FIRA Barcelona
1-4 February 2022

A smarter digital transformationRISE Spotlight: Smart Buildings – The Way Forward

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TNW’s Callum Booth discussed the challenges of digital transformation in the context of smart buildings while ‘On the Sofa’ with Chris Nouveau, Digital Advisor at Microsoft.

When it comes to facilities management operations, companies are striving not only to develop and streamline their services, but also transform the process for when the working world returns to the office.

Microsoft’s smart building offering, he explained, is in three pillars. “If you look at the technology, this is the integration platforms on three clouds,” said Chris. “As a part of this, we have also been developing consultancy services that drive the programme [for] how to ambition, design and develop services to serve not only employees, but everyone involved in managing real estate at a certain level.

“The third pillar is our Partner Data System,” he continued. “We have a lot of partners in the OEM space with IoT devices, HVAC environments [and] elevators, and a lot of ISVs [independent software vendors] developing solutions, that we call accelerators in the market, all the way up to service companies and companies who are developing buildings, and also working with architects and looking at the purpose of the buildings.”

Watch the full On the Sofa session here

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Callum asked Chris for his comment on the view that smart building technology is driving the combination of two silos: operational technology and information technology. Chris agreed: “If you start looking at operational technology and all the systems that are going into the building construction environment, those are growing into a more data-driven, more intelligent environment.

He added that many building systems suppliers such as Schneider and thyssenkrupp are moving towards becoming an ISV: “These companies are doing something with their data, they are integrating.”

He continued: “The other pillar to operational technology is the services – how companies are delivering on the insights they’re getting. Smart buildings are creating a lot of insights of what’s happening now, but also looking and predicting what will happen in the near future. How do companies act on that? Facilities management companies, hard and soft facilities management companies are also becoming very digitalised in the way they transform the processes to act upon those insights.”

The catastrophic impact of COVID has considerably changed the ways in which we work. “We are dealing with a very different reality today,” he observed. “We all develop new habits and new skills to remain connected and that will have a dramatic impact on the way we see work. As soon as we can, we will rush to the office and have a cup of coffee and a handshake with colleagues, but we will actually draw back to the situation that we like the hybrid workspace.”

He cited a recent Microsoft poll which indicated that 80% of managers worldwide are expecting a new set of policies around flexible work and over 70% of employees said they would make use of those new policies.

The result will be that solutions for returning to work post-pandemic should be “process, people and technology oriented”. He explained:  “On the one hand, you have a lot of technology that will keep you safe, like sensors, cameras, safe access pathways with touchless [technology] that allow you to navigate through a building.

“But the most important thing [is] – that’s where the strategy about transformation comes in – you really need to have a plan to assess what the situation is, and to develop contingency methodologies to respond quickly to those areas of work where you are lagging behind, and come up with a plan for how you’re going to return to the office.”

A large part of this is how people need to behave. “What are the sets of new policies that you have, and how do I need to respond to the new policies in terms of social distancing and everything else?”

There are practical questions to address, around issues such as space allocation, and cost management, but the goal should be creating an inclusive environment where people remain productive and engaged.