Managing and coordinating a complex, continually changing building-environment or power, transport or security system requires a full understanding of the situation, what the possible responses are, and what is most likely to happen if you, say, divert power from one area to another. This means that companies which are strong in analytics and artificial intelligence and which can “learn” and adapt to new scenarios should prosper.
Operators will also need to understand the social and political ramifications of their services. On the one hand governments and city leaders are constantly looking for ways to make the areas that they govern more efficient and competitive, more attractive to live and work in and more environmentally friendly. They are also looking for more effective ways of communicating with their citizens, whether it is in sending out information and alerts or in soliciting their opinions. Smart technology has a huge contribution to make in each of these areas.
While building automation systems have been around for some time, the latest wave of smart technology offers the chance to collect and analyse a lot of data, and to use this to improve performance. In principle, any device, including small components, can now be designed to return data about its current status, and to show, when they may need replacing.
Given that buildings also affect the performance of people - something as simple as an increase or decrease in temperature may affect productivity - it is now possible to analyse the impact of changes to the building’s state on the workforce, whether it is “self-reported” or collected through sales figures, performance reviews or other metrics.
At the same time, the spectre of a “brave new smart world”, and one that is increasingly interconnected, is raising understandable concerns: the smart meter, one of the key links in the smart evolutionary chain, is attracting opposition, both on grounds of arguments about its cost-effectiveness, but perhaps more tellingly, fears about the personal data that can potentially be collected.
Increasing levels of automation, interconnection and sophistication have also increased the fear of cyber-attacks, as something that could compromise the functioning, the security or even the safety of a building or of a larger scale system, such as a power or transport network. 2013 has seen reports of building control systems being hacked into, including both “smart homes” and high-profile offices, highlighting the fact that an interconnected world is in some ways potentially a more vulnerable one. While specific threats can invariably be addressed once identified, this problem raises the stakes and means that the smart world is also likely to remain a “battleground of wits” between those pursuing greater efficiency and interactivity on the one hand, and those seeking to cause disruption for whatever reason.
History suggests that societies adapt to new technologies, and initial glitches will be overcome, but there will be a trade-off point, which may differ from one city or society to another as to how much information and control organisations and individuals are willing to share, and for what benefit.
Henry Lawson is a Market Research Consultant at BSRIA Worldwide Market Intelligence. Contact us on +44 (0)1344 465610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.