At our 2nd annual Workplace 2.0 Summit, speakers from Accenture, Enlighted, and VergeSense joined us in a great roundtable discussion about IoT and its significance in a hybrid workplace.
Access the full summit on-demand:
At our 2nd annual Workplace 2.0 Summit, speakers from Accenture, Enlighted, and VergeSense joined us in a great roundtable discussion about IoT and its significance in a hybrid workplace.
Access the full summit on-demand:
Hi, everybody. Welcome to our final roundtable of Workplace 2.0, IoT: The Key to Hybrid Workplace Utilization. It’s a great roundtable that we’ve organized today around IoT’s role in corporate real estate and the great potential it holds to address some of the more pressing use cases that the hybrid workplace has presented. Joining me today are several leaders from both the device and advisory side of IoT.
So, on the sensor side, I’d like to welcome Chris Keen from VergeSense. Thanks, Chris, for joining us. We have, just sticking on the sensor side, Reid, joining us from Enlighted. And then we have Marty from Accenture and Connected Buildings group. I’ll let you guys each go around, introduce yourself, provide a little bit of background on your organization and your role and what you guys are doing in the marketplace? So, Chris, why don’t we kick off with you?
Thanks for having me. So, my name is Chris Keen, as Bart said, Head of Channel Sales at VergeSense. My role is essentially to work with a lot of our different partners that we have, take the data that come from VergeSense’s occupancy sensors and then enable an action or an output in those other systems. So, what we have is these ceiling mounted devices that go up above an area where you’d like to measure how many people are in that area. So, you mount them up and then those essentially will count the number of people there.
We’ll send that data up to the cloud and then we’ll aggregate it through some analytics we have on our side, but we’ll also feed that data to the likes of a Tango, an HVAC system, anything else that you would want to feed this occupancy utilization data to drive again, some business outcome or enhance employee experience, what have you.
I’m Marty Newhouse. I lead Connected Buildings for Accenture, which is a practice tied to our real estate and workplace solutions team. I’ll start by saying that Connected Buildings as Accenture defines it is it’s a capability that addresses a full range of value propositions related to leveraging IoT in the built environment. So, that spans the whole spectrum, ranging from energy, managing down the cost of energy and maintenance in facilities.
It extends into space and how to use some of the data like what Chris was talking about to help our clients utilize space and make better, smarter, and safer use of space. It also extends into experience and working with clients to create differentiation in their spaces, whether that’s a workplace or even things like transit center, an airport, stadium or arena or hospital, what have you. So, yeah, I’ll leave it at that for now. Looking forward to the conversation. So, it’s over to Reid.
Happy to be here today. I lead software product management here at Enlighted. Enlighted is one of the world’s largest machine learning IoT platforms for commercial real estate. So, what that means is we sell sensors and software that help our users make better decisions based on what people and equipment are doing in their buildings. We were founded in Silicon Valley about 10 years ago. We’re acquired by Siemens about two years ago. So, we really work closely with Siemens to deliver holistic solutions to your smart building needs.
Fantastic. Welcome, everybody. I’m going to stop sharing here so we can get the full view of everybody on the screen, which we’ve heard is a better experience for our attendees. I’d like to start out with some general questions and we can move into some other topic areas. The first one relates to the loaded term of Internet of Things. I think Marty alluded to this a little bit. Even within the built environment, it’s got a broad definition. The majority of our attendees are on the corporate occupier office side of things. So, maybe we can start with Marty. With you, what is IoT in that context? How is it typically used?
What I would say there is that IoT is that category of technology, which can be applied in the built environment to bring about what I’ll call connected solutions. So, it’s a category of technology that allows you to move beyond, point in time assessments, point in time exercises, and to really get to a point where you can keep your finger on the pulse of your space, your assets, your equipment, and get real time feedback. That opens up a whole world of possibilities. So, that’s more of a high level answer without getting into the guts of the technology, but that’s really, I think, the crux of it from my view.
Absolutely. Anything to add Reid or Chris?
I think that was a pretty comprehensive solution. I think the one thing I’d add is that one of the things that’s core to our IoT solution and I see this in general and in the market is the ability to connect both ways. So, it’s not just getting data about what’s going on in the building, but also pushing updates to devices, so that you’re continuously improving those devices and improving their capabilities over time. That’s core to IoT is that these devices are upgradeable over time.
