Smart buildings are on everybody’s mind, but people often struggle when it comes to explaining exactly what a smart building is. A facility that reduces power consumption? An organization that increases energy efficiency via sustainable technology? Or possibly a place that cuts costs through a lower carbon footprint? All are excellent attributes but not entirely on the mark, smart buildings are much simpler than that.
Take a look around you. Chances are that your surrounding IT, mobile, design, and AV systems are interacting with each other, and you, everyday. But what if these interactions went a step further—from simple interoperability between systems and you accessing these tools as they are needed, to something greater and more beneficial?
Shouldn’t a smart building have some level of autonomy and be capable of improving its efficiency by learning how people act and interact within it? Imagine this: From the moment we step into the workplace, the intelligence of a smart building would spring into action. As we swipe our badge at a facility’s entry point, the smart building is activated to transform areas within the building into tailor-made environments where various systems come together in an integrated, dynamic, and functional manner—making us more productive in the process. Lights are turned on in our office, temperature is adjusted, our calendars automatically update, and as a meeting time approaches, the unified communications platforms come to life as the AV setup goes through auto-testing before the start of a videoconference. Recent studies corroborate what we’ve all experienced—that the first seven to 10 minutes of almost every 1-hour meeting is spent on making systems and technology function properly, resulting in more than $5 billion in wasted resources every year.
So, does automation improve the efficiencies of a building’s overall lifecycle? Absolutely. But the focus of today’s smart buildings needs to remain centered on the worker. For AV integrators, this is excellent news as it unleashes a world of opportunity, as best practices state that plans for integrating intelligent technology across a facility should be specified during the initial phases of a building’s design.
It doesn’t stop there. We need to adjust how we view the way an AV system can cater to this new intelligent ecosystem. For instance, as collaboration spaces evolve from self-contained conference rooms that deliver a predefined experience, the philosophy for smarter buildings should focus on deploying systems that can facilitate multi-use and reconfigurable spaces.
To enable this shift, technology must be more flexible and readily available than ever. IP-based controls and the growing amount of media traffic are the basis for an anything/anywhere/anytime system. Wireless technologies and location-aware equipment can create environments that automatically configure themselves based on the location of users and their hardware. Simply stated, AV integrators need to sell the concept of turning office environments from individual, isolated work locations into smart hubs hosting multi-site and in-person collaboration.
For the user, the smart building concept pivots on the ability to provide an automated environment that can increase productivity while remaining extremely reliable. After all, smart buildings will only be effective if they ensure an optimal work environment.
Selected systems should allow for information to be shared in a way that does not compromise intuitiveness or inhibit work styles. For instance, for employees moving between corporate locations, technology should shift seamlessly, allowing a consistent work experience (e.g. meeting room technology should provide the same user experience). Any process that involves relearning how to operate a system will eventually chip away at smart building benefits of increased collaboration and innovation within the enterprise.
To summarize, the AV industry is in the best position to capitalize on the growing smart building opportunity, since integrating systems are what we do. In essence, the smart building’s “main brain” is simply a subsystem of interconnected technology, containing various systems, speaking a variety of protocols on different communication media. The integrator’s job? Make it all work, make it all simple, and create an office environment that is smart, efficient, and in tune with today’s collaborative workforce.
Stephen Patterson is the Western Europe regional manager for Biamp Systems, a leading provider of innovative, networked media systems that power the world’s most sophisticated audio/video installations.