Artificial Intelligence, Future of Work, AI & Big Data, Facility management, Whiz, COVID-19 Tue, May 18, '21
Integrating Automation and Data for Smarter Commercial Environments

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the transformation it’s driven in how we perceive buildings, have dramatically accelerated the shift to more innovative, smart environments. However, there remains a misconception about what truly makes these buildings smart. While it’s easy to assume that the sensors, robotics, and other advanced tools in use are the brains behind more responsive commercial environments, the key to smarter buildings isn’t just separate automation initiatives—it’s connected automation with integrated data.

We’ve already seen the value of automation and data integration in play in a limited range. Many industrial buildings reap the benefits of building management systems that apply insight from data gathered across various system types to improve energy efficiency, optimize workflows, and reduce operational costs. Smart assistants support similar processes at home, such as automatically adjusting thermostats based on occupancy patterns to lower energy usage. While the tools themselves make this insight possible, it’s the process of communicating data across a range of such tools that truly makes an environment “smart.”The growing prevalence of smart tools and digital collaboration solutions drives greater expectations for smarter, healthier commercial environments. As remote workers move back into the office, consumers return to retail and hospitality spaces, and essential workers of all types navigate new ways of operating, there’s a greater need than ever for environments that support healthy work. Artificial intelligence solutions and robotics will all play a role in creating these future workplaces, but gaining the full advantage of these advanced systems will depend on greater connectivity across various platforms.

The definition of a workplace is changing

Remote work was on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pressure to keep workers safe at home has pushed technology tools and digital collaboration solutions into greater widespread use. A July 2020 Gartner survey found that 80% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely for at least part of the time after the pandemic. This new tech-supported flexibility encourages dramatic demographic shifts as people freed by remote work move out of urban centers.

Despite the rise of remote work, coworking and collaboration remain as crucial as ever, and hybrid models come with a myriad of challenges. This will require employers, building owners, and architects to rethink what commercial environments look like. Coworking offices may be needed in smaller cities and more rural areas. Office workers may find they want to go into the office on a part-time basis, leading to some overlap of space usage. However, some real estate experts expect that building footprints won’t change as much as predicted in 2020, as fewer people congregate within spaces but spread out more to mitigate infection risks during future flu seasons or epidemics.

When a range of automation tools and data sources are integrated, commercial environments become smart enough to adapt and support day-by-day changes to what is needed from the workspace. Take, as a case in point, the “Team Pods” Google is working to introduce into its Mountain View, Calif., Googleplex. These pods are envisioned as blank “canvases” of walls and furniture that can be combined in various arrangements to fit the team’s needs. This includes digital collaboration solutions or monitors that make remote workers a front-and-center part of discussions, but it also consists of a tailored experience for the in-building worker. Air diffusers will adjust air temperature to the individual seat level, and robots will move walls to provide privacy as needed. Prototype desks are being developed that will adjust monitor height, update digital family photos, and meet other expectations for personalization with the swipe of a fingerprint. With data about personal preferences shared across various solutions, these adjustments can be made before workers ever enter the building.

New expectations for healthy buildings

Of course, workers across all types of commercial environments have new expectations for clean, healthy spaces. This shift drives a reevaluation of how we think of the “workplace” and will drive changes in how employers connect with workers. Solutions such as Salesforce's interface, for example, are designed to gather worker data to intelligently automate specific employee processes as part of a COVID response solution. Workers can specify when they are available, creating a schedule that works for their needs. Employers can better plan for fluctuating staffing in times of emergency. Moreover, a contact tracing app ensures the health and safety of workers entering the workplace. Overall, this type of people-centered automation and data solution can increasingly be used to mitigate the risks people carry into commercial environments while supporting employee wellness.

The next step is integrating data across these types of interfaces and connecting it with the building tools that can drive a change in ventilation levels, deploy cleaning robots, or otherwise support healthy commercial environments.

The next step for automation and data integration

Data-supported automation will play a key role in supporting this new commercial environment experience. With near or real-time data, robotics and digital collaboration solutions can fluidly adapt to support unique needs and expectations. Much as today’s smart thermostats can adjust a home’s temperature to match a person’s schedule, tomorrow’s robotics solutions will be able to respond to employee data and make changes that ensure a clean, healthy commercial environment.

Telemetry-based solutions that combine data analytics and machine learning to create a responsive user experience will allow workers to enhance the management of their physical environment. Signage and dashboards within the workplace will enable transparency and reassurance for employees working in-person. When data across these systems is appropriately integrated, these technology solutions can rebuild trust in commercial environments.

Of course, automation does not happen overnight. It requires a laddered approach, and building this ladder begins one step at a time. Robotics succeed when they have a finite problem to solve. By layering solutions one upon the other and integrating these solutions into a single data flow, companies can drive great leaps in smart environments. 

The last year has driven rapid growth in innovation, and it remains to be seen what type of technology will make up tomorrow’s shared spaces. However, all of these solutions will need to be connected to create a truly responsive commercial environment. When data is siloed, the technology is siloed. Integration across systems is the next step to smarter commercial environments.

How SoftBank Robotics can help

At SoftBank Robotics, we believe in the critical need for data integration because our experience in robotic process automation and collaborative robotics has given us insight into the challenges of disconnected automation systems. Connecting data and supporting the two-way movement of data between systems allows building users to extract greater value from building and business insights. Our leadership in innovative, collaborative robotics is just the beginning of how SoftBank is helping create the workplace of the future.

To discover how SoftBank Robotics is working to deliver new value for the next digital transformation, contact us today.