Absolutely. So, what are the components that make up an IoT solution in a corporate real estate environment? I know, Marty, you wisely corrected me when I went right to the sensor side when we were prepping for this call. It’s a lot more than just sensors. What are the bigger building blocks of the IoT solution in a corporate real estate environment?
Yeah, sure. Well, IoT, typically, is a technology that lives at the edge, so to speak. So, it’s really where your assets are. From that point, the IoT devices and sensors are going to provide data and information and that has to go somewhere. So, typically, the IoT technology exists as part of a whole solution stack. That would include things like networking, networking communications, layers. You would also have platform middleware solutions. That would be a software that is able to aggregate, normalize, and orchestrate data so that it can be analyzed and used for a whole variety of purposes. Additionally, there would also be a category of software too, that is typically where the user interfaces with the information. So, that can be a whole host of applications.
I should also call out that there’s typically with the IoT technology, which is at the edge, there’s part of what I talked about, which is in the cloud. You can see different manifestations of solutions that emphasize more intelligence, more processing at the edge, in other cases, more at the cloud. There’s different reasons why you would pursue one versus the other. But I think those are some of the key components that go into a solution that involve IoT. You really can’t have IoT without those other elements.
When we talk with our clients about IoT, typically, there’s work to do on architecting and defining what the overall solution should look like. What’s the right footprint of a solution to address the client or customer problem and respect some of the constraints and considerations of their context? So, there’s a fair amount that we keep busy with related to answering those kinds of questions.
Chris, on the sensor side and I’m sure this is also in Reid’s organization, you guys are going upstream, right? So, you’re not just providing the actual sensors themselves, but you’re moving up into some of the other layers that Marty was calling out. Can you talk a little bit about that?
As Marty was speaking about it, I mean, there’s the data collection aspect, which is usually done at the edge for IoT. Then there’s data aggregation, which was normally reviewed purely by corporate real estate administrators, at least in a historical sense. But now more and more, the data that’s coming from those devices is also going to end user employees. So, there’s that other layer of software now that tends to be a requirement for the productivity, employee experience use cases.
So, what I think every company really in the IoT space is trying to do is not just be that hardware vendor any longer, just data collection, because there’s this realization that you can only go so far selling a mousetrap to groups of people. If they don’t understand how the data is supposed to be used in action, then it’s very hard for them to realize the value and downstream, be able to prove to their higher ups that these are required in order to lease more space or make some real estate decision. So, there is a lot of focus in our organization at VergeSense around those analytics, how we can build better integrations that are more meaningful, more impactful. So, that those other systems can then take our data and action something over there.
I know us here at Tango, we’re one of those systems, right? So, we’ve got an IWMS or workplace system that can consume and use it in a facilities maintenance context and a space management context. Reid, we’ve talked with you guys about that as well. Both, I think your organizations are starting move up into some of the more the software side of things, the analytics, and whatnot. Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys provide in that area?
I think it depends a little bit on the customer. To Marty’s point, we really are tailoring how we deliver the data to the customer’s needs. So, in some cases, we have our own real estate visualization application called Space that allows you to visualize how people are utilizing spaces in your real estate portfolio. Increasingly, though, we’re also integrating with IWMS software, integrated workplace management software, getting the data into that where there’s additional data complementing our IoT data, such as real estate costs in different markets, et cetera.
And then other more generic business intelligence tools, whether it’s Tableau or Looker or Power BI, so that it’s really easy for our users to take the data that we’re providing from our IoT solution and combine it with other data that they might have in their organization to make decisions based on the larger set of data. And then much to Chris’s point, also, then delivering apps to end users so that they can make day-to-day decisions about what spaces they want to go to and use in that particular day.
One of the things that we’ve run into a lot as relates to IoT is the investment side of it. Depending on the type of sensors you’re investing in and a lot of companies are investing in a diverse set of sensors, there’s a certain cost profile. You look at that versus square footage of some of these corporate portfolios. Is there any threshold or characteristics of an organization that make it more suitable for investments in IoT, or can any size company really benefit from this from an ROI perspective? I’ll just throw that one in the ring.
