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

NKF 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 second-in-the series addresses the characteristics and program standards for The Smart Office.

In the previous blog we introduced the ‘Connected Office’ as the starting point in an organization’s journey to collecting, analyzing, and truly utilizing actionable data. At that first stage organizations are just beginning to exploit basic space usage data, such as badge data; they are yet to fully utilize it.

Though the ‘Connected Office’ is a significant incremental step up from the current status-quo - static and siloed CRE & FM technologies and reactive workplace management- a large percentage of the data in the facility sits unused, often leading to risky occupancy planning decisions. Also unused is a treasure trove of data accessible through more advanced workplace IoT technology and tools.

Moving to WP 3.0: The Smart Office

It’s at the next level, the ‘Smart Office’ stage, where the true promise of IoT to improve data quality, generate a higher level of actionable insight and enhance the employee experience emerges.

In a ‘Smart Office’, organizations add lighting beacons and/or furniture sensors; a smart desk, for example, equipped with an embedded sensor can recognize an employee’s cell phone (via mobile app), and allow users to load their sit/stand preferences, ultimately tracking desk level utilization. IT network detection can also be used to track utilization, but has some limitations. The addition of lighting beacons will enable wayfinding and allow employees to pinpoint individuals’ locations in an open office. Although HR departments typically offer this as ‘optional, or opt-in only,’ presence-detection capability is considered critical, given that the number one complaint in free-address environments is the inability to locate team members.

It’s important to say here that the business rationale for the Smart Office’s higher-level IoT infrastructure is not its ability to track employees. Instead, the business case is grounded in improving the employee experience and their productivity, making resources (desks, offices, conference rooms, etc.) available and reserve-able through sensor validation. In just one specific example - perhaps obscure but costly in terms of employee productivity and satisfaction - mobile-enabled queue management technology has proven to virtually eliminate employee cafeteria wait-times. Think that’s not important? Statistics show that employees at organizations with cafeterias spend up to 40-minutes/week/employee waiting in line! Multiply that over hundreds of employees.            
The bottom-line is that advanced, integrated ‘Smart Office’ IoT technologies and tools facilitate forward-thinking, proactive workplace management and strategic occupancy planning. Trends are improving customer/employee-facing areas, like those discussed above, and feeding functional areas throughout the organization, including preventative maintenance, visitor management, and mailroom management.

At this ‘Smart Office’ stage, organizations are not yet tightly focused on core building operational systems. Facilities managers are still likely operating building management systems, like lighting and HVAC, in a siloed fashion.
Our next blog focuses on the ‘Intelligent Office’. We'll look at how integrating building management systems and a B.I. with the rest of the organization’s smart office strategy not only further impacts the employee experience, it changes the building management paradigm.

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

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