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Commercial buildings: The evolution from intelligent to smart (Reader Forum)

For commercial buildings in 2018, four trends define the evolution of networking technology that will drive buildings from just being intelligent to being smart: mobility, cybersecurity, low voltage power and workplace efficiency. These trends continue to influence the types of network infrastructure and devices deployed inside workplaces, healthcare facilities, hotels and other public venues. Foundational to these trends is the impact of structured cabling and Power over Ethernet technologies for networks. As intelligent buildings transition to become smart buildings, building operators need to consider the available bandwidth and power distribution to enable this concept. But before we get too far into smart buildings and the trends, let’s take a look at what defines intelligent and smart buildings, as I hear these terms used by the building technology and commercial real estate professionals that I talk to.

Intelligent buildings have some of the latest technology deployed inside — like LED lighting, Category 6a cabling, advanced security systems and other digital infrastructure. A smart building has cutting-edge technology, too, but it also integrates all those systems onto one platform to generate even more benefits — performance analytics, automated operations and infrastructure management, among others. Network convergence in a smart building leverages the data from IT, facility and operations systems to provide one dashboard, showing all network traffic in real-time, which could report into a smart cities program about energy usage, emissions performance, and other metrics.

A smart building for today’s workplaces must support shared areas for teams to collaborate and innovate. Co-working spaces like those offered by WeWork are popular, where different tenants rent space and incubate cutting-edge technology. Major players in the traditional commercial real estate market are exploring co-working models for their licensees, as well. In all of these scenarios, mobility is a requirement, enabling people to come and go. For this level of mobility, users need reliable, high-bandwidth networks to pull data from the cloud. Industry bodies like TIA/EIA are creating standards that outline the cabling networks needed.

As mobility becomes ubiquitous inside buildings, cybersecurity becomes more critical. Irrespective of whether the building is intelligent or smart, you have to protect your data. As wireless networks evolve to include the Internet of Things, where everyday devices have embedded intelligence and transmit data, more network vulnerabilities appear. For example, a vending machine could be the weak spot where someone hacks into the corporate LAN. A smart building must have a plan for cybersecurity on all these systems.

With more intelligent devices in the building, managing power delivery also becomes key to efficient operations. Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology is evolving so that it is feasible to connect many types of devices with a lower voltage direct current instead of running alternating current to every workstation. The benefits of deploying PoE are the lower cost of installation and maintenance. As the Internet of Things becomes more of a reality, PoE is a useful technology for providing power and data to a multitude devices. Intelligence in the form of an automated infrastructure management solution makes connecting and managing all those devices easier, and an intelligent building smart.

The fourth trend in commercial buildings involves the value of workplace efficiency as defined in smart building sustainability programs such as LEED (US), BREAM (Europe and other regions), BCA Green Mark (Singapore), and Greenstar (Australia). Consumers bring a certain level of expectations about amenities and network access to a hotel, for example. The same thing holds true for commercial real estate where tenants have expectations. Many corporations have sustainability targets that can impact which types of building spaces they lease. A question building owners and operators should ask themselves in 2018 is, “Do I need to make my buildings certified to attract and retain tenants?” Also, “What’s the value of sustainability programs in terms of what tenants or potential tenants are willing to spend?” The answers to these questions will influence the growth of smart buildings.

Finally, we’ve mainly focused on smart buildings, but readers familiar with the networking industry have likely seen information about smart cities, as well. But a level between these two also exists—the smart community. Think about a multiple building campus or a mixed-use commercial center in a town. These areas are also impacted by the four trends outlined and can realize benefits from a strategic approach to managing them. Deploying network capacity to hotspots, offering wireless services to attract visitors and utilizing analytics to make better business decisions are possibilities here.

2018 will see continued growth in the deployment of advanced technology in cutting-edge buildings. The question is how many intelligent buildings will get smart this year. High bandwidth networks with integrated systems and actionable analytics are the path forward. Mobility, cybersecurity, PoE and sustainability support are steps along the way.


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