I’ll take a crack at that first. So, I think historically, with space management systems in general or space management as a category, your larger organizations, the Fortune 500, Fortune 1,000 have tended to spend more money on that function just simply because they have more space. Generally, that space happens to be in really expensive metropolitan areas. So, as a generalization, I would say that a lot of Fortune 1,000 companies are interested in this to drive down obviously costs. That said, what has been interesting, I think, in the past year or so that we’ve seen with COVID is that there’s actually a lot of the mid-market that is quite interested in these technologies as well. This is just our belief.
When you have a very large company, they generally already have a lot of tools to manage. They have an IWMS. They have ServiceNow. They have all these other access control systems. So, they’re able to get some pretty darn good data. They might just want it to be a bit better with sensors in certain areas. Whereas a mid-market firm, they might not have an IWMS. They have no idea who’s booking space. They’ve got all these leases that are all sitting in a file in the office that no one’s been into in the last year and a half, right?
So, we’ve seen a lot of these smaller organizations starting to say, “You know what? For some of our core locations, our HQ in the East and our HQ in the West, can we just put in some devices, figure out how many people are coming in, and then make a decision? Should we darken one of these offices and then potentially sublet it or not?” So, I think the return that companies are seeing obviously is dependent on the organization, but you’re also seeing big and smaller companies alike seeing the value of having some of these IoT devices and analytics.
I think that’s exactly right, Chris. What I would say that we see that’s very consistent with your comments, Chris, is that I think the value of the information that IoT can provide has only just been magnified because of the pandemic. Is it worth it to any customer to consider an IoT-based solution? It depends on the return. What’s the value you’re going to get out of it? Really, should never pursue IoT or any technology just for the sake of it, right? It has to support business objective. The investment has to make sense based on the return that you’re going to get.
What I think we’re seeing now is that there’s incredible interest in this information about space, like what Chris and Reid have talked about, because it helps any organization answer these questions about, “How are they using their space? As people return to the office, what’s actually happening?” They don’t want to be guessing about that. There’s really important decisions that organizations are going to be tied to and locked in around with respect to their capital investments in real estate.
The one thing an organization can do to combat that uncertainty is get real data. And then you don’t have to try and make decisions based on conjecture or emotions, perhaps. You can have an evidence-based business decision. I just think IoT holds great promise for answering a lot of these really pressing questions. So, I think more and more organizations are considering it so.
Bart Waldeck: Reid, how about you? Has COVID in your opinion changed the perception of value of IoT? Has it increased appetite, investment? I know there’s a lot of new solutions coming to market, whether it’s Salesforce jumping in the game or Facebook jumping into game or ServiceNow jumping in the game. Some very big players want to own the employee side of things. IoT is an important part of that. What do you see?
I agree with Chris. I mean, so that’s the one thing I’m seeing, what Chris is seeing, which is there’s more interest in the SMB market. The other thing I’d say is that it’s more about magnitude that’s changed, right? So, the value proposition is similar to value propositions that were there pre-COVID, but there’s much more urgency around the need and something that’s really prompting it and pushing it to a top three priority for an investment on the technology side.
Whereas before, it was always there in the background, but there was less urgency and less magnitude around the ROI that we can provide. Because before, there were rules of thumb that people were using and they were using that as a way to make up for the fact that they didn’t have data to make better decisions, but now, a lot of those rules of thumb are out the window, right? So, they need the data to make better decision. So, that’s, I think, what we’re seeing.
It brings up a good point. I think you guys have alluded this a little bit. Sometimes IoT investments have been a solution looking for a problem. So, what are some of the wrong reasons that companies are investing in IoT? And then, conversely, what are some of the right reasons?
I already spoke about how you don’t want to pursue a technology just for the sake of it, but we do see that happening. I’ll speak about some things we saw, mostly pre-pandemic, but I think there’s still lessons in it. We encountered clients, prospective clients, oftentimes, who had a desire. Maybe they attended a trade show or a session like this. They heard about something great. Wow, I would love to have that. I want to make the world’s most intelligent connected building or most connected hospital. We want to lead in patient health care. That’s our goal. But there’s a big difference between saying that and executing it. Even there’s a big difference in just saying that and then defining it. What does it really mean?
So, you’ve got to peel the onion back on those kinds of statements and backup and really get grounded on a vision. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the business problems or challenges that must be addressed? You need a solution that specifically addresses that. I think one of the hallmarks of field technology initiatives is oftentimes, it’s not technology, which is pursued as a means to an end. It’s more technology pursued for some other reason. So, generally, that’s how I think about it, Bart, as far as what we’ve seen.
