The term “smart building” was coined in the 1980s after networking and connectivity changed what could be done in the built environment. Today that term is taking on new meaning, driven by growing possibilities for a new, more elevated idea of “smart.”
The internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) have great potential to help building owners, operators, and occupants manage and dwell in buildings with greater efficiency—saving costs and energy, and organizing space in a way that best fits a company’s culture and goals. These benefits apply to a variety of spaces. For instance, hospitals, stadiums, and factories can all be smarter, and the same applies to the electrical grids that connect them and the cities that contain them.
At the Microsoft Build developer conference last month, we shared our vision for ambient intelligence in the modern workplace, which includes the convergence of AI, IoT, and productivity tools that help organizations create a more productive and collaborative workplace. But with changing workplace trends, new lease accounting rules, and increased pressure to minimize costs and operate more sustainably, there has also been expanding interest in applying IoT and AI to transform the ways we experience and manage real estate.
IoT and AI help strengthen the connection between the intelligent cloud and the physical world. Using data to create a “digital twin” (a virtual model of people, spaces and devices), we can analyze how space is used and optimize it to better serve people’s needs at every level—from energy efficiency to employee satisfaction and productivity.
Today at the IBcon/Realcomm conference in Las Vegas, we’re taking steps toward this vision with new partner announcements and product capabilities. Specifically, we are adding new Azure IoT capabilities that make it easy to create, scale, manage, and secure solutions that take advantage of spatial intelligence. This will pave the way for a range of new applications that bring the next level of “smart” to life.
New spatial intelligence capabilities
Earlier this spring, we announced that Microsoft is investing $5 billion in IoT over the next four years. Our goal is to simplify the journey in IoT so any customer, no matter where they are starting from, can create trusted, connected solutions. Part of that investment is dedicated to supporting solutions that model the relationships and interactions between people, places, and devices.
Today we’re announcing new Azure IoT spatial intelligence capabilities that enable such modeling to take connected devices a step further in the world of IoT. For example, in an office environment spatial intelligence can enable better management of heating, cooling, and room-booking systems based on how the space is actually used.
These new Azure IoT capabilities include relationship modeling via topologies and ontologies, advanced sensor processing, support for multi- or nested-tenants, and role-based access control. The features enable partners to focus on innovation at the application level instead of building from scratch.
This functionality combined with the ability to query data in the context of a space—rather than from disparate sensors—sets our partners up to build repeatable and scalable spatially aware solutions. Partners can create AI experiences that are uniquely relevant because of the ability to correlate data from across the digital and physical world, thereby unlocking new opportunities to improve consumer experiences, create new efficiencies, and improve the spaces in which we reside.
These new platform capabilities are currently in limited preview, and will move into public preview later this year.
Partners to showcase the new capabilities at IBcon/Realcomm
At the Microsoft booth at IBcon/Realcomm, eight of our limited preview partners will demonstrate how these new Azure IoT platform capabilities have dramatically accelerated time to results, each within their own domain of expertise. We are excited about what these partners have built in a relatively short time period. Here are just a few examples:
- Willow is creating a digital environment for a physical world. Their new platform, the ‘Willow Twin’ is an enterprise solution revolutionizing the way we will build, operate, and experience the built environment. Willow’s platform gathers data from across a built asset (including design information, asset data, manuals, warranty info etc.) and develops an intelligent digital twin. The ‘Willow Twin’ leverages the new Azure IoT capabilities to deliver a solution with enterprise reliability and security, with the ability to manage IoT devices and store sensor data at scale. Willow enables users to find information based on the spatial layout of the objects in a building, leveraging the new contextual storage nodes capability of Azure IoT, which leads to precise and relevant insights into building performance. Through innovations such as this, Willow is enabling buildings and infrastructure to be more interactive and adaptive to their inhabitants and continually improve their own operations over time.
