Paveshen Govender, Managing Executive: IoT Sales

With the adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies in all aspects of our lives, it is no surprise that buildings are getting a lot ‘smarter’ too. The impact of Covid-19 has accelerated this transformation to digitally integrated buildings, as organisations have had to implement strategies to adjust to new ways of hybrid working that keep employees safe, drive efficiencies and keep costs low.

At its most basic, a digital buildings integrate technology and IoT with the physical aspects of a structure to enhance the user experience, improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and mitigate physical, environmental and security risks. Everything within the space is connected and automated, from lighting and air-conditioning to printers and security cameras.

Vodacom Digital Buildings are not just company office blocks but span all industries, including factories, retail outlets, medical facilities, academic campuses, sports venues, airports, and homes. What remains a common thread among all these buildings is the interaction between physical and digital systems, people and external elements through the use of technology,to maximise the effectiveness of the space.

Better user experience

Improving the user experience of a building is one of the key functions of digital buildings. This includes setting up systems such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting to adjust automatically to how employees or customers use the space. These adjustments are based on insights on chosen temperature preferences, footfall and time in the space, for example. Creating a comfortable working environment can boost the potential for productivity and happiness at work, as well as attract and retain valuable employees or customers.

In addition, buildings that are equipped to connect workers across locations, through mediums such as video conferencing, virtual meetings, and wireless content-sharing platforms, create increased opportunities for collaboration and creativity, which ultimately enhances efficiency and output.

Managing facilities and operations for greater efficiency and lower costs

As technology enables buildings and their systems to become more connected, there’s greater access to information on how the space is really being used, as well as greater control of facilities and operations, to improve the management and the performance of the space.

Monitoring occupancy, through sensors for instance, can provide insight on how to manage the spaces in the building effectively. In the current working climate, this is particularly important when strategising for sanitisation and the layout of workstations and communal meeting places to maintain physical safety.

Digital technologies can assist with utilities management. Smart meters and sensors can track and control energy consumption, as well as detect faults earlier.With this data, solutions can be implemented to conserve energy and introduce alternative energy sources, such as solar power, reducing the energy bill and improving the green credentials of a building. Companies who have adopted IoT-enabled sensors and smart devices have seen energy savings of up to 70% in three years.

This technology can also be used to find similar cost-saving and eco-friendly solutions for water consumption and waste removal, and provide insights to form maintenance plans to be more sustainable while cutting down on expenses in the long-term.

Mitigate safety and security risks

A connected building may open opportunities for cybersecurity risks, but it also strengthens the levels of security and access control to systems and assets. Every device on the network can be monitored in real-time for vulnerabilities, and software can be updated remotely and regularlyto avoid exploitation from attackers. Additional security measures, such as multiple-verification and cloud-based solutions, are more easily integrated in an IoT-enabled building.

The safety benefits of digital buildings extend to the security of the physical space. Biometric technology, such as facial recognition, can improve the security of access to the building. Monitoring suspicious activity through IoT sensors on CCTV allows real-time viewing on footage from any camera on any device and sends out alert based on pre-selected criteria.

With health regulations for those returning to the workforce more prevalentcurrently, technology in a building can ensure touchless check-in, screen employees and visitors for COVID-19, monitor face mask compliance, and enforce social-distancing procedures.

Making digital buildings a reality

Before any structure is transformed into a digital building, it needs a holistic strategy for digital integration that involves all functional areas, from IT and management, to human resources and security.

Furthermore, digital buildings are not just for new construction projects. A building management system (BMS) can be retrofitted into existing systems and lay the foundation for the introduction of new technologies. This saves on rip and replacing installations and enhances legacy assets while improving interconnectivity and interoperability.

A trusted digital technology provider, such as Vodacom, can advise on what system is best suited to the building for its effective performance, and offer the convenience of a single user interface for all use cases. With their expertise and experience, they can deploy actions rapidly but in a modular fashion to meet a client’s priority list and budget.

From improved user experience and efficient management to conserving resources and enhancing security, the benefits of digital buildings to organisations are establishing their place in today’s reality. And as more of the workforce return to the workplace, the ability of digital buildings to adapt to changed capacities and operations, and ensure the safety and well-being of the people who use them is more important than ever.