How Smart Homes Became Automated Offices (Part One Of Two) – Forbes
Ask anyone to explain the IoT, and (unless they work in telecoms) they will most likely use a smart home device as an example. The increasing popularity of these devices, having leapt from 9.5M to 29.4M devices in the US between 2016-19, has now transitioned from the consumer sphere into the corporate environment. Automating a house might be a novel way of making someone’s life easier or solving accessibility issues, but for an enterprise with offices and factories, it can mean much more than that.
Part one of this series of two articles will explore how building automation transitioned from the mainstream into the corporate world and look at the benefits of automating internal systems. In part two we will look at the wider world of smart cities and how far away we are from automated metropolises.
Sitting on a Nest egg
Smart bulbs, smart doorbells and smart thermostats are big business these days and have quickly become a consumer staple in many homes thanks to their novel gadgetry and ease-of-use. Devices such as smart intercom Klevio, that allows keyless entry using a smartphone app and the ability to transfer ‘keys’ to other users (for instance when renting on Airbnb), have been fully embraced by consumers and are now solving problems unique to the digital age, such as stopping ‘porch pirates’ who steal packages left outside by online delivery companies. Combining home IoT devices with an AI equipped home hub such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, however, turns them into something far more useful. Rather than having to enter into five different smartphone apps or online platforms to schedule your heating, an AI assistant will respond to voice commands, coordinate multiple different devices, and learn the user’s behavior to achieve a high level of automation within an individual home – or complete a set of actions in response to the phrase ‘intruder alert.’ This kind of centralized automation, whereby connected systems in a building can be scheduled in advance and in perpetuity, has now made its way into corporate environments.
Rather than being developed to an enterprise standard and trickling down to the consumer level, building automation technology has had its baptism of fire in homes and is now making its way back into corporate buildings that have traditionally used automation only for HVAC systems. “In hospitals, for example, the sensor hub has an infrared temperature sensor so you can measure the temperature of a specific point in a bed, and a decibel sensor, which can address noise levels as this is the biggest complaint in the US healthcare market,” says Robert Hemmerdinger the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Delta Controls. Sensor hubs like the O3 model referenced above can play a similar role to a home assistant, with more emphasis on the ability to “encapsulate every single asset in a room,” interoperability via API platform integrations and adding more specialized sensors into a central device. Connecting multiple devices or sensors together in one location is not only an advantage to operators, but to contractors who “don’t have to run ten sets of cables through the walls” and architects who no longer have to deal with “wall acne” like light switches and thermostats. In this way the advantages of automation have almost driven themselves—“it’s far more cost-effective to install if you use more than one of those sensors,” says Hemmerdinger—and as the cost of sensors, connectivity, and hardware goes down, automation will only continue to grow and become a basic expectation of consumers.
“5-10 years ago [an intelligent home] would’ve been a multi-million-dollar endeavor, now you can do it for a couple of hundred dollars,” says Hemmerdinger, “now people expect that connected immersive, mobile experience in offices, hospitals, universities—that’s a big change we’re seeing in the industry.” If we accept this idea that consumers now expect the same level of automation in public buildings as in their own home, it is easy to see how a lack of automation could be a disadvantage to building operators and owners. In fact, building owners and business leaders are beginning to use their technology-enabled buildings to attract top talent, as a distinctive differentiator in a competitive job market. “For the owners, [automation] becomes a way to define their IoT strategy and also to attract talent—the best doctors, developers, or hotel managers—the building becomes an extension of their brand,” Hemmerdinger argues. In a world that is becoming far more connected and automated, both in private and in public, cultivating a consolidated and seamless environment might be the difference between your business thriving or simply surviving.
In an increasingly connected and competitive world, automating spaces may soon be the only option for companies wishing to keep up with a rapidly changing technological and economic landscape. As we move closer towards fully connected and automated cities, that can be controlled and interacted with via platforms and apps, it seems increasingly likely that automated buildings will soon be the baseline for any company. Perhaps in future they will need to harness even more advanced technologies to differentiate themselves.