The built environment is changing to an ever-greater degree. New and innovative technologies now offer increasingly clearer insights into how workplaces are used. We’re poised on the threshold of new methodologies that will transform how we work, protect people and control our environment. Here, Chris Edwards examines how workplaces are becoming more agile, more connected and more sustainable, in turn realising a better experience for occupants coupled with an enhanced approach to well-being.
Increasing urbanisation in recent decades has meant an upturn in the construction of high-rise and complex buildings worldwide. The rising population in cities has also meant that mixed-use buildings are gaining greater importance, with high-rise construction no longer restricted to the financial and business sectors.
The emergence of digitalisation will improve the management of these facilities, enhance building performance and increase protection measures. Digitalisation means leveraging digital technologies to improve and transform activities within a building. It enables the workforce to operate differently and take advantage of digital tools such as software platforms and mobile devices.
At the heart of digitalisation is data. Buildings, of course, increasingly generate data. Given that sensors and devices are everywhere and the data they supply can be analysed and evaluated, digitalisation will take buildings to the next level in terms of efficiency, safety, security and comfort. The digital transformation in building technology will bring about a paradigm shift for the entire industry leading to new and changing business models. Software will become a central factor. Openness and transparency will be key.
How does digitalisation help to improve protection?
The convergence of security, fire safety and energy management systems and devices via software platforms means that all the disciplines are fully co-ordinated to ensure complex buildings are safer, more comfortable, more efficient and more economical. An integrated solution has the flexibility to adapt to changes in usage and requirements and can be expanded at any time in the future, thus maximising the value of the original investment.
Deeper integration will enable the identification and analysis of unusual behaviour and facilitate more proactive decisions. By combining a wide variety of systems and creating a logical sequence, it’s possible to limit potential damage.
When it comes to managing emergencies, the command platform will identify any sudden rise in temperature across an affected area and alert operatives. Simultaneously a fire is detected, the alarm is raised and video surveillance cameras are automatically activated to verify the situation. The software prompts a call to the relevant senior management. Ventilation systems adjust to prevent smoke from spreading. Escape routes are highlighted. Emergency lighting systems are activated and wayfinding instructions set in motion.
Access-controlled doors are automatically opened to facilitate exit. Live messaging from the Command and Control Centre alerts personnel using clear instructions and facilitates the safe, orderly evacuation of company employees to muster points. Extinguishing systems are discharged to protect critical assets such as Data Rooms once the area is vacated. Heating and air conditioning systems are turned off to minimise the spread of smoke throughout the building. The access control system creates a roll-call of people on site to check against the final register of evacuated personnel. Live images of the incident are relayed to senior management and authorised staff at muster points using mobile devices.
Alarm rules assist operatives in managing response times, actions and feedback to ensure the right procedures are adhered to, as well as distributing essential information to relevant personnel. Exported video can be combined from multiple cameras into one cohesive flow of evidence for analysis and, importantly, a full audit of all activity is automatically generated to provide a detailed incident report.
Software facilitates forensic analysis
The software facilitates forensic analysis as data from different sources can be displayed in consolidated formats. An application for historical analysis enables users to identify and visualise trends in operational performance by comparing current readings with previous data.
Visitors will no longer be forced to queue at the receptions desk, sign a piece of paper and wear a plastic lanyard. The smart building will know your customers, contractors and suppliers. ‘Meet and Greet’ scenarios at the main reception will be transformed.
Visitors will receive a ‘boarding pass’ in advance of any meeting, giving them access to the building with a barcode on their smart phone similar to an airline check-in procedure. Sensor networks will recognise people via their wearable device or smart phone, sending personalised messages, advising on the best route through the building or communicating salient facts about the company.
Agile working environment
Digital technologies have the potential to make the workspace more agile and flexible as data collected from thousands of data points provides real-time intelligence to reconfigure and adapt space to optimise use and address changing user needs.
Data collected from smart phones, wearables, location devices and sensors inside the building will show who’s in the workspace at any given time and where they are. Sensors and video analytics will not only know where people are, but they will also know how people are working. For those who prefer working in collaborative spaces, the system can show available spaces to work, or for private meetings it will show the availability of quiet spaces.
Data-driven services will allow the workspace to adapt to the demands of the workforce and changing work styles. Architects and planners will be able to model new spatial scenarios digitally to assess impact and costs before any built intervention. Employees will be freed from the constraints of building opening times. People will be able to schedule a request for the hours they wish to work. The building will know exactly who that worker is and duly grant them access.
New remote digital services
Another cornerstone of digitalisation in building technology is the Internet of Things (ie the inter-networking of machines, devices, components and sensors). This convergence between the real and the digital world is the foundation for connecting the different disciplines within a building and for creating new digital services and building models.
Remote service solutions make it possible to detect and correct component problems quickly and efficiently from virtually anywhere. Preventive maintenance concepts minimise downtime because components are able to notify their manufacturer at the first sign of trouble, long before there’s actual damage which would cause disruption.
Today, business continuity is a vital factor in business planning. Devices and sensors supply a wealth of valuable information, most of which remains unused. Intelligent evaluation using Big Data applications could combine these massive, but unstructured amounts of data into transparent and linked performance indicators in real-time.
Smart algorithms evaluate trends and recognise patterns in user behaviour or consumption, thus enabling informed decisions, predictive strategies and continuous optimisation. Together with sophisticated self-optimisation functions, this affords complex buildings a central nervous system and enables smart protection.
The modern workforce no longer comprises mainly full-time employees of the host organisation. Increasingly, that workforce will include far more freelancers and part-timers as well as consultants, external partners, suppliers and collaborators. As the contingent, on-demand workforce grows and the traditional corporate job pool shrinks, this model is described in some publications as the ‘gig economy’. People will be hired-in on the basis of specific skills rather than given permanent roles.
Set in this context, issues of security, access control, fire safety, wayfinding and networking with colleagues will be paramount in the post-hierarchical offices of the future in which individuals are no longer confined to rigid departments. ‘Frictionless’ connectivity and integration of services will enable the more disparate strands of this new workforce to join forces.
Chris Edwards is Account Development Manager at Siemens Building Technologies