Mark Appleby, IoT business development manager at Wireless Logic looks at how smart buildings will help get businesses back to work

As a result of the lockdown forced upon the UK by COVID-19, the majority of offices, public buildings and shops have been closed. Those without any form of building management system in place have been forced to periodically physically visit sites, ensuring that lighting, climate control systems and CCTV systems were all still working correctly, with no problems, potentially risking their own health with each trip. The choice was that, or wait for lockdown to be over, and check in three months later, only to find that the heating had been left on, or someone had broken in. Either way, there is a serious element of risk in both choices.

Those with a building management system in place didn’t. Instead, these issues will be flagged by the systems, and could all be solved or managed remotely, from the safety of people’s homes. If necessary, an engineer could even be dispatched efficiently, in order to resolve any known issues. Until now, that has been the primary function of a smart building: Environmental Management and Security. However, as we look to start introducing more people back into buildings, Building Management Systems will expand and evolve to support applications that can help to safely monitor and manage the threat of coronavirus.

Turning to technology

Smart Buildings can play a key role in both public sector and private sector buildings, allowing employees to return to work, and for shops and public buildings to open their doors once more. COVID-19 has created the need for further expansion and convergence of Smart Building technologies. Where previously these systems were predominantly relied upon for Security and the ability to remotely monitor and manage energy use, as lockdown eases, we will also need them to help manage building occupancy levels and social distancing.

Shops are open again, businesses are operating once more, and even pubs are back to pulling pints for the masses - under strict guidelines, of course. Technologies such as thermal imaging cameras and occupancy monitoring systems can be deployed to help minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus - aiding those responsible for actively managing social distancing policies. In fact, with such an uncertain future ahead of us in such a precarious position, it would not be a surprise to see these changes driven by legislation. In that case, the integration of these systems wouldn’t be a ‘nice to have’, they would be necessary, and one of our strongest solutions in the fight against COVID-19.

The role of convergence

As a species, humans are resilient. We always seem to find a way, and what we’re beginning to see within the Smart Building market is no different to what you would expect at this point: we’re finding a way. The market is changing in response to the COVID-19 challenge, and strides in the right direction are being taken every day as we continue to look to innovate and create new applications to help in any way they can.

Over time we will begin to see more and more convergence within Building Management Systems, between the more traditional applications and the newer, COVID related technologies - which are predominantly driven by smaller, fast moving and innovative players. COVID-19 has shown that the Smart Building industry can help in more ways than simply through security and energy management, and we’re now beginning to see many of these innovative solutions being deployed. While right now, this innovation is being driven by these smaller players, over the medium term we will begin to see more traditional Smart Building businesses evolve their offerings to incorporate these COVID-19 driven changes.

Cellular connectivity is the key

In order to implement these systems, there are challenges to overcome. To leverage this technology, deployments need to be resilient, deployment times need to be rapid, with the ability to scale quickly if necessary, and businesses need to be able to adapt with the fast pace of innovation that COVID-19 is driving.

With regard to Building Management Systems and other smart building technologies, many businesses are now choosing to use cellular connectivity over other technologies such as WiFi. The reasons for this are clear. Firstly, with cellular connectivity, we typically see end-to-end ownership by the solution provider, who isn’t reliant on other, fixed line networks whose policies can make integration difficult. Further to this, it can also be the case that fixed lines are not in place or will take several months to be installed. Cellular connectivity, delivered by the solution provider, removes that potential hiccough and allows systems to be implemented within days.

Levels of data throughput vary with each smart building application. Further to this, there are several variables that need consideration when implementing these systems. For example, the location of a router can be challenging itself. It can often be placed in a basement or internal room, with weak signal strength, and that has the potential to cause a lot of problems. However, the issue can quickly be solved by using a specialist antenna.

On top of positioning, it’s important to consider: expected data usage; number of units, potentially requiring data aggregation; the hardware required, considering which 4G routers would offer the most resilience; longevity of projects; use of single or multiple networks; and of course the levels of security required. Robust security with any connectivity type is paramount.

Corrupted or hacked information has huge implications on organisations, but this risk can be managed through secure, private cellular connectivity. Managed connectivity providers can not only apply a fixed IP address to your IoT SIMs, but by adding in VPN services, they can create a complete private network infrastructure that enables secure, smart, two-way connectivity. Not only does an infrastructure-as-a-service approach prove cost effective, but it provides secure and safe data management with resilience - all available to be deployed rapidly as and when required.

Easing back to normal

COVID-19 has tested many industries across the globe, but it finally feels as though we’re working our way towards some sort of normality. At this time, it is incredibly important to remain vigilant about the potential risks that the ease in lockdown could have on the population.

Technology has a significant role to play in keeping people safe, and through Smart Building technologies, we can begin to securely monitor and manage social distancing and health screening within buildings.