WhereNext

The Smart Workplace: An Executive Tour

Emma loves her new job—the ever-changing assignments, the quick pace, the supportive team members. But until recently, there was one thing that irked her: navigating the sprawling corporate campus.

She appreciated all the resources she needed right where she worked, including a gym, a couple of cafeterias and even a day care center. But the place was so big, with so many buildings, that she frequently got lost scooting from one meeting to another.

Not now.

Today, as she walks from Building B to Building J in search of a group she’s never met, she doesn’t study a map or read instructions printed out from an email. She just looks at her smartphone, watching the little blue dot that shows her location on a digital representation of the campus. Much like following a GPS-based app when driving, she follows a prescribed route: She makes a sharp left by the water fountain, enters the double doors, and walks into Room J347 with minutes to spare.

Smart workplaces rely on indoor positioning technology

Like smart cities, smart campuses use new IoT-based data streams, real-time processing, and location intelligence tools to help executives plan the optimal use of space and the most efficient way to run their facilities.

A New View of Company Assets

Vision of the future? Hardly. It’s one of the ways in which corporate campuses are taking advantage of smart technologies to make life easier for their employees and visitors. The benefits extend well beyond employee happiness. They save time and increase productivity. And for a large, sprawling campus with thousands of employees, that adds up (see sidebar).

Indeed, this type of use—referred to as “positioning assistance” in the trade—is but one of dozens of ways that smart campuses hold advantages over traditional approaches. Like smart cities, smart campuses use new IoT-based data streams, real-time processing, and location intelligence tools to help executives plan the optimal use of space and the most efficient way to run their facilities.

A simple example of the latter might be saving energy costs by adjusting temperatures based on observed patterns rather than assumptions. Instead of guessing to turn up the heat at 7:30 a.m. when the first workers of the day might arrive, real-time information from location-aware sensors can tell a smart system that on the third floor of Building C, the heat should remain low, because all of the occupants are at a trade show that week.

On a more complex level, some companies are employing 3D dashboards to create, in essence, a digital twin of the workplace. On these smart campuses, facilities managers can see in 3D not only the location of fixed and mobile assets, but also their status—heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units that need routine maintenance or hallway sensors that have malfunctioned. Geographic information system (GIS) technology brings these 3D dashboards to life, allowing managers to see in real time and by precise location which assets need attention.

Business Cases for the Smart Workplace

When companies apply location tracking and visualization techniques to assets under management, many other business benefits emerge:

 

A Late Start for Indoor Mapping

It’s a curious fact that we’ve long had the ability to jump in a car and drive from one side of the country to another using digital maps, but we’ve only recently begun using similar technology to work our way through a building. It’s due in part to different incentive systems.

Governments couldn’t function well if they didn’t know much about their territory, so public funding of mapmaking has long been a high priority. In the modern era, government-funded satellites have produced data that formed the basis of GPS and GIS technology. Beginning in the 1980s, this data was shared widely, eventually finding its way into GPS devices like those made by Garmin and Tom-Tom, and becoming readily available on today’s smartphones.

3D maps help employees navigate the smart campus

Some companies are employing 3D dashboards to create, in essence, a digital twin of the workplace. On these smart campuses, facilities managers can see in 3D not only the location of fixed and mobile assets, but also their status.

But for reasons both practical and technical, location awareness in smaller spaces has lagged behind that of large land masses. For one thing, building interiors don’t reveal themselves to satellites. Mapping an interior space in 2D or 3D initially required using the original blueprint of its design to establish the length, width, and height of passageways, rooms, and floors, and to track the unseen water pipes and wiring, etc. Building information management systems and CAD applications filled in the gaps, and companies began to augment 2D and 3D maps by adding features, such as corporate property (PCs and printers, furniture) or employees (members of different departments, different shifts).

Thus began an ever-increasing layering of information, both to benefit employees like Emma as she looks for Room J347 and the executives of her company who want to better understand how their business is operating, find ways to trim costs, and plan for future needs.

The Workplace IoT

Today, all this is possible with the help of smart elements. Smart is a catch-all phrase for the interactivity that is possible through indoor location maps, sensors, data storage, and visualization techniques, many of which have only become recently available commercially.

In large part, the smart campus has been made possible by the emergence of indoor mapping technologies that create 3D versions of physical spaces, and indoor positioning systems that track people and assets within those spaces, much as GPS satellites track cars and mobile devices. For its part, GIS organizes this information visually, displaying the location and status of each smart campus asset.

GIS technology is a pillar of the smart workplace

2D and 3D maps of facilities, combined with video cameras, help both in planning for emergencies and mitigating their impact when they happen.

Behind this brand of location awareness is the workplace version of the Internet of Things, which facilitates a constant flow of information from tagged assets to the dashboards viewed by managers and executives, as well as the smart maps viewed by employees like Emma.

More than a simple productivity enhancer, that information, laid out intuitively on 2D and 3D maps, equips a company to make critical decisions about a wide range of activities on its smart campus.

About

Pat Wallis, AICP, GISP, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP has led Esri’s indoor practice since 2011. He develops the methods and processes to create and use indoor location information to meet the needs of employees, visitors, students, and business operations worldwide. After graduating from Tulane University with a master’s degree in architecture, Pat began his career as an engineer officer in the US Army, serving in various roles before leaving the service with the rank of captain. More recently, Pat worked as a senior asset manager for the United States Coast Guard, overseeing a real estate portfolio of over 4,000 assets totaling more than 8.6 million square feet, with a value exceeding $3 billion.

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