February 14, 2017

Humans are the new machines - into the next age of the IoT sensor

Tomi Teikko

Director, Empathic Building, Tieto

When it comes to building maintenance, old business models are dying quickly. Traditional solutions such as contracted cleaning, where a company agrees a deal to come in for a fixed number of hours a week, are unsustainable in the long-term as they become less profitable.

Instead, new approaches will be required, driven by better data that allows companies to take a more targeted approach to maintenance. And at the heart of this is the occupants of buildings themselves.

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have come a long way in recent years, and are now able to see, sense and smell a wide range of data. But they're still a long way from human capabilities, as people are still better than any technological solutions when it comes to expressing how they feel about an environment.

The first stage of human sensors

Therefore, using humans as sensors will become vital to any building maintenance. At the easiest level, this may take the form of feedback buttons in various locations that ask users how they feel about the space. Simply touching a positive/negative button or a happy/sad face can give instant data to maintenance companies about a space and highlight any problem areas.

For more specific feedback, people can also raise tickets with their maintenance provider. So, for example, if there's a coffee stain on the floor that's really annoying someone, they can flag this up directly. This in turn can lead to changes in how cleaning companies approach their work and make them more efficient.

Instead of having a fixed schedule for cleaning each floor, a company can use the number of tickets as a KPI to determine its success - if there are no tickets from an area, this is a signal things are ok there. By setting a service goal - for example, of receiving no more than three tickets from building users in a given time - this changes the business model. So instead of visiting at location two or three times a day, you might only have to visit it once a week as long as there are no reports of complaints.

Moving towards real-time feedback 

But this type of manual feedback is only the first step in turning humans into effective sensors. In the coming years I predict we'll see more and more firms adopt solutions such as wearables, which can send feedback automatically without the individual having to file a report. 

For example, the technology could detect if CO2 levels in a room are too high and then communicate directly with air conditioning systems to improve the environment. Today's wearables are now so impressive some can even monitor an individual's pulse in enough detail to measure their stress levels.

Imagine the possibilities this opens up for team leaders and building managers. By using analytics to study this data and spot times, locations or activities that lead to increased stress levels, managers can make adjustments to the environment, boosting productivity and making the office a nicer place to be.

At the moment, surveys about workplace satisfaction may take place only every few months, or even once a year, with leaders then acting on these findings. But with humans as sensors, changes can be made in real-time. And while it may sound like science fiction, this future is closer than you might think.

Of course, there will be issues with privacy to address if people are to adopt wearables in the office, but I believe that younger workers in particular are much more open to this type of technology - and we're already starting to trial it here at Tieto. Providing the concerns of workers are adequately handled, this could be business as usual in around five to ten years.

Read more about Tieto Intelligent Building and Data-Driven Businesses.

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