Smart buildings hacked: six things we learnt about the future workplace

From new deals to dashboards, WORKTECH’s second specialist Smart Buildings conference looked at six drivers of change for the data-driven workplace of tomorrow

Smart buildings have not hit their peak in the real estate market, but they provide some of the clearest insights yet into the way we’ll work and how we will interact with our environment in the future.

WORKTECH’s second specialist Smart Buildings conference, produced in partnership with British Land, was aptly held at UBS’s new central London smart building, 5 Broadgate, on 9 May 2008. As we move into a new era of intelligence and information, the conference discussed six prominent ways in which data is set to change the world of work.

1 A new deal for data

Dr Stephen Lorimer, who heads smart city strategy at the Greater London Authority, set the tone for the event by outlining a ‘new deal for data between public and private organisations’. New regulations and growing public awareness of data protection has resulted in a tension between public and private information when it comes to urban planning in smart precincts and cities.

‘Yesterday’s value of real estate was in location. Tomorrow much of it will be in information’ – Deloitte

WORKTECH Academy’s Professor Jeremy Myerson then followed up by exploring new principles for cooperation in the smart city in a new joint report by the Academy with Australian developer Mirvac entitled, The Future of the Smart Precinct: A Physical-Digital Intermix for City Innovation. One principle in the report is coined ‘the new bargain’ in which technology companies are compelled to ‘give back’ better services and infrastructure to city planners in return for accessing citizen data.

2 Reactive to predictive

Not only is data changing the game at the city scale, it is also having a profound effect on the way we work and the work environment itself. The conference repeatedly heard that the role of facilities managers is changing from a reactive to predictive state; FMs can use machine learning and AI to predict patterns in employee behaviour and the performance of services to pre-empt any problems before they occur.

Dr Claire Penny of IBM Watson meanwhile observed that 88 per cent of data goes unused by organisations. We need machine learning tools to turn information into predictive knowledge, particularly when it comes to cost reduction and energy saving.

3 Quantifying change

Matthew Marson of WSP UK told the conference that measuring energy usage is an easy fix for cost reduction, but it doesn’t address an organisation’s biggest expenditure, the workforce. Marson believes that data collection and new technologies should be used to reduce productivity leakage – not focus on the forlorn attempt to increase productivity levels.

‘The need is to reduce productivity leakage, not increase productivity levels’ – Matthew Marson, WSP

A British Land panel formed of Matthew Webster and Juliette Morgan noted that it is much harder to quantify culture and people than energy use, for example. The challenge is measuring wellbeing and performance in a quantifiable way in real time. They suggested that a smart building strategy becomes more successful when it is in parallel with behavioural and cultural changes, as the technology can improve instead of inhibit productivity through a more seamless experience that attracts the right talent.

4 Smart ecosystem

Unsurprisingly a successful smart building strategy cannot be formed of siloed information. In order to transform data into actionable knowledge key players need to join forces and become an ecosystem.

A panel formed of workplace app experts Gilles Cordon of Workwell, Jasper Schuurmans of Mapiq, Vanessa Lee Butz of District Technologies and Jon Himoff of Connected Retail, debated the importance of open and integrated systems to their platforms. While it was undisputed that the platform should make smart buildings holistically accessible to users, the data privacy surrounding this model was a core issue.

5 Data to design

The challenges inherent in sharing user data are not insurmountable, however. Ulrich Blum of Zaha Hadid Architects demonstrated a new parabolic design process using data to configure workspace. He explained how to design spatial intelligence using anticipatory design by analysing communication data between employees, and factoring in key design elements such as natural light penetration and views across the office. This method addresses user needs and anticipates how people will use space to communicate more efficiently.

Richard Muraszko of Vodafone and Keith Jump of Redstone Connect both supported the idea of designing with data through using sensors to detect space utilisation and interaction levels. Muraszko showed a live dashboard that records people’s movement in real time; he explained how this technology will be used in Vodafone’s new headquarters in Milan.

These buildings don’t exist in isolation. Data can also be used for urban planning, particular in the use of autonomous vehicles. Dr Artur Grisanti Mausbach of the Royal College of Art’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre explained how cars have moved ‘from object to abstract’, where the focus isn’t the vehicle but on mobility more generally. The barriers between roads, walkways and buildings are set to become blurred as autonomous vehicles are developed to navigate safely through cities and attach to the built infrastructure. In the future, said Grisanti Mausbach, cars will not only be a mode of transport but an extension of the office providing space for networking and remote work.

6 Workplace hacked

While most people at the conference were celebrating integrated, holistic smart buildings for a more efficient working life, Glenn Wilkinson of security analyst firm Polira was quietly smirking. A professional hacker by trade, Wilkinson gathered location data from delegates’ mobile devices and presented a map of where everyone had visited recently – a shocking realisation to many people that their data is not as well protected as they believed.

‘We need hackers to make smart buildings better’

Wilkinson explained that while integrated systems are important, they provide a bigger surface area for hackers to attack and infiltrate the system from the inside. He said that organisations should work with hackers to test systems, make them stronger and plug any leaking information. Hackers see large-scale integrated systems from smart buildings to smart cities as a challenge to crack, so organisations need to work constantly to protect and update their systems to form a secure barrier.

Going from being blasé about being hacked to serious about cybersecurity is just one leap organisations need to take in the era of smart buildings. They need also need to think in terms of apps and algorithms rather than fixed assets, live dashboards instead of desks, and ecosystems instead of the org chart.

It is indeed a brave new world, but as conference host Ashley Davis of UBS confirmed in showcasing the bank’s gleaming new technologies at 5 Broadgate, the promise of the smart building of the future is slowly but surely coming into view.

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