Why is the Smart Office Lagging Behind the Smart Home?

“Alexa, I’m home!” Alexa then locks the front door, activates the lights to my preset scenes, sets the oven to 180 degrees, boosts the heating to 21 degrees (lower in the bedrooms), the coffee starts to percolate, and Ed Sheeran starts to play throughout the home…

This is all now easily achievable and becoming commonplace in the smart home environment as interconnectivity increases and becomes expected. Affordability is improving; lighting and socket controlled devices are cheapest and easiest as both IKEA and Philips Hue lamps, which can connect direct via Zigbee with Amazon Echo Plus without the need for additional hubs or bridges.

User comfort and ease of use are clear benefits in this domestic world of interconnectivity, but energy reduction is also a real plus point – especially in a time when the UK is heading towards a zero carbon pledge.

So why is the smart office behind the domestic curve?

Perceived difficulties and antiquated systems could be seen as barriers – although this is not always the case. For instance, Alexa can be used in the workplace to replicate the functions used at home, and there is an Alexa Business which can act as a virtual assistant,  enabling the booking of meeting rooms, conferencing facilities, dimming lights etc – but take up has been slow; even with Amazon leading the field. However, as PC’s and other electronic devices start to include Alexa type connectivity – the trend is very much likely to grow.

There are of course security and privacy concerns, both at home and in the workplace with these ‘always listening’ devices; although this function can be physically switched off – though perhaps defeating the purpose of heaving a voice-controlled device.  After receiving a command word, voice instructions are converted into text and transmitted to the cloud for processing, and these instructions are captured for better device learning; despite reassurances from Amazon, google and apple, privacy concerns are likely to remain as big barriers for businesses.

Smart Workplaces are obviously much more than voice commands, and facilities managers are likely to see huge improvements in smart enabled technologies and devices in coming years that will add immense value to user experience and the manageability of buildings – especially in the form of data gathering, trend analysis and decision making.

Sensors and monitors are rapidly reducing in prices, and becoming common place on new building services assets, and can now easily be retrofitted to devices and spaces – these can provide anything from heat mapping to visualise user comfort, to noise and vibration monitoring of plants to report changes or failures that need maintenance intervention, to local weather monitoring to alert staff to place umbrellas and matting by entrance doors.

Of course, any implementation of smart technologies should have measurable outcomes that relate to business objectives, record an improvement on user experience and occupant comfort, and show an increased efficiency in operation of building assets including a reduction in energy consumption and operating costs; helping combat the reported annual 2.5% increase in a buildings electricity consumption. That’s a step closer to a zero carbon Britain.

Alexa reminds me it’s time to service the car – if only it could walk the dog too.

This article was written by David Stevens. David Stevens is a Chartered engineer and vice chair of the CIBSE Facilities Management Group.