The way that I think about it is maybe not wrong reasons, but reason for which it’s really challenging to get a huge ROI. What I see is that if a customer is focused on one very specific use case in a very short term, in a very small period of time, right? So, maybe they’re focused on-
Yeah, but some organizations are interested in counting people for the long run. They see that as a long term optimization of their real estate portfolio. But if it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to have occupants coming back to my office for the first week and I want to sell some use case just for that week when they’re coming back for the first time,” well, it’s going to be hard to recoup an ROI around that. So, I think what’s really important is that they look at the use cases that they’re trying to solve today, but then also, what use cases they might want to solve in the future. That’s going to allow them to invest in an IoT solution that’s going to provide a sustainable ROI in the long term. That’s a good reason to invest.
I agree with both Reid and Marty. I’ll also add, I mean, to me, a wrong reason for investing in IoT is technology for the sake of technology, unless, of course, you are a technology company and it’s part of your brand but then there’s a reason, right? So, I think that people should always think about taking it one step further. I want a connected building. Why do I want a connected building? There’s usually a reason there. But when people pitch these up to the C levels and say, “We’re building a connected building,” sometimes that isn’t always translated, right? We want a connected building, because we believe our employees could be 25% more productive if they have access to all the amenities and space that they need, as one example.
I think that’s where people struggle. There’s the use case thing, but then there’s also the business driver, the outcomes that you’re looking for, a whole separate thing. We even do it. Sometimes, as sales folks or people in the field, we confuse a use case with a business driver. It’s not the same. So, you’ve got to spend a lot of time trying to figure all that out. So, I think that’s primarily where folks struggle.
And then on what Reid said, on the timeframes, I do believe that there can be unrealistic timeframe expectation sometimes or also people that have read something or heard something about how you could maybe put in sensors for a week, two weeks, take a snapshot, and then you’re off and running, right? You’re going to change your space with that one week of data. Forever and ever and ever, it’s going to be all good, right? But the reality is people change, everything changes, the world changes. That’s the whole point of putting these up is if we’re continually churning people, leaving the organization, we’re shuffling around allocations, it’s unassigned seating, all of it is dynamic.
So, if you keep measuring that and keep getting all of that data, you’re going to find that you’re going to be shifting all the time, not just once every three years when you want to do a sensor study. So, that can be tricky as well, but I think the market has come to more of a realization that these permanent installs are where they want to go.
And then it becomes a matter of, “Okay, if we’re going to do that, let’s figure out a rollout schedule of how we would do that. So, maybe our most expensive real estate is going to get it first, these sensors or these IoT devices. And then maybe for our mid-tier where it’s a little bit less expensive, maybe some locations that are mostly warehousing, maybe we’ll just do WiFi data for all those. And then maybe the lowest tier, we’ll just think about something that’s super low hanging fruit, like an access control system.”
So, people are starting to figure that out in their minds how to parse it out, but I still think not only the use cases but the business drivers are the most important thing. The outcomes you’re looking to achieve are by far the thing that most people struggle with and end up not getting these projects off the ground properly.
The main one we hear and what we’re actually working on at Tango is we believe… I’m curious if it’s a common opinion. … that hybrid work is largely going to be a bigger trend than it’s been before, although many of us have been working hybrid for many years. Organizations really don’t have an understanding today what that means. They might say, “Sure, I can put people into three buckets, always in, in two to three days a week, or never in, right? Simply put, and then somewhere there’s a distribution of our employees based on personas and stuff like that of where they will be coming in and when, but you really don’t know until you start flying the ship and you see what’s going on.
So, it’s a learning phase when we return to the office. In our opinion, the IoT side of things is critical to really understanding how space is being used during this period of change and whatnot. Is that something you see as a common business driver that you’re running into in this COVID environment?
Bart, sorry, I was trying to find my mute button, but yes, yes. I mean, there’s a great point to be made around there’s a real importance now or a real desire on the part of occupiers of real estate to be agile because of the uncertainty. To your question, yes, I mean, there’s a really strong interest in having information, so that you can manage through this. In a prior life before I started dealing with buildings, I was actually working in supply chain.
