Back to the future

“In this issue we look to the future of buildings, while assessing where we really are. While it’s fun to consider where technology such as the Internet of Things might take us down the line, it is important to bear in mind the realities of applying technology to real buildings.

One point that stands out is that connectivity will be key to making the most of the benefits that ‘smart’ technology offers. A lot of work has already been done by the controls industry in this field. It developed the BACnet protocol in the late 1980s and that opened up a range of possibilities for joined-up building systems that simply hadn’t been available with equipment based on proprietary systems.

Now, like many other sectors, building controls is facing the challenges and opportunities of the internet. IP has the potential to break down the barriers between buildings and the ‘real world’ – offering endless opportunities for occupants to use their smartphones to control their working environments, for example. But even the internet has its limitations when applied in commercial buildings.

One reason cited for a greater interest in smart tech in the workplace is that we are increasingly using it in our homes via systems such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. Figures show that in the UK in 2018, 9.5 million people used what’s known as a ‘smart speaker’, a figure that is set to grow this year. And while we are still mainly using the technology to play music or ask about the weather, there is a strong movement towards shopping via smart speaker and controlling smart home kit such as lighting.

But an interesting point about these two systems is that they’re not interchangeable – once you buy a device, you’re locked in to using equipment that works with it; unless you want to fork out for the alternative. And that’s where the commercial controls industry was thirty years ago.

While the Internet of Things is an exciting development that certainly should be applied in our commercial buildings, the execution needs to be thought through, lest we find ourselves back in a future where clients have little flexibility and choice. Compatibility and interoperability are problems we already solved, so let’s not have to do that again.”

Karen Fletcher

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