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Smart managers get help from smart offices

New technologies make it possible to offer more comfortable working environments while improving efficiency. Local providers explain the benefits of making a workplace more intelligent. 

The popular brand Loxone tries out its applications at the company’s ‘basecamp’ in Kollerschlag, Upper Austria.

The typical office is in use at least eight hours a day, and often much longer, so it makes sense that it be adapted to take advantage of existing technologies for controlling its environment. Smart offices facilitate the working processes by helping to create a habitat that is not only comfortable for those functioning within it, but is also energy efficient.

In fact, cost is the main motivating factor for installing a smart system, either at home or at the office, according to László Kovács, CEO of Smart Home Magyarország. Although his company name suggests that he focuses on homes, Kovács says that about 10% of his clients are now approaching him in search of smart office solutions. 

While the concept of smart homes has existed in Hungary for more than ten years, in varying degrees of sophistication, the idea of smart offices only caught on in the last couple of years. The difference between the two systems is apparently negligible.
“A 12-story office building is no more complicated to outfit than a family home,” says András Schmidt, owner of smart system engineering company Verdom. “If you write a program for a given office you can easily copy and paste that system into all other office interfaces.”

There is a common misconception, however, that if you can control it with your smartphone or tablet then any device you install in your office is part of the smart system, whether it is the printer that notifies you when ink is running low, or the coffee maker that you can control remotely. But these are merely island systems; although smart in their own right, they cannot be fully integrated into your smart system, and nor do they need to be.
“What makes a building smart is when all the systems work together: when my thermostat that controls the temperature can also control my blinds, and the sensors that control my lights also control my heating. It’s important that these components be completely integrated into the smart system,” explains Schmidt, who is also the creator of the Etalon system, which measures environmental data, such as temperature, humidity and air quality, including CO2 levels.

A truly smart configuration is a system that is enhanced through the presence of other components. For example, during a hot summer’s day it’s essential that the blinds be drawn on your large office window, otherwise the air-conditioning system will kick in unnecessarily. Conversely, in the winter, the blinds should be up, to allow the sun to heat the space. “Motion sensors can also activate, to determine what areas of an office need to be heated based on the occupancy and use of those areas. Where there is no movement, the heating operates at a lower level,” explains Kovács. Additionally, lighting sensors can assess the level of ambient light coming from outside and based on that information, adjust the lumen levels of the interior lights accordingly, while an open window can signal that the airconditioning or heating system should stop overproducing hot, or cold air. An integrated smart system can make these executive decisions for you, assuming it’s equipped and programmed in the right way.

As a user, you can rely on a technician to create all these configurations for you and the only thing to limit the construction is the budget. What’s important to keep in mind, particularly when you’re building a new office, is that you build a system that can be expanded upon, which in the case of one of the more popular brands, Loxone, operates as extendable modules that run off a miniserver in bus formation: Each port has its own address that communicates with the interface, in this case the custom-made program on your tablet or smartphone that replaces wall switches and thermostats, explains Schmidt.

Working within your budget

Although the idea of installing a fully integrated smart system may sound like a costly endeavor, there are more costeffective ways to go about it. A wired system is of course the most reliable but if a business is looking for a cheaper and more portable alternative, wireless systems can do the job, assuming your office is not too big. “If your office spans three floors for example, the radio frequency system won’t work since it’s not very effective in transmitting through floors,” says Kovács, who adds that amplifiers run in the range of HUF 50,000 if you choose to go the wireless route in a larger single floor office. Additionally, since wireless systems are modular, you can buy each component one piece at a time, as your budget allows, explains Schmidt.

Another way to determine what functions you might need most is to carry out a detailed assessment of the usage patterns of your office. “If a client comes to me and would like this kind of system, I would first suggest that we measure the various energy expenditures, such as electricity, gas and water, to see how we can improve on energy efficiency in the long-term,” says Schmidt.

The future of smart offices

Monitoring space usage through sensors can also help companies build better offices in the future, and the technologies for carrying out such data collection – and to some extent analysis of that data – are already in place. Such analysis would be most applicable in the case of a workforce that is both present in the office and operating remotely. It would help that office decide how best to share tasks or work collaboratively through contentsharing tools, for example.

The outsourcing of IT departments is also becoming more commonplace in the modern offices, as cumbersome servers are replaced with cloud-based technologies. Although these are not part of the traditional smart offices of today, they are certainly a consideration for the smart offices of the future, as executives and office managers seek to integrate that data into smart office developments.