Originally published as a guest blog for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce
JFDI were proud to participate in the Chamber’s Future of the Workplace event in September 2016. As well as answering delegates’ questions about our vision of how the workplace will change, we also demonstrated some simple Smart Building technologies we’ve developed. The media and industry throw terms like Smart Building around a lot, expecting that people will just understand them. At JFDI we don’t take stuff like that for granted, and always try to find ways to explain what we mean. So here’s our introduction to Smart Buildings.
A traditional building is just an enclosed space with some fixed services – electricity, gas, water, data, environmental controls. The most automated system is a heating or air conditioning thermostat, but that’s still pretty dumb. Safeguards are few. Information is almost nonexistent. There’s nothing except policy to stop lights being left on. There’s no physical reason the air conditioning and central heating can’t be on simultaneously. You’ve no idea about actual temperature or humidity figures, or energy use compared to utility bills. How much is your car park utilised? What’s your company’s impact on the local environment during rush hour? That fire alarm event – is it a fire, or just someone smoking in the loos? Can you avoid losing half an hour of everyone’s day while they stand around outside waiting for the all-clear? In the event of a real fire, how many people are trapped in the building, and whereabouts are they?
Some of all of this may matter to you. In practise, the larger your facilities, the more it matters. But even on a small business scale some degree of automation might be useful. When a building can monitor and control its own environment, reporting and alerting you when things go wrong or need attention, it’s become a Smart Building.
We can cater for many of these scenarios, and have solutions under development for the rest. This year, JFDI launched Automate Everything, an initiative to create links between business systems and even link them to the physical world. Our integration solutions employ both hardware and software. But we can also advise you on what’s possible, what’s practical, and what advantages you’d gain from each piece of Smart Building technology. There’s no point installing technology that won’t give you a practical business advantage, for example cost savings on fuel bills, or compliance to standards or statutory legislation which might be vital to your business. Perhaps it’s about staff comfort, for example allowing people to hot-desk more effectively, or ensuring that their workspace environment is optimally conducive to productivity.
Once, not so long ago, all of this automation was prohibitively expensive, or impossible. Two developments changed all of that. The Internet of Things has introduced small devices linked to physical systems and communicating via the Internet. Web Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have made it easier for software engineers to interrogate and control systems using standardised protocols. A third development, the emergence of computational intelligence or AI, means that we’re no longer reliant on simple rules to control things, and introduces context, machine learning and inference to Smart Building systems. It’s now all doable, and sometimes for surprisingly little money.
Jon is JFDI’s Director of Research & Development. He’s been a consultant for over 30 years, making computers do clever things for 40 years, playing with electronics for even longer, and fixing problems with bits of technology for as long as he can remember. He’s also been a freelance writer since 1988, including as Contributing Editor of PC Pro Magazine.