Tech companies and consultants love to speculate about the office of the future. Oncam is no different! Enterprise tech is increasingly changing at a faster rate, innovating and surprising businesses and consumers alike. Yet there are some safe bets on which a business can place their strategic planning ‘chips’. The defining technology of our time is the internet, and with the ‘Internet of Things’ projected to reach more than 20 billion by 2020 (Gartner), the onus will be on the business harnessing and not being trampled by the deluge of devices, their data, and their needs as consumers, employees and enterprises get swept along.
In the consumer world the ‘internet everywhere’ has become common (beyond smartphones and into smart watches, trackers, shoes, security cameras, and even mattresses and pillows), but businesses have not incorporated IP technology to quite the same extent. In fact, many businesses, once you’re past the fancy air con, electronic doors, and the IT system, aren’t so different from the factories or workplaces of Dickens’ time in form and function. IT may have transformed the way they do business, but not their essential make up and the experience of working there, and of managing the office.
A sober vision of a possible future
Here’s a look at how the new, or retrofitted, office of the future may leverage useful technologies to improve profitability and manageability, without requiring an entire tech squad of staff to manage, police, and maintain. The guiding force of modern technologies has been to enable one person to do more with less. A vision of the future that doesn’t conform to this trend will likely be out of step with the march of society.
Not one of these factors speculates that we’ll be working in VR, or on the moon – or even that we might be enjoying the swish swoosh or a ‘Star Trek’ style electronic door. The future is likely to be much like today, just a little smarter in how it behaves, a lot more connected – and if we’re clever about it, a lot more intelligent in what it does for users.
Monitoring and control
Sensors, alarms and environment control from energy, light, heat, consumption, and even security are the most common of connected technologies – after personal devices and work computers – in business. Whilst only a minority of business users will have direct contact with such technologies, they are increasingly common in the home (smart meters like Nest and Hive are being pushed very hard in the UK right now) and understandable to all.
The idea behind these systems is to extend the awareness of the business in order to provide better security and control of resources – from the physical space and access to the premises, to the environment itself, in order to control access as well as to control costs.
Newer buildings and refurbishments will increasingly be connecting these technologies as standard as – just with consumer versions – costs have been falling and the interoperability of devices via IP technologies means that their manageability has risen.
App based technologies in particular mean that monitoring security video, responding to alerts of open windows, or turning off the power/heating/lighting, can be managed wither through automation or at need, even at a distance.
It’s through app technologies, driven to mobile devices, that it’s easy to imagine the most ‘wow factor’ coming from. When management teams in a business can see, in digital proof, a dashboard of how their teams use, or abuse, the office environment and resources, when they are able to look at the office assets and better gauge utilisation then much better efficiencies are sure to follow.
The first step is to understand how the data can be used. IP connected sensors that report back on occupancy rate, water usage, door openings, power use, air quality, temperature – and so on – can be the first step in getting real data to make decisions.
The cost of energy, and attendant risks like unwanted climate change, should really be more of a concern to those businesses that own or manage physical premises. Saving energy, reclaiming it from the environment, and using less of it, makes a lot of business sense. Wasted energy impacts the bottom line directly – but managing it only really makes sense where it can be done so cost effectively too.
According to the Carbon Trust, most businesses could use a lot less energy. The consultancy says that even low and no-cost actions can usually reduce energy costs by at least 10 per cent and produce quick returns. For those businesses that go further, a 20 per cent cut in energy costs can represent the same bottom line benefit as a 5 per cent increase in sales.
The trouble is that the cost of projects can be hard to justify unless businesses have a well-aligned set of factors that work in their favour – or pressing reasons to not just ‘carry on as normal’. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe that energy efficiency and some extent of self-sufficiency will be part of the average office in the near term as the UK and large parts of the globe pivot from fossil and nuclear fuels towards sustainable and renewable sources with reduced use. That is if reduced use is possible in our technology and digitally connected society! Efficient use is more likely.
The office of the future may well have the ‘expected’ renewable technologies including solar cells (slowly increasing in efficiency), and windmills, and may be part of larger business groups bargaining for cheaper renewable tariffs together. Maybe even reclaimed energy, like the generating technologies that produce energy as they are walked over will become more common, too.
It’s likely that the physical build of new premises will also gradually move towards smarter technologies and materials to help workers maintain comfortable temperatures and minimise energy and water use through simple timed, motion sensor, or restrictive mechanisms (such as on taps and toilets).
It’s not the sexy end of enterprise planning – but with prices and global challenges looking like they might rise, it’s a very sensible mind-set to get into.
Intelligence – bringing it all together
Smart video is also likely to be a huge factor in changing how all kinds of businesses think about customer and staff care. IP connected ‘smart video’ goes well beyond security uses. Algorithms on the video device can analyse the live feed and add metrics to automatically count, monitor and then take action based on pre-determined rules.
So if there are too many customers and not enough care staff in an area, managers or staff can get an automatic alert. If people stray into off limits areas, no person has to be watching the screen – an employee can be alerted, and the trespasser can even be tracked by the software from video to video across the premises.
Even expressions might be tracked as customers pass window displays or interact with merchandise, telling marketing what works and what doesn’t at different times of day and with what kinds of consumers. All of this without needing to record, re-watch, and painstakingly analyse by hand.
The points above have covered a lot of data gathering procedures and the suggestion of incorporating all kinds of sensors into a business. The trouble is there is often no common language between connected devices. For sanity’s sake a technology agnostic Internet of Things central management ‘hub’ will be required to take in all that data and deliver meaningful combined insights that can work not only for the facilities manager – because why stop there? – but also for the head of HR, for the security function, the head of marketing, and even down to the staff with responsibility for locking up at the end of the day.
These are no wild predictions, as all the elements I’ve discussed are being tested in various combinations right now. As prescient sci-fi author William Gibson once said, “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed”.
And the future belongs to those who can put all these elements together and reap the benefit ahead of the curve.
Scott Brothers, EVP Corporate Development, Oncam
Image Credit: Everything Possible