- L&T Technology Services (LTTS) and Microsoft expanded their existing partnership for smart city, campus, and building solutions based on Microsoft Azure to also address occupancy and space management for enterprise customers. LTTS’s i-BEMS platform, which provides energy, sustainability, occupancy, and spaces cloud-based asset utilization and performance management, now uses the new Azure IoT capabilities and connects with Dynamics 365 for Field Service. With these new capabilities, i-BEMS can show a building occupant what rooms are occupied in a building, show a building operator work orders and cases, and trigger work order tickets to a mobile app. This enables real-time action by facility management teams, including security guard dispatch, janitorial services scheduling, and any other service relying upon occupancy data. LTTS chose Azure IoT for security and scale, and the ability to connect with Dynamics 365 for Field Service to deliver a faster ROI for facility management and operations use cases. Today, LTTS is announcing availability of these new features in North America.
- Winvision has been working in close collaboration with Microsoft to develop the next version of BeSense to leverage the new Azure IoT spatial intelligence capabilities. Winvision is the Dutch technological partner of BeSense, an initiative of construction company Heijmans and hygiene company CSU, that creates an innovative sensor system to provide property managers with real-time insight into occupancy levels and the circumstances of workplaces and spaces in buildings. Winvision uses the sensor processing power and space topology service in the new Azure IoT capabilities to enhance the new BeSense product. “We’re very happy and proud to be able to contribute to these services that will give a kick start to other organizations which want to develop a Smart Building solution themselves.” – Remco Ploeg, Senior Solution Architect at Winvision.
Accelerating partners across industries
Azure IoT is accelerating smart building solutions across a wide range of partners, including workplace design firms, large global ISVs, and companies spanning the tenant experience, facilities management, building infrastructure, construction, and IoT solution provider industries. Across these sectors, Microsoft brings cloud, IoT, and AI capabilities, and partners layer on their domain expertise.
Steelcase, a company with a 106-year history of designing for workspaces, was the first adopter of the new Azure IoT capabilities, leveraging them to build Steelcase Workplace Advisor. They are further extending this use in the new Steelcase Find Mobile app. The Find mobile app helps workers connect with the space, tools, and people they need to do their best work. The app works with Steelcase Workplace Advisor and Microsoft Exchange Office 365 to empower employees to quickly find and easily reserve the best space and choose the size, technologies, and amenities to support the task at hand. This is made possible by the Azure IoT space topology and sensor processing capabilities, a great example of how Microsoft and Steelcase work together to design solutions that create a great employee experience by bringing people, place, and technology together holistically, as an interconnected ecosystem.
Convene transforms the way people meet, work, and innovate by partnering with the world’s most prominent commercial property owners to design and service the next generation office building. Convene’s amenitized workplaces are akin to full-service lifestyle hotels. With a focus on technology in the workplace, Convene-enabled buildings connect tenants to physical spaces using mobile devices and real-time anonymous data, with many of its data and sensor-enabled services now built on new Azure IoT capabilities. This partnership will create seamless tenant experiences and deliver valuable data insights to commercial property owners which will help them better understand and manage their spaces.
CBRE, the world’s leading commercial real estate firm, launched CBRE 360 earlier this year. CBRE 360 is a customizable, connected workplace solution which gives property investors and occupants a single, seamless access point to building amenities and services. Powered by the new Azure IoT capabilities, the CBRE 360 mobile app and platform allows users to navigate the workplace, set up meetings with colleagues, reserve workspaces, access food and beverage services, and access building and concierge services.
Tork, Essity‘s world-leading Professional Hygiene brand, is now rapidly acquiring customers with Tork EasyCube the world’s leading facility management software that empowers cleaners and facility managers with real-time data on cleaning needs to dramatically improve efficiency, user satisfaction and staff motivation. Essity’s partnership with Microsoft Azure will enable a new digital cloud platform for Essity to deliver even better products and services. “Working with Microsoft as a global partner makes us scalable and stronger in any future ecosystem because we become more accessible with a well-known platform.” – Robert Sjöström, SVP, Strategy & Business Development, Essity. EasyCube is taking advantage of the new Azure IoT topology, sensor processing, and role-based access control, all with custom hardware.
