We spend most of our lives in buildings – the places where we live, work, socialize, shop and relax. It is not surprising, therefore, that their design and usability so significantly affect the performance of their users. For example, experience tells us that everything from poor air conditioning to bad coffee can lower productivity and morale in an office environment. On the other hand, a friendly, service-centered building can give a huge boost to wellbeing and help to drive everything from sales through recruitment to staff retention.
It is therefore critical that we implement technology that can make buildings better.
Luckily, advances in new technologies can help.
The first is the Internet of Things (IoT), which is digitizing almost everything, feeding us data about events and phenomena that were never before quantifiable. According to IDC, there were already 9 billion connected devices in place in 2015, set to grow to 30 billion by 2020 and 80 billion by 2025 and set to become the biggest source of data on the planet. Sensors are being integrated into the very fabric of life – into the walls, walkways, doors, windows elevators, pipes, and lights of the buildings where we spend so much of our time – in offices, hotels, airports, shopping malls and increasingly our homes
But there’s something that is making IoT even more powerful: cognitive computing.
Cognitive systems, like IBM’s Watson, can ingest enormous amounts of data— as disparate in form and content as motion and thermal sensor readings, images, video and weather forecasts —and use it to turn the data into insight about how people use buildings. A cognitive system uses machine learning and natural language processing to generate hypotheses and recommendations to help people make better decisions – be they doctors, financial advisors, call center operators or building owners.
By making these technologies available on the cloud through its Watson IoT platform, IBM is building an ecosystem of partners and customers which is helping to transform the way we use, interact with and think about buildings.
For example, IBM is today announcing a new global partnership with ISS – one of the world leaders in facilities management. ISS is one of the world’s largest private employers with over half a million staff managing everything from concierge to cleaning, catering to technical maintenance for thousands of high profile clients including Rolls-Royce, Nordea, Novartis and Royal Air Force in the UK.
ISS will tap IBM’s Watson IoT platform, consulting and advanced facilities management technologies to transform the services it provides to building owners and users around the world with the goal of making buildings more personalized, intuitive and user-friendly. ISS has started by fitting its Copenhagen HQ with hundreds of sensors to understand more about how people use its building and to transform key functions such as room bookings and catering.
This is just a beginning and we are excited about what’s instore. A cognitive building will be one that interacts with people better – both the people that use them and the people that service them. A cognitive building will help us to figure out how to keep people moving, increase productivity and reduce attrition by ensuring buildings are the kind of places we want to be – not just need to be. A cognitive building will use less energy, food and water. It will also communicate with other buildings, traffic systems and automated cars, easing commutes and helping to counter the jams that result when a big event ends.
As with any promising new technology, the exciting part will be seeing the applications clever developers and entrepreneurs come up with. And by putting these systems and the insight they create on the cloud, there is no limit to what is possible.
We’ll no doubt see a lot of false starts along the way along with astounding progress. But this much is clear: cognitive computing and IoT will help us to create buildings that can sense, respond, self-improve and communicate, putting them in far greater harmony with humans and the planet. Our innovative and partners and clients like ISS, KONE and Siemens Buildings are showing us that the future is already here – we just need to make sure that as the users of creators of buildings, we put ourselves in the driving seat of this incredibly exciting transformation.
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