The smart office - connected tech transforms the workplace

7 min read M2M & IoT

Technology is offering the opportunity for offices to become smarter as businesses look to maximise productivity and employee wellbeing. As we see the rise of connected technology and now artificial intelligence is the Channel in position to deliver the future of our workplaces? In this feature Editor David Dungay delves into this world to see what part partners can play.

The office has changed for many of us over the last decade where we have seen technology seep into the work place which has offered us things like hot desking, mobile conferencing, meeting room booking systems and many other, mostly uninspiring but useful, tools and services. The flood gates are now beginning to open and as more intelligent technology becomes relevant the future of the office is looking like a productive one.

In Microsoft’s Digital Culture: Your competitive advantage report looks at the culture in the Irish market. Where companies have a strong digital culture employees feel more empowered and innovative. Productivity was further down the list of with only 22% linking it to digitisation of the business.

"Impactful digital transformation isn't really about IT. It's about people. This is where company culture comes in," said the report. A key concept is that of 'digital culture', which the report defined as "Shared, underlying, and deep-rooted basic assumptions, values, beliefs, and norms that characterize how an organization encourages and supports technology use to get work done in the most effective way".

Myles Leach, MD of NFON UK, added “The phrase “smart office” has been one of the industry’s biggest buzzwords for the last decade. The problem is that over this period what the phrase means has changed and, with the advent of new technologies, it’s important that the channel add value rather than confuse. An intelligent approach is to use the shift to the smart office as an opportunity to unify and consolidate suppliers – integrating data and voice - making it easier for businesses to implement and use cloud services.”

British Land ran a survey of 1,063 office workers in London (of whom 291 are fully involved in making decisions about the location of their organisation) to explore the appetite for – and perceptions of – smart offices.

Businesses largely appear to be convinced that a smart office is something they should be planning for: 90 per cent of decision-makers see a business reason for working in one and 87 per cent say they’ll require smart technology in their office the next time they move.

Respondents were also given a list of possible smart office features and asked which of those they don’t already have would appeal to them. The most popular were:

• Self-adjusting lighting and window shades (53 per cent don’t have this but think it would be helpful)

• The ability to personalise heat and light settings for one’s immediate space, and have those settings follow you around the building (53 per cent)

• Circadian lighting systems that mimic natural daylight (51 per cent)

• Heat and lighting systems that adjust automatically according to weather and occupancy (50 per cent)

• An app for booking desks and meeting rooms (35 per cent)

• Meeting rooms where the screens work seamlessly with your device (34 per cent)

• Desk or room sensors that track usage to monitor efficiency (34 per cent)

Building Management Systems

Clearly there is an opportunity around the physical building for partners to sell management systems in several areas.

Bernie McPhilips, Sales Director of Pangea, explains “There’s a lot to be said for Building Management Systems that enable predictive maintenance. Rather than play whack-a-mole with faults, operators have the space to target and eliminate problems as they crop up and before they become needlessly worse—leading to substantial cost and time savings, and avoiding outages or the need to replace entire systems.

Energy costs are at an all-time high, with nearly half of decision-makers across the UK saying they’re a threat to business. At the same time, 30% of energy used in commercial buildings is wasted. Smart office solutions play a pivotal role in the push to reduce costs and wastage across industries, with energy management systems alerting operators to overused utilities. Data-gathering applications provide a wealth of actionable insights, such as the ability to track energy usage on a desk-by-desk basis.

Furthermore, carbon-offsetting is more than just in-vogue; it’s now an ethical and legal requirement for companies across the UK. And a significant reduction in operation costs is an attractive prospect for businesses small and large alike.

The retrofittable nature of these solutions makes installation simple and cost-effective: rather than rip up the infrastructure of an historic building or even restructure a modern one, implementation can be as easy as adding a clip-on device to an office desk. And multi-building management capability in solutions means businesses with suites of buildings can also enjoy these benefits.”

Box Out

IoT in the workplace

Predictive Maintenance

Through strategic sensor placement, and autonomous systems (using AI) businesses can help eliminate downtime of systems such as elevators, lighting, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).

Getting Comfy

The approach to occupant comfort stands to be completely reformed. Live feedback from occupants via an app would mean room temperature can be adjusted immediately and accurately, according to the wishes of those in the room.

Data Analysis and Decision Making

Building sensors that pinpoint the causes of excess utility usage will allow for the implementation of floor, room, or even desk-specific plans to combat wastage. Rather than resorting to guesswork or blanket solutions, companies can make data-driven decisions based on specific pain points.

