Smart buildings: going beyond the hype to reap the benefits
Open technology platforms are a giant leap towards building truly smart buildings. It has been a slow start but now things are starting to pick up speed. This blog gives examples of companies that reap the benefits.
In a previous blog post on smart buildings, I noted that the real estate sector has been slow to adopt digitization and an updated business model compared to most other sectors. Many real estate owners are still missing out on the business and operational benefits such as scalability, futureproofing, and additional incomes.
To be fair, ten years ago, no one could have had the vaguest idea about the dramatic changes that digitization, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, et cetera, would bring. And no one indeed knows today what technology we will take for granted in 2025, or how various stakeholder needs will change.
I guess it is only natural that some property owners are reluctant to take the digital leap. Traditionally, the real estate sector has relied on a business model where savings are the top priority, not increasing the incomes – which can be the case with smart buildings. But even so, getting left behind in a silo model benefits neither owners nor the tenants.
Playing to everyone’s strengths
In my previous blog post, Swedish IT entrepreneur Jonas Birgersson advocated a layer structure where the infrastructure ownership is divided horizontally among several players instead of vertically with one or few owners.
“When you spread the control of infrastructure and processes, there is a level playing field,” Jonas said. “In each layer, different players can compete and do what they do best. In the best case, companies are spurred on to be creative and to develop innovations.”
To make it work properly, we must turn to open common standards and open technology platforms where solutions from different third-party suppliers can interact to provide something significantly more than the sum of its parts.
Learning from good examples
From a positive perspective, I can see signs that things are starting to pick up speed. There are players out there that are willing to drive digitization and promoting interactive systems, which have been built on an open platform solution.
While maybe not your typical real estate owner, Swedish self-storage company 24Storage is still a perfect example of how to think and what to do. They chose an IP-based platform when they wanted to upgrade their sales and communication model for better customer experience.
When explaining the thoughts behind the new platform, Michael Fogelberg, founder and board member, said: “We wanted to make it simple for the customers, and to serve them more hours. We needed equipment that works all the time, which is reliable and can be used in many locations simultaneously. One of the first things was to get the access control to work on IP.”
A scalable and futureproof platform
24Storage’s solution uses cameras and access control as well as audio. It is a scalable system to which they can add new components and functionalities. According to Michael, the next level is to use the data that they are getting from the equipment to get smarter and better, using AI and tools that are available today and to develop that further.
That may include everything from biometrics to using existing statistics smarter. Michael says, “When changing the way you grow your business, you are constantly learning and trying to use your equipment better. It is also key to use partners that can scale with you and the business.”
Changing the entire real estate sector
Another example is the Swedish public housing sector, which has started to act. Public Housing Sweden, the industry and interest organization for public housing companies, has set up a digitization council. They say that it is “more than a trend – it is a revolution in business models, power structures, how we work, and how we look at information technology (…) Digitization will affect and change all parts of our sector.”
The council lists four main reasons to adopt digitization:
- It simplifies and makes the business more effective
- Improved services and more satisfied customers
- New business opportunities
- It contributes to a better and more inclusive society.
So, there is a lot to gain. Even if not all municipal public housing companies are on the ball, there are several good examples. One company has stopped using paper and is instead relying on a mobile app to communicate digitally in real-time with workers who carry out maintenance. The same company is also installing digital locks that can be managed effectively and safely from a smartphone.
A mobile user interface simplifies
As with most things these days, the services in smart buildings are centered on smartphone user interfaces. With mobile apps and QR codes, persons bring their own mobile access, which can be used at work or home.
There is also on-demand access. One example is the Botkyrka Municipality, just south of Stockholm, which has started to roll out on-demand access control across all their sports centers.
An example: a sports association is going to hire a municipality-owned sports hall. Having paid for the booking, they receive a QR code in a smartphone app. This code works as a digital key and eliminates any waiting to be let into the sports hall. Obviously, it works equally well for booking and access to, for example, gyms or tennis courts.
Andrea Daboscy, Botkyrka Municipality, explains that, “Our vision was to use a digital solution to simplify entrance to our sports centers. It improves accessibility and flexibility as it eliminates the need to borrow physical keys. When the customers let themselves in, we don’t need to have someone from the municipality open and closing doors, so we reduce our costs. We have also connected the alarms to the system, which improves security.”
A revolution in digital infrastructure
These are some examples, and I am sure that we will see a lot happening within the next few years. It was recently announced that Jonas Birgersson’s software company Labs2 had started a collaboration with a major construction and real estate company to build digital infrastructure in a new district in Helsingborg, southwestern Sweden.
The project aims to offer both residential and commercial customers new digital services and optimize the buildings’ technical systems. When you link systems such as access control and ventilation, you can create new personalized customer services.
Different buildings can also be connected, which makes it possible to improve sustainability. To take it to the next level, AI can be used to analyze and optimize various systems. Commenting on the project, Jonas said, “This will be the revolution that we have been waiting for in the real estate and construction industry.”
Let us hope so. From now on, it will certainly be interesting to be part of the development.