Understanding the 'Intelligent Office' - A CRE Guide to IoT in the Workplace

Newmark is heavily invested in advancing our clients’ understanding of the smart-office market. As part of that initiative, we’re offering a series of three smart-office blogs written from a CRE/FM perspective. The blogs seek to provide an incremental roadmap of-sorts to help organizations navigate their Digital Workplace Transformation by outlining the characteristics and program standards for a ‘Connected Office’, a ‘Smart Office’, and, finally, an ‘Intelligent Office’. This final installment in the series addresses the characteristics and program standards for The Intelligent Office.

In the previous two blogs, we introduced the ‘Connected Office’ as the starting point for CRE and FM in their organization’s IoT journey. It’s in this first phase that they begin collecting and analyzing basic space usage data (often from existing sources) to improve workplace management and to transition from reactive to proactive occupancy planning.

We then identified the next phase - the ‘Smart Office’ – as the point when organizations begin realizing the productivity gains due to the addition of IoT infrastructure, such as beacons, sensors and various connected products and applications.  And while organizations progressing from the ‘Connected’ to ‘Smart’ office phase are certainly more proactive in their planning and decision-making, and while their employees’ experience is improving dramatically, the third phase, the ‘Intelligent Office’, introduces next-level automation, integration, and intelligence into the workplace.

Moving to Cognition: The Intelligent Office

It’s in the ‘Intelligent Office’ where IoT in the workplace truly takes root, integrating core operational systems and Building Management Systems (BMS) into an organization’s smart office strategy.

In ‘Connected’ and ‘Smart’ offices, BMS systems were still siloed; however, in this third phase, an Intelligent Building Platform (IBP) integrates multiple systems and data sources with read-write functionality. HVAC, lighting, electrical, solar, weather station, utility meters, fire life safety, elevators, badge, CCTV, smart furniture or other occupancy sensors, copiers/printers, windows/shades, rack management, kitchen appliances, resource scheduler, and more can be connected to the IBP Hub. These integrated command and control centers can also extend functionality to a mobile device, enabling tenants to adjust things like temperature and lighting. But perhaps the systems’ most valuable feature is its ability to conduct automated protocols based on the data it receives.

In the ‘Intelligent Office,’ the IoT is managing energy. For instance, if no sensor activity is detected on a floor of a building over the past two hours, or if the level of sensor activity doesn’t meet a pre-determined threshold, there’s no reason to maintain a temperature of 72 degrees or to keep (all) the lights on. Instead, the IBP automatically directs heating/cooling and electrical power to areas with activity.

In a more sophisticated temperature-related example, the IBP utilizes sensors to detect how many people are occupying an open-plan space. Each occupant, using a mobile app, is able to provide real-time feedback regarding the space’s temperature, whether it’s too warm or too cool. The IBP monitors that feedback and if a pre-defined threshold is met (say, 25% of occupants at one point agree that the space is too cool), it executes a protocol to adjust the temperature or air handling units accordingly. No work order or human intervention needed - integration yields actionable insights, which drive an automated response. 

The same principle applies to equipment maintenance. The IBP provides facilities managers (FM) with advanced visibility into equipment performance. Through those insights, FMs can predict and prevent equipment failure, often through automation protocols based on constant readings/performance data.

Building automation capabilities have never been more sophisticated. Most IBP’s are capable of some level of machine learning on a standalone basis. Others may require integration to a third-party application like IBM Watson for additional levels of insight.

A structured approach to digital workplace transformation

In these blogs, we’ve limited our analysis of workplace technologies to the CRE and FM world. Of course, countless other emerging connected technologies, from interactive whiteboards to AI-enabled virtual assistants, continue to fundamentally transform the way we work.

The workplace evolution will continue at a pace and scale virtually impossible to predict. Without a systematic, incremental, and programmed approach to their own workplace evolution organizations run the risk of chasing the latest technology for technology’s sake, ending up with an ad hoc collection of poorly utilized, non-integrated and perhaps superfluous tools and technologies. What we’ve begun to do in this blog series is provide CRE and FM with program standards, definitions, and frameworks that can form the foundation of a digital workplace transformation strategy moving forward.

Dusty Duistermars
Senior Managing Director, Connected Places Practice Group
Innovation & Solutions Team (IST)

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