‘Internet of Things’ Becomes Vital to Commercial Real Estate in Post-COVID World

More than 9 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the commercial real estate industry finds itself in a precarious position. Shopping centers, office spaces, industrial sites, apartment buildings, and free-standing retail are core properties in the CRE world. Put another way, a huge part of the economy is tied up in the physical spaces people gather in for everyday purposes, such as work, entertainment, and shopping. But in a world where a current measure of success is how few people can share space at the same time, CRE developers and investors have unique challenges. 

Buildings and businesses remain in need of transformative solutions that will enable life to return to a semblance of normalcy in gathering, be it the workplace, dining, shopping, or celebrations. One growing sector of technology may hold the keys to successful CRE development in a post-COVID economy: the “Internet of Things,” also known as IoT.

IoT technology has been gaining traction for some years now, but until this moment, consumer adoption has been its major driver. Smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple Homepod dominate the smart home market. A home IoT hub connects various smart appliances by receiving a command or prompt, and acting on it or relaying it to the next appliance. Smart home devices can also automate routines or series of tasks to be performed in sequence. Each morning, a smart speaker can rouse its user with their favorite music, remind them to take the trash out, trigger the coffee pot to begin brewing, read upcoming calendar appointments for the day, and play that morning’s early edition news. 

While these clever automations may make home life more convenient, industrial and commercial decision-makers have been slow to adopt IoT within their industries due to concerns regarding security, cost, return on investment, and potential complications in deployment. A 2016 study by Bain IoT reported on these concerns, but since that time, IoT security concerns are down significantly. Major players with excellent reputations for security, such as IBM and Microsoft Azure, are doubling down on IoT investments and platforms. 

Industrial IoT (IIoT) platforms offer incredibly powerful abilities thanks to AI and machine learning, such as monitoring and analyzing data in real-time, enforcing conditional access to buildings or rooms via facial recognition, optimizing HVAC systems for changing occupancy throughout the day, and even doing the heavy lifting of manufacturing processes, which can speed up production time to allow for headcount reduction or payroll spending. 

Better Late Than Never

Despite the increasing adoption of AI and IoT in other industries, commercial real estate builders and owners have been slow to adopt and embrace the growing IoT (Internet of Things) market, perhaps operating under the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. However, in light of the pandemic and the necessity of on-demand, remote collaboration, IoT adoption is accelerating, and IoT is viewed as one of the most important technologies for 2021. To help their tenants accommodate a digital, remote infrastructure, builders and developers are now faced with the reality of massive technology upgrades to new and/or existing projects. 

For example, to re-imagine large gathering spaces, developers and engineers rely on intelligent utilization of floor plans, a 24/7 headcount for the building, and no-contact interactions that were previously high-touch hotspots, such as doorknobs, shared amenities, and point of sale. Tech giants such as Microsoft and Bosch, as well as startups in and out of Silicon Valley, are investing massive amounts of time and energy into tackling these challenges to create smarter, safer buildings in a post-pandemic world.

Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twins IoT platform is powering some of the most cutting-edge innovations in this space. Digital Twins is a platform as a service (PasS) that enables builders and problem solvers to create digital representations of real-world places, as well as business processes and people, for simulations and virtual scenario testing. The pairing of these physical and virtual worlds allows data analysis and systems monitoring to identify and prevent problems before they occur and to plan ahead for potential challenges. 

Spatial Intelligence

Spatial intelligence capabilities can help organizations maximize the value of their physical spaces by monitoring how a space is being used, understanding people’s movements and presence in near-real-time, creating apps that can optimize climate control, counting people in a room, measuring distances between people in a space, analyzing foot traffic in stores to understand “dwell time” in front of retail displays, or determining optimal wait times for managing socially distant queues.

In a smart-office, thermal imaging cameras can be used to identify temperature/body-heat anomalies, which may indicate if an individual has a fever. Meanwhile, smart sensors can be used to promote social distancing by identifying the areas in your office that generate the most congestion. Employee RFID cards, which many companies issue to employees for building, elevator, and suite access, can become even smarter tools to aid in contact tracing in the event someone in an office contracts COVID.

Workplace Sanitation

Even with social distancing and more contactless touchpoints throughout a building, increased sanitation is more important than ever before. Microsoft partner BrainLit has created a dynamic, self-learning IoT system called BioCentric Lighting, which emits UV light indoors and is said to promote natural circadian rhythm, which increases efficiency and improves sleep. Taking the technology a step further, BrainLit’s UVEN system combines UVC (ultraviolet-C) radiation with patented BioCentric Lighting, offering a smart, safe, and secure integrated solution for lighting and disinfection, with optimal usage of floor areas.

Powered by the Azure Sphere engine, BrainLit’s UVEN lighting allows for powerful sanitation at a much larger scale than plug-ins, robots, or UV wands, without disrupting business operations, according to the company. Thanks to Azure Sphere and machine learning, BrainLit’s system can adapt lighting and disinfection dose “recipes” to changing circumstances or CDC recommendations. 

Safety from the Ground Up

In India, construction companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) and data to aid in social distancing on the job site, and updating their standard operating procedures for post-COVID considerations. Large developers are utilizing smart thermal scanning and UV lighting to create “disinfection tunnels” at entry points to job sites. In the business office, developers are using ML (machine learning) and AI to use data they’ve collected to predict future outcomes on projects and gain competitive advantages when estimating and bidding on contracts. Back at the job site, AI monitors building progress with real-time actionable data to improve productivity and reduce time to completion, thus increasing profit margins.

The Challenge Is Far From Over

While a vaccine to create immunity to the coronavirus is on the horizon, the bedrock of safe work environments has been forever altered. Once the pandemic is behind us, it is likely that increased expectations of sanitation, social distancing (once simply called “personal space”), and accommodations for remote engagement across all sectors will become new standards. 

At this point in human history, we’re better equipped than ever to quickly respond to new circumstances in societal needs, thanks to advanced technology, machine learning, intelligent automations, cloud servers, and the interconnectedness of data streams. 

For more information and help building out your business’s IoT strategy, contact Windows Management Experts at (888) 307-0133 for industry-leading IT consulting and cloud roadmapping, or even to hire your own IoT expert for onsite projects or ongoing employment in your reopened workplace. With Windows Management Experts by your side, your business will make it through these challenging times and thrive in the economic recovery to come. 

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