Interoperability is key for smart systems to achieve their tremendous potential. But an “ecosystem approach” to the Internet of Things (IoT), as important as it is, isn't quite enough. Also crucial is the ability to scale. Systems need to be able to grow and take on greater levels of complexity as the needs of the businesses, cities and other organizations they serve change. Equipped with a system that can scale up with a minimum of friction, an organization can deploy basic or critical capabilities in a specific area or property now, when it needs them, and add new scope and capabilities as schedules and budgets dictate or as future needs require.
Scalability in smart systems is a concept whose time has come. The industry was already trending in this direction, but the pandemic has introduced at least three factors that are accelerating interest and adoption.
First, there's the way the pandemic changed how we work, driving many of us out of our offices and into our homes—where, we found, it was quite possible to get our jobs done, thanks to the latest versions of connected technology. All of a sudden the old work model—according to which we commuted to an office each morning and commuted home again in the evening—stopped seeming quite so inevitable.
Which is not at all to say that the office is “over.” Far from it. The office is too valuable—as a space for “radical collaboration” and team building, and as the physical embodiment of organizational identity, among other things—simply to fade away. But organizations will have to start rethinking the mission of the office, and as they do so, experimentation and trial and error will be key. Scalable smart systems can enable such experimentation, softening the effects of error and supporting operational flexibility that will help the next generation of the office emerge.
Second, the commercial property recession that the pandemic touched off has made real estate owners sensitive to the value of what they own—including, of course, large office buildings that sat largely empty while employees were under orders to stay at home. Commercial property owners and tenants are now rethinking their office footprints, often scaling down the space allocated to desks and other individual workspaces to account for the shift to hybrid work models. This is potentially a boon for companies that can lower their overhead by shrinking the total amount of office space they must pay for and manage.
Interest in green building initiatives and zero-carbon retrofits isn't new. The green office phenomenon has been gathering momentum for years now, in line with the growing urgency around climate change and other environmental crises. The pandemic has intensified this trend, too, as office property owners have realized that such green initiatives can boost property values. Green office spaces can also serve as strategic assets that strengthen a company’s brand and attract top talent. Smart scalable systems are uniquely suited to help make offices greener.
Third, and in a way that relates to the second point, the pandemic has made workers and business owners more aware of the environments they traditionally spend so much time inhabiting, especially indoor ones—how they can affect human health and well-being—for better or for worse.
More than ever, employees want to feel good at the office—as good as they feel working at home, if not better—and they also want to feel safe. Employers need to keep in mind that safety has as much to do with an employee’s feelings of confidence and security as it has to do with specific cleaning, disinfection, and occupancy control measures. Employers who can provide wholesome workspaces that bolster not just physical health but mental and emotional health as well will have an advantage workers return to the offices they anxiously vacated in the spring of 2020, even if they work from those offices only part of the time. Scalable smart tech can help create such workspaces.
Flexibility and hybridity. Sustainability and green initiatives. Well-being and health. This series of articles takes a look at the important role that scalable systems will play in reshaping the workspace in each of these domains.