Smart IoT platforms are the key to digital transformation

Ever smarter IoT platforms are helping businesses transform, Paul Milligan speaks to Matthew O’Halloran from Smart Spaces to find out more.

With a background in providing software and app design for the property industry back to the company’s formation in 2010, it was when they were developing a booking system for Marriott Hotels in 2017 that brothers Dan and Tom Drogman recognised a need for workplaces that emphasised sustainability and wellness within the office. Their solution was the IoT platform Smart Spaces, which is capable of connecting occupiers to their building systems.

Today, Smart Spaces’ portfolio of clients stretches across the globe including a recently completed contract with Landsec, the largest property developer in the UK, to digitally transform approximately 3.5 million square feet of its central London portfolio into a smart workplace.

For a company that has been involved in IoT for some time, where are we right now with IoT, are we behind or ahead of where we should be in regards to adoption and awareness? “Are we behind? Yes massively, because people are just pumping out kit all over the place but not really understanding the compliance and diligence of the penetration tests that take place at the enterprise level,” says Matthew O’Halloran, director and head of revenue, Smart Spaces. “Just go to Google GitHub for IT lists and you’ll see just how short the list is of enterprise-approved PEN-tested IT sensors is. It’s minimal for the thousands of devices out there, it’s crazy. The beaten path is followed because those who went before got to the top of the mountain, so people are buying when they see big banks have deployed sensors, they’ll buy that technology so that then limits the field further, because they’ve gone through the tests and they’re happy with them.”

There is also a secondary barrier to entry that is hampering IoT says O’Halloran, and that is scalability. “The costs become exponentially eye-watering across global real estate. I can do one office, buy 200 sensors and everything’s brilliant, it looks like the the Starship Enterprise has landed, you’ve got total observation of space utilisation, air quality etc. When you try and roll that out across millions of square feet across a client’s global real estate, the cost runs into zillions so it doesn’t always stack up financially. The pool of IoT sensors we can use is limited and therefore the competition means the price is quite high.”

Limitations caused by hardware manufacturing are causing real problems he adds: “Once you create something that’s a fixed item that’s got to go into the built world you’re wedded to that proprietary technology’s limitations. The smart move is to capitalise on existing infrastructure that will expose the data of IoT sensors and do it independently.” O’Halloran cites Cisco as one of those providing a solution, “Via Cisco’s API’s through the Webex cameras we can do room count, we can get utilisation data, we don’t need to put a room counting sensor in separately. The APIs will pick up environmental information, so we can start to understand CO2, humidity, comfort levels in these spaces through that type of infrastructure.” Converged networks hold the key here he adds: “Through these we can run lighting over PoE and not put copper into buildings and have a greater sustainability story as well. We’re starting to see the omission of IT sensors that are procured independently of the base infrastructure and a move towards utilising base infrastructure, like your network, to produce much more data than it ever did before.”

Does he think businesses are doing enough with the data at their disposal at the moment? “Absolutely not. It’s not a case of bad actors out there burying the data and not trying to analyse it. There’s nothing like that going on. It’s just purely getting access to credible data in a format and location where it can be interrogated.” Intelligent buildings have been around for a while, but it was always engineering-led he says. “There was no real employee experience user interface that could allow an individual who’s not an engineer to change a set point, without having to go into the basement and log in to a base system head end. We were describing the factory, which is the how the data is produced, and they just wanted to buy the car, which is the app.”

How does he think the growth of AI will affect this sector? “With the advent of generative AI particularly, suddenly the question is coming up, where’s our data? What’s our policy around AI? What are we doing with this? Is there a risk? It’s suddenly become acutely into focus because of the sweeping transformation AI is going to make to all industries, not just real estate. Those buildings that have been collecting their data with smart platforms are now far more readily able to apply AI, with large language models or natural language querying of universally accessible data through to smart buildings.”

Data has never been more acutely in focus he says, and what most people are looking to use it for is sustainability, because what can be measured can then be improved. “Then if you have a drive to get energy costs down, you can measure your energy output and you can say how do we improve on that and reduce that cost? The data gives us access to trends and patterns so we can then move into prediction and then start to augment the building to be much more responsive in real time rather than running on timers.”

Standardisation is often a crucial part in any tech adoption process because it makes it easy to procure and easy to service. How can IoT systems help here? “You want the international traveller to just put the booking in their calendar, so when they arrive at a new location the app will recognise they’re in a completely different time zone, a different country, and it will give them the permission they’ve been pre-approved based on their role that they can access then in this other location,” says O’Halloran. Where standardisation can make life simpler is removing the need for those managing a global real estate portfolio having to download 50 or 60 different landlord apps to get through the turnstiles at each different location. “Because everyone’s trying to do apps with mobile access, that’s what will happen unless you take the approach which is to say no, I want one corporate app that connects to 50 or 60 different landlord apps. You flip it around and then you are in control of your employee experience. You are able to designate this is our room booking system, I’m going to put that into the app and wherever they go they’ve got the right app to book those rooms.”

Finally, for those AV system integrators looking to use IoT to take on a bigger role in projects by becoming an MSI (master systems integrator), what advice would O’Halloran pass on? “The whole point of the MSI is to police the process of the procurement of the base systems and make sure they match the specification. It’s inherently risky to just combine systems. You have to have real world experience how to configure those systems, what licenses to buy for those systems. What we do is support the MSIs and these businesses that have seen the opportunity in the market. We will support you as an SSI, so we will do the software systems integration piece during that phase and we’ll make sure if you’re going to buy this room system it can connect to the platform that will allow it to do energy conservation through the plant, and not have a clash and systems not being able to communicate.”

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