Why cloud-enabled smart buildings open doors for safer back-to-work strategies

Australia finds itself in the enviable position of navigating a path back to a semblance of normality in the workplace as we head into a post-pandemic environment, while much of the rest of the world faces further lockdowns and spiralling infection rates.

Smart technology is supporting this move by playing a key role in ensuring those who wish to – or indeed, need to – return to the office can do so safely.

Smart buildings are considered by many to be a relatively new phenomenon, but the genesis of the smart building can be traced all the way back to the 1950s. Of course, the smart buildings of the 50s operated very differently to today’s, with pneumatic controls using compressed air to control automated building systems.

Microprocessors moved the technology on in the 60s, but the real leap towards what we recognise as a smart building today came at the turn of the millennium when wireless technology enabled components to communicate without cable attachments – a precursor to today’s IoT-enabled cloud infrastructures.

The move towards today’s cloud-enabled smart buildings were largely driven by factors such as convenience, aesthetics, comfort, and efficiency. But COVID-19 has added a new dimension to the importance of smart buildings that usurps all of those other aspects, namely the safety of the building’s inhabitants and visitors.

This is being achieved in a variety of ways. Of course, there were already a number of safety elements within smart building infrastructures prior to COVID-19, such as fire detection systems and air quality sensors, but these are now being augmented with a range of other technological innovations to enhance the safety of occupants.

The need for technology such as connected and smart elevators, heat mapping sensors, and capacity management systems has become paramount since the pandemic took hold.

By understanding how buildings are used, these technologies enable operations and building managers to adapt to unforeseen events in real time. It also means that these transportation systems can communicate with other systems and software to make the user’s journey safer, easier and faster. Think smartphones that can automatically call a lift without the need for touch panels, creating a truly contactless experience.

The smart buildings sector already had momentum pre-pandemic, thanks in no small part to industry legislation that incentivises operators of existing buildings capable of being retro-fitted by offering concessions, and also mandating that construction firms involved in new builds meet certain standards relating to the smart operation of any new enterprise facilities prior to building permits being granted.

What this means is that the financial support mechanisms for introducing enhanced safety measures into smart building design are already in place.

But the benefits of smart building implementation go beyond even those aforementioned factors. Buildings with incorporated smart technologies also typically attract a price premium for rental, as having the ability to optimise building functions such as heating, lighting and energy consumption according to the time of day, occupancy, and external temperature, can be highly cost-beneficial to tenants.

As we return to our workplaces, it is essential we feel safe to do so. With smart technology available to help maximise our safety, and the market conditions already established to encourage its implementation, we can begin to feel a lot more comfortable about how our working world will operate as we enter this imminent post-pandemic phase.


By Jerome Audais, Managing Director, KONE ANZ

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