GUEST COLUMN: The business case for intelligent buildings is changing

The business case for intelligent- or smart buildings is changing, and the AV industry could play a central role in delivering on future promises, but it will require new skills says Kristian Glahn, chief AV specialist, COWI.

For many years the main business case for intelligent buildings has been delivering a healthy and comfortable space to occupants, focusing on energy efficiency, operational efficiency and cost. The main focus of this facilities-centric approach main focus has been on some of the most energy consuming basic functions such as heating, ventilation and lighting, and innovation have mostly revolved around pure automation, using ever more sophisticated motion activated lighting and programmable heating systems exhausted to a point where further development doesn´t justify the additional investment.

As an industry we’ve only had a minor role to play in this development, providing interfaces for users to control the meeting space environment and taking care of the energy efficiency in our AV designs. But the promise of what a smart building can deliver in the future is changing and over the past years, areas such as access management, security, occupancy and digital signage has been in focus, and with that an awareness of what can be delivered when multiple systems to work together to obtain a more true smart building functionality.

Just imagine a building where a fire alarm not only triggers voice evacuation in the case of fire, but also take over the meeting room screens and digital signage system to guide occupants to relevant exits, depending on where the fire is, utilizing data from the access management system, occupancy censors and people counting cameras to intelligently guide the evacuation flow and verify if the building has been properly evacuated. Scenarios like these incorporates a number of the disciplines that our industry already excel in, and builds on our history as systems integrators. But the most interesting to our industry is the latest development of productivity as a business case, where smart buildings become intelligent in supporting the business purpose of their occupants and empower them to focus on core competencies.

In this paradigm smart buildings are transitioning to modern connected environments, that are aware of their occupants, offering them seamless personalized experiences, with benefits that include increased productivity, collaboration and creativity

With this latest business centric focus users use their mobile devises, biometrics or access cards to log in to meeting spaces, that personalizes to access relevant tools and content, and connect with the workspace to receive relevant suggestions based on workday activities, with touch and voice interfaces becoming the touchpoints between users and building.

A resent AVIXA Technical report published April this year identified more than 55 system types found in common buildings, AV being just one of them, and more than 20 different communication protocols commonly used.  

As an industry we are already used to be the swiss knife of the room, underpinning audiovisual experiences and collaborative environments by integrating multiple platforms and technologies. In the future we have the chance to take a broader role as the swiss knife in the building.

For some years now we have gotten used to not only network technologies, but also integrating with IT systems, utilising data from Exchange and Outlook to visualize meeting space occupancy and their utilisation, retrieving data from CMS systems to automate information displayed on digital signage systems and sometimes in combination with numerous other databases. In a smart building future focused on productivity, we already have an edge in understanding and underpinning productivity systems.

In the future we need to incorporate more data from building automation systems and sensors, analyze data and use the results to act and react, and in the process, we need to get more acquainted with the broader world of communication protocols like KNX, BACnet and Modbus.

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