Smart buildings and cities are becoming less of a rarity, attracting both tech-savvy entrepreneurs and established businesses.
The smart city environment fosters thriving communities, where businesses can excel and their people can work happily, achieving their full potential. More than this, they help businesses to cut costs, streamline operations and increase profit margins.
One of the key factors in today’s productive workplace is access to a fast, secure and reliable Internet connection. In fact, it is usually among the top ‘wish list’ items for prospective tenants.
Without it, productivity can decrease, communication, both external and internal, is compromised, stress ensues and profits can drop. But how can businesses be sure, when deciding upon a smart city space, that your connectivity will be all they need it to be?
According to Emma MacLeod of Hurley Palmer Flatt, a building services and engineering consultancy, connectivity certification is an increasingly sought-after element for prospective tenants.
MacLeod said: "Companies such as Wired Score and Honeywell provide systems that allow criteria to be measured, so that tenants can have an overview of a building’s connectivity, which can also be compared against others.
"This type of information can be used as part of an active marketing strategy in order to attract prospective tenants, as well as providing reassurance. Such certification allows for better understanding of performance, together with the promotion and improvement of digital infrastructure.”
Whilst good connectivity is a priority, how many businesses consider how secure their Internet connection is?
Cybersecurity certification could be helpful, given the increasing number of cyber-attacks we now see. For example, I wonder how many people stroll the corridors of a building searching out an unsecured Wi-Fi router to log on to? What if an unauthorised person gains entry to floors where they may be able to obtain access to a network: are they able to view all of the information, or have good data security and physical access systems been installed? Are all of the packets of data that are travelling around the ‘backbone’ of the network encrypted? How about a shared access communications room? Security of cable control and management systems is critical since, once on to the ‘backbone’ of a system, untold damage can be done by eavesdropping on network cabling.
It is also good practice to offer two types of Internet connection, one for those employed by the company and one for its guests. This way, the business is able to manage the areas visitors can access, protecting any sensitive information, which is particularly pertinent now given the arrival of the GDPR.
Of course, the very best method of ensuring reliable and secure connectivity is to incorporate the strategies within the original design of the building, ensuring there is scope for future-proofing so as to avoid obsolescence, both physical and financial. This may be the optimal situation, but for many existing buildings this is not an option. Some older buildings run on outdated technology which itself gives rise to unsecured systems, an unenviable situation. As Emma MacLeod explains, ‘The Internet of Things is a growing area and the rush to connect everything to everything else means that some systems could be weak in regard to access control and therefore having the ability to separate them from the ‘backbone’ becomes a challenge, but one that always needs to be considered when connectivity is the driver. Often such decisions are taken after installation, which can result in costly modifications to cable infrastructure or re-routing of ducting.’
Presently, there is no legislation that requires new building design to incorporate a standard for connectivity or its security. Therefore, the smart building/city has become ‘the carrot’ to entice the savvy, tech-wise business.
A proposed revision to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (the European Union’s main legislative instrument aiming to promote the improvement of the energy performance of buildings) will introduce a ‘smartness indicator’ that assesses the technological capability of buildings in energy self-production and consumption and set clearer requirements for national databases on energy performance certificates. However, this raises the question of to what extent a building’s management system will have to shut down operating systems in order to meet such criteria and how far security systems, be they data or physical, will be required to shut down or go into sleep mode. This could well be a source of data breaches in the future.
According to MacLeod, the WELL Certification (the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness) may tie in with smart buildings, as it considers the performance of buildings and air quality, amongst other features, and could shine a light on issues such as the technological environment that surrounds occupants of these spaces. The mass of radio waves from mobile, Wi-Fi and sensor devices, for example, are constantly competing for bandwidth, often causing clashes which result in network outage or poor performance. If we are pushing to have our building better connected, we need to be mindful not to fall foul of environmental controls such as these.
Uncompromised Internet connections or open network cabling, together with the security of all data, will continue to be some of the major business management issues of our time. Connectivity certification is certainly a welcome tool and data security is an absolute must for businesses and individuals alike.