Technology has come a long way in the past decade. The huge leaps forward in wireless communications in particular have paved the way for what we’ve come to know as ‘Smart’ spaces, with wifi, 4G, Bluetooth, and RFID enabling processes that we’d have written off as sci-fi not too long ago. The implication of this advancement is that tech is now almost omnipresent – what were called Smartphones are now just regular phones, we’re all almost constantly connected to the internet, and we increasingly use systems and devices to make our lives run more smoothly.
As Master Systems Integrators, Vanti bring Smart to life by creating incredible buildings and spaces that make their users and occupants happier and more productive, and help the owners and occupiers achieve their business goals. However, it’s not always straightforward – as Smart technology is a field still very much in its infancy, there are a number of assumptions people make and limitations companies like us encounter.
Vanti are one of the UK’s leading proponents of Smart building, so we often talk to people about the huge benefits integrated technology can bring to organisations and individuals. To us, it seems obvious: Smart buildings use tech to create more efficient and effective environments that improve productivity, wellbeing, and profitability.
On the opposite end of the scale are what we refer to as ‘Dumb’ buildings – spaces that rely on passive antiquated systems working in isolation that provide no benefit beyond their sole function. As advancements in technology and the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things are key to Smart building, the majority of the world’s residential, office, commercial, and retail spaces are still very much Dumb.
As Master Systems Integrators, we are responsible for taking spaces and making them Smart – whether that’s by retrofitting technology into previously Dumb buildings, or by designing and implementing integrated systems into new builds. Part of this process involves educating stakeholders about Smart vs Dumb, putting into context the positive impact of our way of working. The main challenge we face is that Smart is so unfamiliar to many, and with the benefits of integrated systems impacting across so many areas, it can be hard to provide a concise yet clear picture of how it improves things like teams, data, systems, and overall user experience.
Earlier this year, James McHale of (the brilliant) Smart building research company Memoori wrote a LinkedIn post entitled ‘The Need for Real Human Experiences in our Smart Cities and Buildings’. It really struck a chord with us, as it raises some interesting points about whether the technological advancements that are often at the core of Smart technology are actually of benefit to the individuals using the spaces.
The use of buildings, especially commercial premises, has changed. Until relatively recently, if you were offered employment with a company, the chances are that you would have been expected to report to your company’s premises when you were working.
In a world of increasingly collaborative working and knowledge sharing, that is no longer the case. In fact, commercial buildings are rapidly changing from places we go because we work for someone, to tools we use to get our work done.
Business leaders must begin to appreciate the relationship between the spaces in which their people work and the key business challenges they are trying to address:
We currently construct buildings with a product mentality, handed over by a developer or construction company to an owner-occupier or management company with little thought as to the efficiency of its long term operation and maintenance. This model de-incentivises developers to build Smart buildings because the rationale behind Smart is that significant gains and savings can be made via the performance of the building over time. Developers have long since left the scene before those benefits are fully realised.
Building User Experience (or UX for short) describes how people interact with buildings and the technology contained within them as tools that help them live, learn and work. This system driven (as opposed to silo or unit driven) approach brings some very unique challenges due to the number of service disciplines involved, but the potential rewards for all can be massive and highly sustainable, let’s explain…
Next week will see Ecobuild 2016 take place at ExCeL London, bringing together professionals from across the construction and energy market. Ecobuild does a great job of pushing the construction industry forward, inspiring innovative new ideas, and enabling people and companies to come together and collaborate on exciting projects that benefit the entire sector.
I recently had the opportunity to present Vanti’s thoughts on Smart & Intelligent Buildings during UK Construction Week 2015 at the NEC in Birmingham. We used the show as an opportunity to consolidate our research to date, engage in conversations with construction industry professionals and attempt to help answer the question ‘What really makes a Smart or Intelligent space?’