Imagine a work environment that automatically anticipates and responds to the needs of employees throughout the day. How much more productive and effective could your business become?
Much of the excitement about IoT centers on either consumer applications like wearables, self-driving cars and home automation, or industrial applications to improve quality control, supply chain efficiency and sustainability. But the opportunities for intelligence and automation are every bit as rich in the office. As workplaces become more flexible and fluid, IoT technology can help people make optimal use of the resources available to them while capturing valuable data to drive efficiencies and savings across the organization.
To enable a more productive work experience, IoT can automate how people interact with spaces, how devices in the room interact with the space and the people in it, and how the space interacts with back-end services such as Microsoft Exchange and teleconferencing systems such as Skype for Business. For example, office workers can easily find spaces that correspond to their needs, from available desks or privacy booths to a conference room for an impromptu discussion. Meetings can begin promptly, with lights, screens and teleconferencing systems all fired up and ready to go even before the first participant arrives.
For the business, usage analytics becomes available across all spaces, providing full visibility into the most and least used rooms, furniture and other resources to guide optimal facilities investment and configuration. Lights can be dimmed, devices put to sleep and HVAC adjusted according to the actual presence or absence of users, reducing waste and operating expense.
And broad-based applications like these are only the beginning. What about:
- Hospitals that can use beacons and trackers to pinpoint the location of their computers-on-wheels at all times, saving valuable time and avoiding loss
- Medical workstations that automatically load the clinical applications and patient data a practitioner will need the moment they walk in the examination room
- Indicator lights that respond to the positive, neutral or negative sentiment of customer tweets in real time — with urgent or sensitive tweets automatically reposted to the social media team’s Slack channel
- Classrooms where lights and AV respond to the needs preferences of each instructor who walks in the door
There’s no question of the potential value of smart spaces like these — but the enterprise setting also poses unique challenges for IoT. Unlike the small LAN and limited devices present in the typical home or the centrally controlled environment of a manufacturing plant or warehouse, an office can encompass very large LANs and WANs, a variety of secure firewalls and a diverse mix of devices provisioned by IT and business units as well as employees themselves. Meanwhile, standardization for IoT messaging protocols remains very much a work in progress.
Given both the open-ended possibilities and the considerable complexity of workplace IoT, what’s the best way to move forward? Here’s a five-step approach to begin to realize the potential of smart spaces.
Step 1: Find out what you have to work with
First, conduct a survey of your current workplace environment. What physical resources do your employees and teams work with over the course of the day — devices, lights, phones, printers, furniture, rooms, desks and so on? Observe the people in your office and make note of the things they turn on and off, configure and otherwise interact with.
Step 2: Figure out what you want to make happen
Identify promising use cases for smart space automation in your business. You can use the examples described above for inspiration — what are the tasks and processes that could be pushed to the background to allow a more seamless and intuitive work experience? What are the problems that you’d like to solve, from minor annoyances to potentially transformative optimizations? Don’t limit your brainstorming; at this stage, it’s all about discovering opportunities.
Step 3: Think about platforms and protocols
We’re very much in the Wild West when it comes to IoT automation and messaging standards — or the lack thereof. To clarify your technology requirements, think first about the right protocols for your projects. There are many options, each with their own particular strengths and suitability. In general, the most usable protocols are HTTP/HTTPS and WebSockets (using RESTful approaches), MQTT, MQTT-SN, CoAP, and XMPP. For a deeper dive, you can start here.
The protocols you identify will then guide your selection of an IoT automation and messaging platform. Make sure not to box yourself in! Your platform should support not only the protocols you plan on using now, but also any additional protocols that may prove useful in the future.
Step 4: Roll out a high-value proof of concept
Start small, with a single room or process — for example, equipping a conference room with an “easy” button for one-touch activation of lights, teleconferencing and AV. You can keep adding automations to the workflow as you gain experience and insight, but for now, the goal is to see what IoT can look like in your office. Choose a proof-of-concept project with clear and quantifiable value — it’ll help with the next step.
Step 5: Analysis and reflection
Now, perform an analysis from the perspective of business value. Did your project justify its cost and effort? What was its impact in terms of time saved, productivity gained, revenue enabled? One hospital found that its smart spaces proof of concept saved two minutes per patient visit, allowing each doctor to see 20 to 40 more patients per month — and increase hospital revenue by up to $1 million per year. That’s the kind of math that gets executives’ attention and wins support for further smart space implementation.
Although smart spaces are still a relatively new concept, we’re already seeing exciting projects in organizations of all kinds for an impressive variety of use cases. What can smart spaces look like in your office — and what can they do for your business?
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