’re talking about the holidays where you have seasonal employees who may not know the store very well.
But with a connected building, you can scan all those products and build a list that can be populated on a map on a tablet or other mobile device and then guide that employee to the location where each product needs to be put back up on the shelf.
So, just two good examples of that.
And I think the last thing I’d call out is as we’re delivering these services—these mobile and cloud-based services—through the connected building, we’re also gathering and generating a huge amount of data, which can then be used to improve the marketing efficiency of the retailer.
They can understand where people are spending their time in the store, where they’re not spending their time and determine better ways to reconfigure their store or to put up marketing displays to be able to drive a better experience for the consumer.
Janelle: Great. Can you explain how a future-ready building might be reimagined from a cost center to more of a strategic asset?
Greg: Sure. The key to this is understanding that we spend about 90% of our time indoors. And yet, even though we’ve had technology in our buildings for a long time, all of that technology has largely been siloed and operating at the edge. So, we’ve had very little visibility or control over what’s happening inside those buildings.
[Read also: Provider Trust Critical to Overcoming Connected Building Challenges]
But if we start taking advantage of the connected building technology and start instrumenting sensors everywhere, we can not only use that to improve efficiency of the building operations itself, but we can start to use it to drive an improvement in the business that’s operating within those buildings.
We can really start to think of our buildings as an extension of our IT infrastructure. It becomes the eyes and the ears and even the brain of our operations in our physical space.
So, if we do that well, we’re able to drive improvements in operation, improvements in the business.
And what we have the opportunity to do is to take advantage of the existing systems that are already in our buildings—our connected lighting systems and our HVAC and BMS systems—and use those as the initial sensory network to gather that data, bring that data to the cloud, and then turn around and deliver the applications that are going to provide that improved building operations and business performance.
Janelle: Great. Thank you so much for joining me today, Greg.
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Greg: I was glad to be here.
Janelle: And thank you everyone for listening to us. This has been Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of Buildings.com.
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