In the construction sector, Microsoft joined forces with PCL Construction to fuel joint innovation and development of smart building implementations. PCL is leveraging advanced Azure IoT capabilities to develop the next generation of smart building solutions. For example, PCL uses the topology to represent customers, campuses, construction building sites, and specific areas. They make use of the platform’s role-based access control features and leverage the platform’s notification features to send alerts about construction sites that are dangerous or require additional attention. Being able to build on top of the new capabilities has enabled PCL to focus on their goals of increasing construction efficiency and safety, increasing occupant satisfaction and productivity, and gaining actionable insights to make a positive impact on the planet.
Honeywell, a global leader in Connected Buildings and Azure partner, connects building occupants and managers to their workplaces via the Honeywell Vector Occupant App, to help simplify the life of the building manager, enhance the occupant experience, and promote improved building operations efficiency. For example, in Minnesota, the Honeywell app is helping pedestrians navigate the Minneapolis Skyway System. The app taps IoT connectivity to offer indoor location, mapping, routing, presence, proximity notifications, and analytics—all embedded into an integrated platform. Honeywell has chosen Azure to help power their building infrastructure solutions.
IoT Solutions Providers and Hardware Manufacturers
IoT solutions providers and hardware companies are finding value in the new Azure IoT capabilities as well. Yanzi, a Swedish tech company that offers sensors infrastructure for smart buildings, is providing wireless IoT sensors, an IoT network stack, and a complete cloud platform that runs on Azure and utilizes the new platform features. The solution is already used by facility management suppliers and real-estate owners worldwide.
Rigado provides IoT device connectivity and edge infrastructure to companies delivering large-scale commercial IoT solutions—reducing complexity, cost, and risk through a unique Edge-as-a-Service model. Their Cascade IoT Gateway solution and certified wireless modules integrate with Azure IoT to enable smart building solutions at scale, and are used by commercial office building and global retail customers worldwide.
Other partners include Sharp and Avocor. See the recent announcement of a new category of teamwork devices: Windows Collaboration Displays. These large, interactive displays include built-in sensors that can connect to Azure IoT spatial intelligence capabilities.
Creating a secure platform
Connected spaces bring devices and sensors into our day-to-day environment. With these devices comes the need to secure them. Last month we announced the preview of Microsoft Azure Sphere, a new solution for creating highly secured, internet-connected microcontroller devices. Azure Sphere will play an important role in helping connected spaces remain secure.
These new spatial intelligence capabilities are being developed as part of the Azure IoT platform to give our partners all the scale, reliability, compliance, security, and privacy benefits Microsoft Azure is known for. With the most comprehensive compliance offerings of any cloud provider and $1B invested in security every year, Microsoft is working around the clock to secure and protect data wherever it lives—from the cloud to the edge.
Connecting spaces to build smarter cities
IoT is transforming one industry after another, driving massive growth in the adoption of connected and intelligent devices. The ability to model both the digital and physical worlds—and better understand how humans interact with spaces—will transform the built environment. When designed in an open, secure, and inclusive way, smart buildings can also boost productivity, such as equipping facilities technicians to repair equipment before it breaks or allowing office tenants to find space for an immediate meeting.
Spatial intelligence will impact how building owners, operators, occupants, and visitors interact with office, education, retail, hospital, hospitality, stadium, campus, and ultimately city environments. The idea of a smart city covers diverse domains such as urban mobility, transportation, traffic, housing and buildings, energy, water, civic engagement, public safety and security. Cities won’t truly get smart until cross-domain solutions are connected together and data is shared.
Azure IoT is bringing the spatial intelligence that will help unlock that value at broader scale—and enhancing spaces to be more sustainable, enjoyable, and inclusive.