In supply chain, when you think about inventory, the way to manage that down is having better visibility to what’s going on, all across all of your nodes. The more you can see what’s going on, the better you can react and the less stock you need. It’s the same in in real estate. If you have better visibility to what’s going on, you can manage it better. You can be more responsive. I mean, again, yes, it’s absolutely something that we’re seeing. I think it’s the right move to really think about this for many organizations.
Yeah, building on that, Marty, I think one of the things that’s a big uncertainty is the balance between bookable spaces and open spaces. If you think about it like the way you’re thinking about, Marty, inventory, well, the easy answer would just to say, “Well, every space, you have to book,” right? And then I can manage my inventory really easily, but that’s not the best user experience, because part of the great thing about being in an office is serendipity, right? I’m working on this project. I feel like going down and having a coffee and sitting and working on it in the cafe. If I have to book every single minute of my day, that’s not a great productive occupant experience.
I think that’s the big uncertainty is, “What’s the right balance between spaces that I need to book and spaces that…” Providing that visibility to your occupants’ lives is that they can navigate those spaces and see, “Oh, well, there’s no seating right now in the cafeteria. So, I’m going to go over to this other quiet area instead,” or whatever the case may be to really be optimizing for not just the efficiency of your real estate portfolio, but also the occupant experience.
I think it’s by far the biggest driver we see with people putting in sensors is agile transformation or just uncertainty about how many people are going to come back into the office. So, one of the big challenges as we all know in corporate real estate years ago, well, it feels like years ago now, was demand forecasting.
So, the business units are going to tell me how much they’re going to grow and then we know most of that data is going to be inaccurate or they don’t use their space well. We didn’t have good tools to be able to fight with the business. So, we just give them more space. That’s how portfolios just explode as we all know. We ended up with millions of millions of square feet that’s just totally empty.
Now, the big problem is, okay, we’ve got all these people. 70, 80% of them used to come into offices, but now, we have no idea how many are going to come back into the offices. So, we need some way to handle that. So, the easiest way, like Reid said, is I’ll set up a booking app, but is that really scalable? Because people don’t want to have to ask for permission. Sure. At first, it’s going to be convenient and nice. I can pick the area where I want to sit. Oh, great, I get to go by the window. But over time, people are going to say, “I don’t really feel like booking today.” There was plenty of space last week when I went into the office and then we’re going to run into issues where there’s overcrowding.
So, I think a lot of folks are really thinking about that and saying, “Well, how can we make sure that our employees don’t get thrown into a really poor experience, but also make sure on the real estate side, if we need more space, we should go and get it, especially in these markets where people seem to be showing up?” So that’s where it gets really interesting.
The one last point I’ll make is a lot of organizations are struggling with what’s called seating ratios too. So, if I’m going to start downsizing and this is a little bit, I think, further down the line, but some companies have thought about this already. If I’m going to start getting rid of some of my properties, so that I have more people than the number of spaces to support them, how can I start saying I want to assign X number of people to Y number of seats? What does that look like? Is it 200 people to every 100 seats? Is it 300? Is it 400? Is it 500? Without any baseline, it’s really hard to make that determination and it’s just more or less finger in the air. Okay, two to one. That’s what I heard the architects say.
That’s fine to start out with that, but you’re going to find that over time, that’s going to change. You’re going to have to flex more. Sometimes it’s going to be less, sometimes it’s going to be more, but you wouldn’t know that unless you had the tools to take a look at it. So, I think that is what is driving a lot of people towards especially the desk seat sensors, knowing how many seats they’ve got and how many employees they can bring in or sign in to come work.
I also want to say that we’ve talked a lot about using IoT to understand how space is being utilized, but I do want to say that there are other applications that we’re talking to clients about and we’re seeing some interest in. In a sense, it’s similar, but instead of monitoring space, you could be monitoring the condition of assets and all different kinds of ways with an eye towards deploying janitorial services or any operations and maintenance activity.
I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to move facilities management in general away from schedule-based maintenance and more towards doing maintenance, providing cleaning services, whatever it may be, where it’s needed and when it’s needed. There will be some change that it’s needed to accommodate using technology in this way in terms of how do occupiers and owners interact with and deploy service providers.