Box Ends

Millennial impact?

When it comes to getting the work itself done the ‘work smarter’ ethos is also starting to impact the tools and services want to deploy. These new working demands are surely coming from the millennials who are starting to infiltrate the workplace?

John McKindland, Head of Solutions at Nimans, commented “There’s little doubt about the impact of Millennials. Look at their home life as a consumer. They may have a games console, use a headset, collaborate online, use social media - and sometimes walk down the street on Facetime. All of these tools are expected in the workplace too. Those vendors that have the ability to put all this together simply, for someone to be a portable mobile worker, have a great advantage.

The key to success is not about products but solutions and how a reseller can bundle a number of different technologies together. With the right platform and the right peripheral people don’t need a desk anymore and can work from anywhere, even at a bus stop if necessary. Thanks to collaboration in the cloud it’s possible to deliver multi device, flexible working based on true mobility. We as a distributor have a responsibility to help a reseller wrap around other products and services and upskill them where necessary.”

Iain Sinnott, Sales and Marketing Director at VanillaIP, added “We make the mistake of thinking there is a blueprint when in fact there is infinite difference. The difficult answer is you need a diverse portfolio and skilled sales people. Millennials are not one type, businesses are not solely made of millennials and communications demands are driven more by the customer and the event than the employee. We need a flexible portfolio of on-demand services so businesses can evolve into the most effective solution as designing it right, first time is extremely difficult.”

Sinnott continued, “To save money on the building or through the use of a central office may come from the time you require staff to attend. The old saying was ‘work is a thing you do not a place you go to’ and similarly ‘going to the office’ can become a general term for starting work activity, be that in a coffee shop round the corner, a home office, a shared space or a park bench. Travelling off peak brings down staff personal costs, stress and inconvenience and a modern worker may trade that flexibility for some element of salary. Flexibility in location and work time may also mean greater availability for customers, improving the customer experience so a smart office is one that exists as a virtual-concept with a physical hub.”

SME impact

Can the SME really justify these types of solutions to enable their small workforce? If so, are they actually starting to jumping into this segment with any kind of gusto?

Bernie McPhilips, Sales Director of Pangea, commented “While space utilisation and occupant comfort might not be top of the agenda for smaller businesses, SMEs should instead start by focusing on implementing tech that allows for flexible working. Think cloud sharing and resilient communication channels that mimic that all-important collaborative team environment. The value for any business starting their smart working strategy here is tangible. According to the employment search service Abodoo, small changes can make a big difference to small businesses with adoption of such tech, resulting a 15% productivity increase and a 40% improvement in staff turnover.”

Myles Leach, MD of NFON UK said “It’s important that SMEs can get enjoy the same benefits from smart working - for example, SMEs that implement mobile working will benefit from less staff ‘sick days’ as they can still work during school holidays and when children are ill. Plus they can flex their hours and do more work for urgent projects when needed, as they aren’t restricted by office opening hours. When you give workers flexibility, they will give you flexibility in return.”

McKindland added “There’s a perception in some quarters that you can only sell this type of technology in larger organisations, but that’s definitely not the case. It’s cost effective for even the smallest of businesses and can help deliver a competitive market advantage.“

Not everyone agrees, Sinnott added, “No, the SME in general is not exploiting the current opportunity and the reason for that is too many sellers package up cloud services to look like traditional service. Providing a stack of unwanted features, imposing ridged contracts and basing it around physical locations rather than individual user choice based on what they do and how they can work best. Better sales people need to take more time educating and advising customers on the options and not trying to chip a fiver off the running costs, it is a false economy.”

Ed says

Two huge opportunities around the smart office. Buildings management is an interesting one as many customers will have the same requirements no matter what their core businesses is. Although flexible working may be on the rise most businesses also come with a physical office space which should allow plenty of opportunities for partners. When it comes to core business flexibility is currently king, making sure you have the right bundle of cloud based mobile solutions will stand you in good stead.

Bold Quotes

“Smart office solutions play a pivotal role in the push to reduce costs and wastage across industries, with energy management systems alerting operators to overused utilities.” - Bernie McPhilips, Sales Director of Pangea

“With the right platform and the right peripheral people don’t need a desk anymore and can work from anywhere, even at a bus stop if necessary.” - John McKindland, Head of Solutions at Nimans