Futureproof your business with smart room sensors
A central reservations management software is a common-sense way to improve the efficiency of meeting room bookings. But while the short-term benefits are largely to user satisfaction, the long-term focus is on broader gains in efficiency.
As a result, room sensors are often a key part of future planning, with the intention to improve occupancy and space utilization through the collection of various sensor data. This plotting of scenarios and preferred outcomes is central to the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. And it is driving exciting new developments in data analytics and machine learning.
What many businesses fail to realize, however, is how easily they can implement a multitude of scenarios. The benefits of one kind of sensor can be easily scaled up using the same infrastructure, delivering a significantly larger return on investment with little additional expenditure.
The need for room sensors
From space management to energy conservation, optimizing occupancy is at the forefront of facility management. The necessary and sensible step to improving this is the deployment of room sensors. Feature rich CAFM software and the evolving art of data science can record and analyse this data more effectively than ever, highlighting patterns and establishing clear goals.
Meetings and reservations management solutions stand to benefit from this greatly. The implementation of sensors to track room data provides vital information for remote and direct room booking. Information such as current room occupancy and environmental status may have a significant impact on the user’s decision making. It also helps workplace managers to optimize meeting spaces.
Improvements in wireless technology, microchips, and power usage mean that businesses can install powerful and compact room sensors at any location. These sensors collect and relay different data in real time. However, collecting this data wirelessly requires new network standards, which are optimized for bare minimum data transmission, resulting in extended sensor autonomy.
Connecting people and devices
New wireless standards have been developed specifically for this web of networked devices, known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) technology allows battery-operated sensors to transmit data at a long distance, with minimal power draw.
Whereas thick walls and electronic interference may prevent the use of Wi-Fi, the low-frequency signals of LPWANs can carry smaller amounts of data from a multitude of connected devices without direct line of sight. Furthermore, they allow secure and bidirectional communication. This enables, for example, the definition of thresholds that trigger alerts when they are exceeded.
LoRa (low power – long range) is one of the prevailing technology choices for building wireless IoT networks, next to alternatives such as Sigfox, Ingenu, cellular and Wi-Fi. Each IoT use case is basically a trade-off between communications distance, transfer speed, bandwidth, power consumption, and more. Businesses will prioritize these criteria differently in different IoT scenarios, which may result in different technologies offering the best fit.
There is a wide variety of approaches to the connectivity of things. Keep in mind that a future-proof IoT platform must offer the flexibility to accommodate various hardware options.
What this means in practice is a new wireless network that can support multiple types of room sensors. The network will be well capable of simply monitoring one metric, such as occupancy data for a set of meeting rooms. This will provide quality data for that scenario, allowing for observations to be drawn on usage. However, without additional sensor data (e.g. temperature) to cross reference, there may be patterns in usage that are not immediately obvious.
The advantage of installing hardware to support wireless sensors is that it is simple to implement additional scenarios. The same technology and infrastructure used to measure occupancy is equally capable of collecting information on temperature or humidity. Extra sensors are relatively cheap and easy to install, and you can easily configure most CAFM software to detect and correctly interpret new data sources. There is also a growing trend for office furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) to be pre-fitted with sensors. Even doormats now come with sensors to measure foot traffic.
Indoor positioning – tracking movements of people or assets through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for example – adds another dimension. It allows activating additional scenarios for end users such as quickly locating co-workers in a free seating environment or receiving a notification when a team member enters the building. It enables FM teams to provide location-based services and is invaluable in emergency situations or evacuations. Of course, organizations should deploy indoor positioning solutions with respect for privacy concerns and regulations. Individual employees should have the possibility to opt out or have their data anonymized.
An environment that supports productivity
As well as providing new insight to facility managers, the sensor data can be viewed across a range of end-user touchpoints. Providing users with real-time insight on room conditions brings an enriched end-user experience and facilitates a more seamless transition from booking to reaching the meeting room. Managers can glean insights from analytics and adjust workspaces to fit team dynamics and collaboration patterns.
Sensor technology allows staff to work more flexibly and efficiently, in or out of the office. Employees may decide to work from home on a day the workplace is particularly crowded. Or check the availability of parking space or free meeting rooms even before arriving at the facility. They can remotely check for the most comfortable room, see when it becomes available and even adjust the room temperature.
This is not just useful for collecting sensor data, either. Supporting technologies can help to normalize and support this new information. Meeting room displays showing the current and upcoming occupancy can also be used to collect additional feedback using an ‘Emoji’ based system. Businesses can then correlate this satisfaction or dissatisfaction with information about occupancy, highlighting broad issues for further exploration.
This combination of wireless devices drawing on a single network offers supreme flexibility. A meeting room display can display live information on its assigned room, but you can also use it to send a ticket for cleaning or maintenance.
Any display, from a reception kiosk to wall-mounted digital displays, can potentially be retrofitted to receive real-time data over this wireless network. This information could include the canteen lunch menu in the morning, or weather and traffic information in the afternoon.
Meeting room sensors “know” when a booked room is empty. And you can easily configure the software to release the room if the sensors aren’t detecting anyone. Before this happens, the meeting host will get a push notification (or email) to inform them that their reservation is about to be cancelled.
In the near future, it is possible that sensors would be able to detect a spillage and automatically amend the cleaning schedule, or issue a maintenance ticket for a broken piece of hardware. Installing the technology to cater for room sensors puts you several steps ahead for the deployment of further scenarios.
The potential ROI for implementing a wireless network of devices is threefold. The most immediate return is in user productivity and happiness. Employees gain a tool that allows them to visualize room occupancy, making the process of finding and booking a suitable meeting room easier. The range of potential implementations in relation to room comfort, as well as the future impact of retaining customized user data for future bookings, stands to improve productivity and wellbeing.
The mid-term return concerns the impact to services. Through collecting and applying data on room usage, organizations can optimize cleaning and maintenance schedules, as well as automate the delivery of refreshments and equipment. This saves money and time spent unnecessarily checking equipment or cleaning rooms that have not seen sufficient use.
The long-term benefits apply to broad trends drawn from large sets of data. The application of machine learning, algorithms and analysis can establish patterns, and come up with solutions. People may use a room less during the morning because the default temperature is too low. Or you could decide to split into two a large room that is consistently booked by small groups. While this is already useful for a single scenario, additional scenarios provide more data to draw patterns between different metrics.
Introducing an IoT-supported network for a single scenario is thus very valuable in both the short and long term. Once users are familiar with the software, the easy implementation of new IoT devices is extremely cost-effective. The expanding capabilities of these sensors and long-range connectivity of the LPWAN standard looks set to enable all sorts of efficiency savings in the future.
Interested in learning more? Please feel free to contact the MCS team.