There may be certain contracts that are structured a certain way today, but with some of this technology, that can be changed. We can begin to realize a lot of value that when we’re just doing these kinds of activities, operations and maintenance based on schedules, we’re not getting that value. So, I think it’s just another area of opportunity. I just wanted to mention that.
Yeah, it’s a great point. What about a couple of the other areas that we’ve heard about, employee productivity, employee well-being? How can IoT devices and data be used to improve productivity and employee well-being?
Yeah, let me take that one, because we’re working with a customer on that right now. It used to be that the hot thing was air quality sensors and detecting carbon dioxide and adjusting HVAC based on the carbon dioxide levels in a room. There was an interesting study by the Harvard Business School that said that we could drastically improve productivity in meeting if we were proactive and actually adjusting the conditioning of spaces in meeting rooms before the air quality sensors even detected that there was a reduction in carbon dioxide. I think that’s a really interesting area where we’re using people accommodating to be proactive about conditioning spaces before the air quality sensors even see a difference in the air.
Tying back to some of the other things that we talked about, where we were talking about managing uncertainty and how there’s a real strong interest in what space is being used and how’s it being used, getting back to that, again, I think there is an opportunity for the curators of space, service coordinators, anyone who’s in the position of making decisions around repurposing of space, structuring space, providing amenities, again, having the information about how is the space actually being used will serve to inform the space which is provided, which translates into better experiences.
So, I think, some of the answer for this question in my mind, Bart, it ties back to what we talked about earlier as well, just in terms of equipping the providers of space to better meet the needs and expectations of the occupants.
I think we’re actually exploring the productivity side in the sense of we have some AI and machine learning based space optimization capabilities that we had prior to the pandemic. The calculus on this has changed with the pandemic, but what we’re looking to get to is in using IoT data to help from a productivity standpoint and other data, such as scheduling data.
If you’re familiar at all with MyAnalytics from Microsoft, now, you can get a plethora of data about, “Who am I typically meeting with? Is it collaborative time? Is it focused time?”, and things like that to better understand how work is being done and then bringing in how space is being used and trying to bring that together and then recommend space and the time to use certain space based on what you’re trying to achieve, which is a productivity boost. So, are you guys starting to dabble at all or have conversations about that level of use of the data?
Yeah, so I can comment on that. I think we’ve had a lot more people recently ask us for integrations to O 365, GCal, booking tools to look at things like bookings versus actuals. Now, we’ve got quite a few people coming to us saying, “Hey, here’s my web conferencing platform. Can we also bring that in and know how many people were linked into that meeting virtually versus in the office?” So, I think there’s some really unique stuff that’s being done there right now. So, I think that there’s those components.
And then one on the previous point we were making that I think is often overlooked, because we often talk about employee experience and we think about employees themselves, how they could save time, and therefore be more productive. So, time savings is usually the most tangible thing that we all can put on paper and say, “If every employee save five minutes, we have this many employees, here’s a lot of salary, the whole thing,” right?
But I think one that is much harder to quantify but it’s really interesting, especially if you talk to architects, is if we are figuring out whether or not our space design is working for particular teams in particular regions, for whatever reason and we can get people wanting to come into that office and actually collaborating and innovating in ways that we desire for the company, it’s hard to quantify the productivity increase there, but generally, you can feel it in certain spaces where there’s just that vibe of everyone is all together and they’re able to move around and people are hanging out in the kitchen. That’s what everyone wants, but it’s hard to put that into an ROI pitch. So, that’s another area.
This isn’t always easy to do, right? It sounds like a great concept, but you have to get from where you are to a system in data. What are some of the bigger technical challenges or business challenges that you’re seeing in implementing IoT solutions?
Well, I think it’s top of mind for anyone consuming IoT solutions and approaches to think about security, right? I mean, look, ransomware is on the rise, ransomware attacks, I should say. The flip side of all the benefits that come with things which are connected is that everything’s connected and therefore introduces vulnerability. So, I don’t think you can talk about connected solutions in IoT without having an approach for managing the security. You need to be proactive about it. You need to be persistent. I think it can take a lot of real estate and facilities folks out of their comfort zone really. I mean, it’s not something that many in the industry have spent time in their careers dealing with, right?
