The Future of Work Part 4: Reimagine IoT and Smart Buildings

Part 4 of the 6-part Future of Work Networking Series: Reimagine IoT and Smart Buildings

The Internet of Things (IoT) and Operational Technologies (OT) in Smart Buildings are essential to make hybrid work safer and better for people and better for the planet. The importance of environmental sustainability continues to increase as a growing percentage of consumers rate how “green” organizations are as a factor in whether they want to work for them or buy products from them.

Smart = Sustainable, Simple, and Safe

A key element of environmental sustainability is reducing an organization’s carbon footprint, especially in terms of energy consumption in buildings. Smart buildings can support a more sustainable hybrid work experience on campus by efficiently powering IoT and OT devices with Power over Ethernet (PoE) and continuously adapting building environments by automating management of lights, shades, and HVAC based on changing occupancy, weather, and time of year.

Smart building updates like these can have a significant impact on energy consumption and result in significant operational cost savings. Ideally, these benefits are achieved without creating a separate and independent network for smart building management by converging IoT and OT with the enterprise network in a simple, secure manner that provides end-to-end visibility, monitoring, and management from a single pane of glass. Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and BLE enabled environmental sensors can use the same access points to join the enterprise network yet be segmented from corporate traffic to maintain security policies.

Smart buildings are an important part of the future of hybrid work and driving wireless use cases in the coming years. Operational resources like printers, lights, shades, cameras, screens, HVAC, doors, and vending machines will be integrated through converged IT and OT networks, with a building’s operational technology interconnected and managed by the IT network.

The most compelling part of this approach are the new levels of automation that will make managing buildings be easier while at the same time driving down operational costs. In fact, by tracking people and their real-world work patterns through artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML), the smart building will learn to manage itself.

Instead of just maintaining a temperature range, reimagine the thermostat. You probably already have a smart home thermostat, programmable and monitored from your smart phone. Imagine a building with thousands of these in workspaces, galleries, and conference rooms. They all interact with other sensors to detect the density of people in rooms and adjust the temperature, airflow, shades, and lighting accordingly.

Smart buildings will also simplify our hybrid work experience. The same IoT capabilities that conserve energy can also be used to make work more frictionless. For example, people can get real-time availability of meeting rooms and other office resources and services through Cisco DNA Spaces. A smart system can “know” when a large group of people is going to meet and turn on the HVAC ten minutes earlier to cool down the room to prepare for the incoming crowd.

With the unknown ebb and surge of the pandemic, there is ongoing work to make hybrid work experience safer. The number of people at a location will need to comply with health guidelines to reduce the risk of contact during outbreaks. And should people exceed room safety capacity, the system can search for a larger available space. Hot desking and room scheduling can become touchless experiences, and space planning and optimization can be automated. A smart building that can track who has used a meeting room can help with contact tracing if there is an incident. It can also assess when a common space needs to be sanitized depending on the count of people who have used the space over time.

This gives organizations a way to help assure safety. The workforce feels more productive when they know their employer has their safety in mind and can demonstrate it in a tangible manner. With so many workers concerned about the safety of “return to office”, being able to implement more robust wellbeing measures than a competitor can help increase retention and be an advantage in the hunt for talent. For example, it’s possible to use data collected from cameras and sensors to continuously assess the number of workers in a building. Once capacity is reached, the system can send alerts to the “at home” workforce to not come into the building that day before they embark on an arduous commute. Talk about technology saving time, pollution, and frustration.

Smart buildings have the potential for many exciting use cases. Greater flexibility enables the workspace to adapt as the needs change. Greater automation gives more control. More control increases agility to respond. Increased agility leads to a better workforce experience and significant operational cost savings.

To capture this value, however, requires a modern network infrastructure that is software-defined and flexible. It also needs an ecosystem of partners who can figure out new ways to use all the telemetry and data from IoT sensors being collected.

Smart at Scale

So how can Cisco help? Currently, Cisco has ~50% market share of switching and Wi-Fi equipment covering many organizations worldwide. Between access points, controllers, and switches, Cisco represents a significant part of many organizations’ infrastructure. And Cisco has the technology—such as DNA Spaces, Universal Power over Ethernet on Catalysts switches with the densest 90Watt PoE in the industry, intelligent cameras and sensors by Meraki, and Smart Building Solutions—to leverage the infrastructure to make buildings smarter on a massive scale.

For example, Cisco top of the line Access Points have environmental sensors built in, so there is no need to duplicate devices in many areas. In secure or high-traffic areas, it may be better to have dedicated motion, environmental, and cameras that automatically send alerts and telemetry to Cisco management consoles such as DNA Center and Meraki Cloud Dashboard. It’s all about planning and choice when creating a smart building environment.

Cisco Secure Access Stack
Cisco Secure Access Stack

To unify the multitude of smart building devices into a coherent platform, IT can run the Cisco DNA Spaces IoT Gateway as a container application in Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches to interpret and normalize telemetry from all the various endpoints in a smart building ecosystem—IoT sensors, asset tags, occupancy sensors, and environmental tracking devices—feeding the information to DNA Spaces for monitoring and control. This gives both IT and OT teams one central view of building operations.

Cisco partners are developing applications to leverage the data collected in DNA Spaces to provide organizations with greater insight into how their smart building operations work. In fact, DNA Spaces has an entire device marketplace of applications that organizations can quickly put into operation. To make an analogy, consider that your home network is probably centered around a hub from Google, Apple, or Amazon to make it easier to connect everything in the home, from multiple vendors, and consolidate device management through a single application. Cisco is doing exactly this in support of the hybrid workplace. Rather than developing different silos for each smart building application and device, Cisco is focusing on integration to support use cases experiences. And we’ve built our technology in a way that provides smart building functionality while protecting Enterprise security and reliability.

Most organizations with a Cisco network don’t need to bring in new infrastructure to take advantage of smart building capabilities, the smart infrastructure they need is already in place and just waiting to be put to work.

In the fifth post of this series, we’ll look at Reimagining IT for Managing Enterprise Networks.

 

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