In recent years, you’ve probably heard people talk about: the internet of things, digital transformation, digital buildings, converged networks, and smart buildings. But, do you know what they mean? Or what makes these words so important in the day-to-day business operations of a company, and how they are related to each other?
Understanding the Digital Transformation
A digital transformation is the result of technological innovations that are aligned with and driven by a well-planned business strategy. Its goal is to dramatically improve how companies serve their customers and employees, and ultimately support their business operations. To put it simply, we optimize our environments, networks and operations to collect and leverage data across every conceivable platform and then use this data to make real-time changes to the workplace.
Think of this: by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet through a variety of intranets and IT hubs. At a consumer level, this can mean smartphones, smart watches and other wearables, cars, entertainment systems, thermostats, and security cameras. All of these are connected to give you constant, real-time information that you can use as you see fit.
Connectivity Through the Internet of Things
Similarly, today’s companies are increasingly becoming more connected in the same way by leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT).
The main benefit of IoT is derived from the connectivity of these billions of smart objects. While the data of these individual item produces is of little value, IoT enables it to be processed and correlated with other inputs to produce relevant and timely information. It can then be used in real-time as actionable knowledge by IoT-enabled applications. In the long run, it can be used to gain deeper understandings for the purpose of developing proactive policies, processes, responses, and plans.
The Rise of Smart Buildings
Whether they are called digital, intelligent, or smart, these buildings are creating two network environments — communications and facilities networks — and converging their disparate building systems. This means they’re bringing energy management, safety, security, communications, lighting, and all other building systems into a single platform that optimizes building operations, maintenance, and employee performance and capabilities.
The Benefits of Converged Networks
Some of the benefits of converged networks and an IoT device rich environment include:
- Reduced energy expenses and increased sustainability
- Reduced operational expenses
- Improved analytics via integrated networks
- Real-time maintenance updates
- Integrated controls and systems
- Optimized space utilization
- Optimized real estate usage
- Reduced real estate usage
- Increased productivity and safety
- Improved comfort and control
- Adaptive lighting environment
- Enhanced performance
Building Digital Skylines
All of these same principles apply to the rising new wave of “smart cities.” For much of this decade, a wide variety of countries and cities around the globe have spearheaded efforts to develop “smart” policies and leverage the opportunities provided by a digital transformation.
For example, the SmartAmerica Challenge, launched in 2013 by the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows, provided funding and incentives to create test beds that would bring Cyber-Physical Systems research in touch with various smart manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and transportation projects.
In 2015, the Obama administration announced a grant of $160-million to encourage the creation of software and IoT applications that will help local communities improve their city services. Similarly, that same year, India launched the Smart Cities Mission, an elaborate $14-billion urban renewal and retrofit program designed to develop 100 smart and sustainable cities across the country over five years.
From Singapore and Dubai, to Madrid and Boulder, smart city initiatives address issues such as:
- Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions
- Traffic patterns and parking
- Internet access
- Bill payments
- Government applications
- Power consumption and distribution management
- Emergency services and utility response
- Security and surveillance
- Sustainability policy
- Building occupancy
The Future of Smart Cities
The smart city industry is estimated to reach $400-billion by next year, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. A wide variety of companies, including Cisco, Intel, IBM, Verizon, GE Lighting, and Siemens are heavily focused on their smart technologies, and that is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing for what’s next and the myriad products, solutions, and services will be involved.
But just as a smart city needs smart buildings to help it get — and stay — connected, smart infrastructures of all sizes require sensors, switches, cables, cameras, software, and hardware to gather, transmit, receive, and analyze data.
Despite the benefits, transforming buildings and cities into digital environments it's a challenge – and can be overwhelming to initiate and operationalize.
Partnering for Digital Transformation Success
Working with a partner, like WESCO, can assist in simplifying the evolution of a digital transformation. This can be done by helping to identify the necessary products and solutions required to transform networks, facilities, processes, and employees while saving time and money. WESCO can help to manage every stage of a digital transformation by providing technical expertise, design consultations, best-in-class products and procurement, logistical management and services, supply chain solutions, and responsive customer service.
Whether you’re an integrator tasked with helping a customer retrofit an intelligent lighting system, or a building owner contemplating a sustainable new office park, finding the right partner can pave the way for digital building success.
This post was updated in September 2019.