A lot of the things which are happening now, there’s only so many experts on cybersecurity, right? But I think real estate facilities as an industry is waking up to this as something that has to be managed and dealt with. OT, operational technology, which a lot of the equipment and the IoT in buildings fits in that category, is converging with IT. That has to be managed. So, I think it’s not an inhibitor. I’m not sure I want to call it a challenge, but it’s something that it’s got to be addressed, got to be dealt with. You need to talk about it and acknowledge it upfront. That’s the right starting point. Otherwise, you can be vulnerable.
Right, I agree with that, 100%, Marty. I think the other thing that we see as a challenge is not just security, also, privacy. It’s not also just privacy itself, but the perception of privacy, right? So, you might be able to make a case to the buyer that well, we’re not doing image recognition or we’re not using video cameras or whatever. But what’s actually really important is also that the occupants don’t feel like there are cameras around, who might not really know the technical details. So, I think that’s really been a driver for some of the technologies that we’ve been deploying is that consciousness around, “How do the occupants feel about privacy as well?”
I know, Chris, you and I have talked about the days when people would rip the sensors off the desk because they don’t want big brother around. You’d find them in garbage cans and stuff like that. So, how is the privacy angle… How are you guys talking with prospects and customers about that?
Yeah, that’s usually a big topic of conversation. I mean, I think what we’re finding more and more that we like to see is that real estate in a lot of cases has already talked with HR and IT about this project they’re embarking on a lot of times when we’re approached. We appreciate that, right? Because certainly, we won’t have to go through as many pains when we’re talking about privacy and security and some of the other things. All parties are aware and are aligned on what the business goals are.
That said, privacy especially can be really challenging outside of the US in particular, especially in Europe, in areas like Germany, where you have the German works council, which has its whole other set of requirements. There are specific requirements around things like CCTV in certain Scandinavian countries that this or that can’t be done. So, there’s just this dynamic always changing set of privacy and security requirements.
What we try to do is just make sure that we’re able to equip people with enough information up front about how the sensors work, how they’re going to be used, the way the data is created, destroyed, how all the transfers work, is it encrypted, at what levels is it encrypted. That just generally makes people a lot more comfortable up front. But then of course, there’s always the downstream IT deep dive that you got to go in for a couple hours. Then on the other side, I would say, we always require that our clients send out change management emails before these things go up. We’ll work with them on those emails.
A lot of times, they’re different based on the region or just the particular folks that are in a particular area where sensors are going to get installed. But there must be some communication out to those employees, letting them know that these are going up, here are the reasons why, here’s what’s in it for you. Otherwise, you get a situation where those devices could get pulled down. People don’t understand the technology and what it’s for. Ultimately, they don’t know what they’re getting out of the deal. So, it all has to be an exchange amongst all parties to really drive a better workplace.
You mentioned something that we talked about in a couple sessions over the last several days. If you think about the consumer data market with Facebook and Uber Eats and everybody taking data, there is a conscious trade-off by consumers. They understand the fact that their data is valuable. In order to give the data, they want something in return. It’s really arguably not any different in a corporate real estate environment or an office environment, where we believe that people will be more willing to let themselves be attracted at a certain level and a certain level of anonymity, so that they can have benefit from it.
So, they can better have space that they need to be more productive and things like that. So, hopefully, that’s going to happen as well as we move forward with this. All right. So, we have a couple questions that have come in from the audience. I want to just jump in these. These are not necessarily in particular order, but what considerations need to be made before implementing sensors, for example, battery operated versus PoE? Does anybody want to jump on that one?
I’ll take that one, because it circles back to something I said right at the beginning, which is I think battery operated can be great for really short term solutions. What we see is that if the customer is interested in the long run, then a PoE solution allows a few things. One it just allows that software updating. Sometimes that software updating is for more use cases that come along in the future that things we didn’t expect to come along like a pandemic, but it’s also security patches, right? There’s constantly new threats from the security side.
Having that ability to continuously have the power available to update that software without draining the battery is really important. And then the other thing is, of course, is battery maintenance and being able to have to constantly be updating battery. So, I think that’s our take on it and why in general we haven’t really deployed any battery operated sensors. But they have their place, of course.
VergeSense has both, battery powered and wired. We are seeing a lot more people invest in wired now since COVID for one reason or another, but I think it has to do with what we talked about earlier, people realizing that a permanent install is probably needed, right? But the thing with battery powered devices is you do have to keep in mind, you’re going to have to change those batteries. I mean, every year and a half, two years, those are going to need to be swapped out.
