3 Crucial Aspects of the Frictionless Smart Building

The frictionless experience is expected today. When a building owner delivers a frictionless experience for their occupants in the most standard of design, it builds trust between the owners and the occupants. Providing this type of digital experience for occupants, tenants, visitors, and customers will also improve the building’s reputation while increasing property value, maximizing return on investment, and garnering a competitive edge in the commercial real estate market. 

1. Touchless access 

Touchless access and controls are vital for a smart building frictionless experience. We’ve all experienced touchless access with grocery store automatic doors, faucets, soap, and towel dispensers. These solutions are the first step or baseline of the frictionless experience because the solution, a faucet or door, does not know or care who the occupant is. The device senses someone is there and generates the resulting action — a door opening or water flowing.  It gets a bit more personalized when managing the individual wanting access and control during a touchless experience.  Many access control devices require occupants to swipe a company ID card or get it close enough for the radio frequency chip to activate the door lock. From a personal example, I used to keep my company access badge in my wallet, so I had to swivel my backside up to the door sensor to unlock the door. This motion would have been so much easier if I was just a little bit taller. In one smooth movement, I could hit the access button to open the door as well. Many of my colleagues mastered the maneuver while carrying a laptop and a coffee cup. Outside observers were amazed at the stream of employees executing a ballet of swivels, turns, and gymnastics to get through the door. There must be a better way. 

With the right touchless access control solution, managing access to entryways, elevators, and even coffee machines are achievable. The access control system can identify occupants, their permissions and preferences. There are many ways technology can sense occupant presence, such as near-field communications (NFC), video surveillance, Bluetooth wireless, smartphone presence, and more. The iBMS is taking this awareness data and combining with the room scheduling, elevator control, conference room, AV equipment, and even the parking lot systems providing a comprehensive frictionless experience. 

2. Occupant Wellness 

As the digital strategy forms, it is important to integrate occupant wellness information.  The latest smartwatches and rings can report REM sleep, heart health, temperature, ECG, and more.  How nice would it be if the watch could provide a healthy passport to enter buildings without having to wait in line for a temperature check or go through a wellness interview regarding your recent history? Such requirements help to ensure there is a good chance the other people are healthy as well. We all know this is not 100 percent guaranteed, but it’s better than just hoping for the best and the ole “trust me, I’m good” response. 

Occupancy awareness solutions are a great way to count and track people throughout the building. This tracking technology is typically placed around the workspace in the ceilings and above doors. Using directional sensors, people counting and movement throughout the building and office area is possible. Technology-based occupancy tracking will enable analytics of behavioral patterns as well as space utilization enabling smart usage services like disinfecting a conference room or elevator after a certain number of people have used it. Also, occupancy counting makes sure the building, office, elevator, or conference room is not exceeding the local requirement for occupancy limits. It is a lot more accurate than the welcome desk manually counting people as they come and go.

While the maximum occupancy of a building, room, or elevator is a regional mandate, occupancy tracking policies are set by businesses, especially regarding data anonymity. The identity of people in occupancy tracking solutions can track anonymously or directly. Facial recognition, assigned tags and badges, cell phones, and other active solutions support tracking its occupants’ personally identifiable information (PII). Of course, businesses can operate active tracking with anonymity if that is their policy. Passive monitoring by merely sensing the presence of people is inherently anonymous. 

The debate over PII is complicated, and very personal. However, if you want to perform social distancing awareness and contact tracing, PII is needed. For example, if someone’s test results show that they are COVID-19 positive, it is essential to know who they are and who they have encountered so appropriate quarantining can take place. PII can be thoughtfully managed such that only human resources (HR) have the protected information. I have heard powerful opinions on both sides. I heard one business owner say that they have a name for employees that don’t opt into their PII agreement … “unemployed”. ‘I’ve also heard other businesses flat out refuse to capture any PII regarding occupant tracking due to corporate policy for employee privacy. This is a very personal issue that will not resolve anytime soon and is up to the employee to ensure they are working in an environment that suits their values. 

3. Growing intelligence

The ability to bring all the information and data together is what enables this frictionless world. The digital experience is possible thanks to the touchless access and control, the availability of wellness information, occupant preferences, building management systems, and other external solutions, all feeding data to the building data analytics engine. This engine combines, compares, and disseminates intelligent information that provides occupants with a personalized experience. Providing occupants the ability to provide feedback on their experience is crucial for continuous improvement and instills trust and satisfaction that their opinions and experiences are essential. Whether it’s an office, hospital, or retailer, measurable outcomes may be different but the planning, design, implementation, and reporting look very similar. 

Creating a digital strategy will better the frictionless experience and establish a framework for data privacy and security while providing the flexibility to respond to rapidly evolving technology in the smart building environment. Today we are accomplishing what many could not imagine a few years ago. With the advancement of technology and machine learning, we are also on our way to autonomous buildings using artificial intelligence. This digital transformation will move us from real-time feedback to predictive actions that provide the optimal occupant experience and efficient building operations. A commitment to a frictionless environment, at any personalization level, will drive greater facility utilization and occupant satisfaction for the foreseeable future.