The Stack Archive

Matt Salter on the smarter way to work

Thu 3 Apr 2014

From security to lighting, the IP network can be used to host a variety of technologies that can help a data centre – or an office – operate more efficiently and effectively. Matt Salter, delivery director at Redstone, looks at the need for smart buildings and the variety of IP-based technologies that can deliver improved ways of working.

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The way we use business space is evolving and intelligent or smart buildings are helping organisations easily accommodate these changes, using an array of technologies which enable smarter, more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of working.

From employee and perimeter security to accommodating flexible working practices, smart buildings can deliver many benefits. But why are our places of work becoming smarter and just what business benefits can be delivered via the IP network?

With many employees now no longer dependent on a desk and four walls to work and the rising costs of property, increasing power requirements and growing operational costs, the performance track record of buildings is coming under much scrutiny.

Traditional office layouts were designed around individual spaces for each worker to occupy for a relatively rigid number of hours each day. Common or shared workspaces had very specific uses, such as dedicated meeting rooms, reception areas and canteens and restaurants.

Consequently, individual departments within the organisation became responsible for managing the services associated with these shared and individual spaces. Building owners didn’t necessarily consider the future usage of their development; operations looked after the physical elements of the building such as power, lighting, access and security; IT delivered the network and systems access via hardware and software solutions; and HR looked after the employees and how they interacted with the business and the office space.

Today, buildings need to be able to fit the businesses they serve rather than the other way round. A building that fully integrates its services, from lighting to access control, will ultimately realise its full potential and deliver real business intelligence.

Building intelligence can be generated in a number of ways. For example, by integrating hot-desking, meeting room bookings and pull printing functionality, companies can create more efficient and flexible workspaces that are fully utilised and don’t have costly physical restrictions.

Furthermore, analysis of this type of data means that companies can pinpoint peak usage times, down-time and even how facilities are being utilised. Taking this information and using it to build better, more flexible workspaces can keep employees motivated and improve productivity, while at the same time decreasing costs and improving security.

By extending this data through all operations, companies can develop smarter ways of working. For example, by reviewing data generated by meeting room booking systems in combination with intelligent lockers, smart vending machines and even heat sensors, it’s possible to identify how these rooms are used and by whom. Would it be more cost effective to have fewer but larger meeting rooms? Or, could under-utilised desk space be better used as meeting areas? Integrating smart building features can also enable a company to build a more detailed picture of how, where and which employees are working at any given time.

In order to make a building work smarter, greater integration between an organisation, its facilities and its working practices needs to take place, sharing one common network upon which to run the technologies which help create a smart building.

Aside from the standard benefits of a robust and resilient IT infrastructure, IP networks offer huge potential as a facilitator of integrated building intelligence. Many of the features that make up an intelligent building can all utilise a single IP infrastructure, maximising the return from the network investment while keeping power consumption and network installation and maintenance costs minimal.

Examples of the types of technologies that can be deployed using the IP network include:

  • Access control: Access control systems over IP can secure facilities, from the physical perimeter of the building, to anywhere a user can gain entry or exit such as a data centre, comms room or office. It can be installed and connected to an existing IP network and access methods include smart cards, key pads or biometric technology.
  • IP CCTV: CCTV over the IP network offers a number of beneficial features and supports cost reduction. It is far easier to alter, manage and add cameras to an IP-based system than a traditional analogue system. IP CCTV also makes it far easier to search through footage and it can also be viewed remotely, alerting security teams of any incidents if they are not on the actual premises at the time of the event.
    Digital signage and IP TV: Whether it’s conveying important messages to staff and visitors or carrying promotional messages to customers, digital signage and IP TV is a fast way to disseminate messages throughout facilities.
  • Cashless vending: The provision of vending facilities for staff or customers are something many organisations want to do but without the inconvenience of handling cash. Cashless vending systems that use pre-paid smart cards can be implemented and integrated with the same card technology used for building access for minimal management overheads. The data collected also provides more useful insights into the catering and vending facilities needed by staff for future planning and development.
  • Intelligent lighting: Intelligent lighting systems can be run over the IP network, making full use of the existing cabling investment. Intelligent lighting is more cost effective as it allows space to dim when empty, brighten upon activity and dim again as people leave. It can also respond to ambient light levels by ‘daylight harvesting’, reducing the lighting and power required if there is enough natural daylight.
    Swipe cards can also be used out of hours to operate lights in certain areas and then turn them off again when they swipe out. It can also be managed to activate at certain times, days of the week or activated by a trigger from the buildings security systems.
  • Meeting room bookings: With the cost of office space continuing to rise, ineffective utilisation of meeting rooms can be costly for businesses. However, administering and ensuring the availability of meeting rooms can be complex. Few organisations can be certain that there are sufficient rooms available or whether they are booked but unused. Meeting room booking solutions provide an LCD panel outside each area linked to a central integrated database that keeps tabs on who has booked each room and for how long. Access can be limited using smart cards to only those who have booked the room, and once inside lighting and refreshments can be provided in an instant with the same smart card.
  • Hot-desk management: Hot-desks are a common feature in many offices but are they well utilised? Building intelligence provides insight into whether the space is under-utilised, near to capacity or full at each point of the working period. From this the organisation can ensure it is providing the right level of space, or consider new strategies to increase the number of hot-desking employees.
  • Print management: Smart card access solutions can be used for intelligent printing, allowing the employee to ‘pull’ his or her print jobs to any printer of choice when and where they need them. This avoids erroneous print wastage, allows greater employee productivity and decreases the chances of sensitive documents being mislaid and breaching security. Again, the intelligence drawn from knowing who uses what printing resources can help the organisation to further streamline its hardware requirements over time.
  • Intelligent lockers: Lockers are widely used in the leisure industry, education, health clubs and retailer sector and increasingly more so in large organisations so that staff have a secure place to keep their belongings. Access to lockers can be enabled using smart cards and facilities managers can gain visibility on locker usage – whether that’s how much capacity is used at peak times, or who is occupying but has not accessed a locker for a certain time

The IP network facilitates immense possibilities for organisations to pinpoint the most beneficial intelligent building features and integrate them into a single management approach, providing efficiency and vital data for business planning. Isn’t it time your workplace got smart?


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