Smart buildings should give us a 'smart experience'

Akshay Thakur is the director of the smart building programme for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at JLL, the £6.2 billion (€7 billion, US$7.9 billion) real estate services giant. JLL advises corporate clients on property and investment management.

It is rapidly strengthening its smart building services although Thakur prefers the term ‘smarter buildings’, because, as he notes, ‘most buildings already have a level of smart in them’. It’s JLL's mission to make them even brainier.

‘I think everyone has a vision in their mind when you say 'smart building,' maybe even something they've seen in a movie,’ London-based Thakur told Lux.

‘The definition that we're using is that a smart building comprises three main aspects. Smart operation is the underlying tenet of any smart building.

‘It's all about energy management and building efficiencies. The next step in the journey to smarter buildings is smart workplaces.

JLL practices what it preaches at its Shanghai offices, where everything from open offices to common rooms to the gym and the restaurant are outfitted with smart technologies.

‘This is for the corporate real estate and the occupiers of the building to understand how their space is actually being used, and getting them to be more data oriented to figure out how they can optimise the spaces and whether they can predict how their spaces will be used.

‘And the final tenet of a smart building is smart experience. It's all about using technology to increase the productivity, happiness, or just make the life of the user more intuitive inside a building.’

‘For example, building managers will know better whether they should add, subtract or re-assign offices. Meeting rooms will respond to individual employees, with actions as varied as altering the heating or lighting, or automatically placing a call an employee has come to initiate.

One of the latest high-spec offices in the City of London, 99 Bishopsgate, is being let by JLL on behalf of the developers Brookfield. Photograph: Ronnie Macdonald

‘A myriad of technologies will enable it, including sensors, wireless communications, and Power over Ethernet that runs both electricity and data to luminaires via data cable. Intelligence may or may not reside in the lights’.

Whatever the topology, Thakur notes that the big driver will be data, which the smart building will collect, analyse and act upon. He had plenty more to tell us:

 

Lux: What’s lighting's role in all of this? Does the technology necessarily have to reside in the lighting infrastructure?

Thakur: Anything with a roof over it needs lighting. And the lighting industry is embedding high granularity sensors in luminaires. It's going beyond just PIRs. It makes sense. If you're putting up a sensor, rather than run a separate cable up to the sensor, light fittings already have power. Some light fittings also have the ability via Power over Ethernet to have a data connection as well. Lighting has a key role to play in certain smart environments, when sensing and lighting can be combined.

 

Lux: Where would lighting not necessarily form the core part of it?

Thakur: In scenarios where clients have already done their LEDification, where they have already gone from their traditional lighting sources into LED-based lighting, it would be quite a difficult economic conversation to say ‘we now need to replace the luminaires just to have sensors integrated into them’.

 

Lux: You have a background in Power over Ethernet. But we've also been hearing a lot about wireless, especially Bluetooth mesh. What are your thoughts now on PoE versus the many different wireless options?

Thakur: There's a convergence in IP (internet protocol). In new builds where there's nothing really to rip out, you can use Power over Ethernet as a source to get an IP connection, and also get power to that device. Many building systems are already PoE enabled, such as CCTV cameras, wireless access points, door-locking system, and lighting to a certain extent. We're starting to see more of these PoE devices coming into the market. In other environments where a lighting refresh is occurring but you won't be using Power over Ethernet, there is the ability to add sensing-based technology, and the sensors would use a Wi-Fi base or mesh-based technology to communicate back into a gateway device.

 

Lux: The common thread is internet protocol, right?

Thakur: I believe that IP is going to be the route that most of the building systems will use to communicate. There will be a set of protocols used over IP to enable a standard way of communications. At the moment, you have a standard for the HVAC world, a different standard for lighting, potentially a very different standard for the lift and then another one for access control. There is going to be consolidation in terms of how these systems will communicate with each other. But that's going to take time.

 

Lux: How much time?

Thakur: That's a very good question. We're going to live in this hybrid world for a while. I expect it will still be another three to five years before we get a mainstream protocol which will be used for all building systems. Until then it will be a ‘system of systems’ within a building, also known as an IoT platform or middleware platform, which will do the bridging between the various different building systems.

 

Lux: Of all the uses, what is the main driver?

Thakur: Making it all data driven. Whether it's lighting or HVAC or other building subsystems, it's the ability to share the data between these systems [that] rolls out into a real return on investment, which will sell these smarter building solutions.

 

Lux: Will data and the IoT accelerate the uptake of lighting-as-a-service?

Thakur: IoT will bring new business models. And these business models will be anything as a service. Whether it be lighting, software, infrastructure, whatever it might be. For lighting companies, illumination will be one aspect of the service they will provide. And the data is going to be a critical aspect.

 

Lux: With all of this data at play, what about the security and privacy implications?

Thakur: It all comes down to how the solution was designed and vendors that you trust for those types of solutions.

Some of the less-established vendors are focused on time to market. They may not implement all the security principles that they should. It's simple things, like do not leave hard-coded passwords or default passwords in any of the components. It might sound naïve, but a lot of the big attacks that occurred in 2017 were based on a botnet of CCTV cameras in which a component had a default admin password.

The facilities side of the house has to use the same principles that the IT side has been using. These two departments have been separated. But now with all these smarter technologies and connected technologies coming out we're seeing more interaction between them.

At some point we'll see that the IT teams will start to manage the networks which service the building.

 

Lux: Who owns the data?

Thakur: I see companies like JLL as data custodians rather than data owners, because I believe that data should always be owned by the organisation that is actually collecting that data. That organisation can put the correct data principles and policies around it, and adherence to GDPR and all the other regulations.

 

Lux: Is data the new lighting?

Thakur: I like that. You can coin it in many different ways. I like data is the new currency. Certainly, data is becoming a fundamental, key subsystem within the building. Previously, it was seen as something you collected from different subsystems within the building. Now it's a key asset of that building. And everything comes from that data – building efficiency, new experiences, etc. 

 

  • Akshay Thakur will share his keen insights at LuxLive 2018 and its Property Technology Live conference in London, where he and other experts will debate ‘IoT, privacy and data in a GDPR world' at 1pm on Thursday 15 November 2018. The event itself takes place on both Wednesday 14 November and Thursday 15 November 2018. See the full programme HERE. Akshay was speaking with business, science and technology journalist Mark Halper, a contributing editor to LEDs Magazine and Lux Review who will be chairing the Property Technology Live conference.

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