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Today, everybody is talking about ‘smart buildings’. All too often we apply the term because someone somewhere added another sensor that can regulate climate, or one that can close a dock door, or maybe even switch lights on and off…

Evolution: when does Smart become Intelligent?

For me, the overuse of the term has begun to ring hollow. What does it mean when we talk about smart buildings anyway? Do we immediately classify a building with a few sensors as smart? …and does that mean that intelligent buildings are ones where there are lots of sensors?

Sensors by themselves don’t make a building smart. They also don’t make a building smarter the more you deploy. What makes a building intelligent however, is when you do something relevant with the data that you extract. A single sensor-fitted warehouse could provide meaningful utilisation insight for a customer, perhaps on something like energy consumption- a network however, provides a trove of fresh perspectives, capable of changing operational preferences and providing new solutions for an entire base.

Providing data solutions that make our customers’ lives easier is what it’s really all about for me. Even more so in recent years, since the company’s attention turned towards data innovation. The journey I’ve been on as part of Prologis Labs, working across the board with field teams, project managers, the global Innovations Groups and many keen individuals has taught me to embrace readily adaptable ideas and to plan value adding resources and applications to be ahead of what’s next.

Smart isn’t just a sensor. It’s using sensor information to anticipate changing customer needs, match correlating trends and answer utilisation questions around operational efficiency. This is the journey we’re on, continuously edging us closer to the autonomous warehousing whispers of the-not-so-far-away future.

Make sure you can
At its root is not only paving the way for IT, but creating a work environment mindset that embraces innovation, strives for operational excellence and is unafraid of offering solutions beyond four walls and a roof. The people who I work with firmly recognize the value of data and have the genuine ambition to make the lives of our customers easier. Our dedicated and interconnected innovations groups in Europe and beyond for instance, are in close contact with our customers, ideating and servicing the innovations that power the steady drumbeat towards customer satisfaction and autonomous warehousing.

But let’s not get ahead of the story. In the beginning, it very much was about adding sensors. We needed to figure out which ones were helpful to use, could yield insight and importantly, what protocols there should be to harness property data in our datalake.

Unlike so many vertical, vendor lock-in IOT solutions, our Prologis Labs solutions stream has the opportunity to be vendor independent, enabling internal data ownership. Creating the flexibility to fail fast and move on is essential to get to a point where we can facilitate our customer needs with real solutions. As an example, after careful analysis and research we chose to use mesh networks like Wirepas and Lorawan to develop specific use cases. Lab testing made way for real life testing, to verify that what we had successfully been piloting worked beyond the controlled environment. Initially, sensors where deployed across 200.000 square meters in 5 different buildings, showing just how possible it was to easily switch vendors, manage data streams and secure real building intelligence for our customers, as well as fuel new possibilities.

Challenges in the beginning were mainly about avoiding set-up impact on our customers’ operations. Larger environments inevitably mean more variables and as data is only valuable if you know where it comes from it is important to be able to scale solutions. Take temperature for example- you want to know where measurements are happening to be able to decide if there is an action that should be taken. In a larger area, like a multi room setup or near dock doors, you want to know the exact sensor location and what variable elements impact that particular reading. Factor in as well that each installed sensor then needs to be activated with the right metadata (position, height, etc.) to build a complete digital picture of what’s happening inside the building, using accurately relayed and usable information.

The smart jump really happened when gathered data began feeding AI learning. In the process of making a building smart, the intelligent part starts when detected signals and alarms trigger the brain to successfully read correlations and make a useful decision to control an individual or set of functions.

Edging past smart
With backbone infrastructure and deployable sensor kits easily included in standard and new development specs. and well on the path to autonomous function, a true standard of scalable smart building features is already emerging across our portfolio. Take into account a clear understanding of socio-economic market factors through our research team, or our global commitment to responsible development with regard to sustainability, wellbeing, circular and carbon neutral construction and it’s easy to spot how insight around utilisation can only heighten our customers’ operational capability.

The potential an intelligent building has to generate analytics and gather insights that do more than only read into its safety and wellbeing performance is limitless. Imagine connecting a building that optimizes its own performance, makes decisions independently and helps customers simply focus on the core of their business – that’s not just smart, that’s nearly intelligent.


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