So, if you factor that into your operational costs, then it’s totally fine. But one thing I will say about batteries that they’re great for is a lot of folks who deploy IoT technology want to try it out first, on a floor, two floors, three floors. It’s very easy to do that with battery technology. It can be more challenging with cables that are up in the ceiling, just because you can’t fully bet it out. So, I think there’s different situations.
But in a lot of cases, too, one of the things we found interesting is we’ll have some clients who want to wire everything. But in a lot of new construction, you’ve got these beautiful aesthetics up in the ceiling, you don’t want to throw those off. So, you’re going to wire 50, 60, 70%, and then the rest is all going to be battery powered. So, you can get the coverage in those areas without having any of those wires. So, it all really depends, but it’s all about what your infrastructure consists of today if you have the means to be able to cable more, if you don’t. So, it’s very situational and it depends, I would say.
Marty, this might be a good one for you. Is installing Wi-Fi based sensors an option? So, you avoid the IoT network and avoid vendor lock in and security issues. If not, is there a market standard for an office IoT network, maybe LoRaWAN, Bluetooth, or Sigfox? Some of this is great to me.
Well, yeah, I think Wi-Fi has a place. It’s on the spectrum of options and it has its place. LoRa, for example, that has its applications as well. Typically, you have a distributed campus and you need to get information across a campus. I think, with each of these, there are applications where the technology is suitable without drilling into each one of those. I mean, they all can make sense and they have their place, I suppose. I wouldn’t say no, don’t consider Wi-Fi, if that makes sense.
Well, we’re up at time. So, I’m going to ask a parting question for each of you. I’m sure a lot of our attendees are interested in IoT. They haven’t invested. What’s your advice on where they should start to explore the option and value of an IoT solution for the corporate real estate?
I would say, start with the business problems. What’s most pressing? Where do you see the biggest issues or opportunities for improvement? And then you work your way up to the technology that can help support and solve those problems. I see a lot of people that do the opposite. Hey, these sensor things look really cool. Let’s buy some and see if it solves our problem. That generally doesn’t work.
So, most of the time, the people that are really successful with these and have 10,000+ IoT devices, getting huge ROIs came with some fundamental, “Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve.” And then after that, they tacked on 10 or 20 other things in areas they’re able to use the data for, so that they can continue to get value out of it. But you have to have at least one or two things you’re really trying to solve for or else it will collapse. So, that would be my advice.
Adding on to what Chris said, starting with the business cases is super important. I think also, one of the things that we see customers get tripped up on is it’s good to start with a pilot, right? So, I’m not saying don’t start with a pilot. Start with a pilot, but think about that pilot and how it scales across your entire portfolio and what the support costs and maintenance of those are and how scalable it is. That is one of the things we’ve seen that there are a lot of newcomers to this space in the last couple of years.
It’s one thing to do a pilot on a floor in an office building. It’s another thing for a small company to support your portfolio of hundreds of buildings across the world, right? So, I just think that having that balance in mind of, “Yes, we want to do pilot with specific business cases,” but also like, “Okay, what am I going to once that pilot is successful? Will that also be successful?” is important to keep in mind.
I agree with what Chris said and Reid as well. Maybe what I could add to that is just to point out that when you have done everything right, like Chris was saying, and you’ve begun at the right point where you have a well-defined business problem and you’ve identified a good technology solution, just also keep in mind that with a lot of these IoT solutions, you’re involving a number of different stakeholder groups from within your organization, potentially from outside the organization. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting alignment on where you’re headed with the solution.
So, you could be maybe for the first time bringing together HR and IT and facilities and layering in people from security on top of that. Maybe these folks haven’t all gotten in the same canoe and paddled in the past. It’s a little bit new. That could all be addressed just by anticipating that upfront and spending the time on stakeholder alignment that will down the road pay dividends, because you won’t see as many blockers popping up along the way as you pursue an initiative. So, again, I agree with the other comments, but I just would add that point about stakeholder alignment.
Fantastic. Well, we’re up at time. I really appreciate, Reid, you joining, Marty and Chris. A fascinating conversation about IoT. I’m really excited where in my world and workplace and IWMS technology will deeper connect to IoT. So, looking forward to working with all of you as we move forward. Thanks again for joining Workplace 2.0.