Smart workplaces

Lewis Beck, Johnson Controls Workplace Strategy Lead EMEA, on the synergy between workspace utilisation and energy efficiency.
Smart workplaces
By Lewis Beck
Sun 11 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

With over 17 000 people managing 0.139 billion square metres (1.5 billion square feet) of corporate real estate in 90 countries, Global Workplace Solutions has been included in the Global Outsourcing 100 by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals.

"It is part of the Building Efficiency business of Johnson Controls, a leading service provider of mechanical equipment and systems controlling heating, ventilation, air-con, lighting, security and fire management in non-residential buildings," explains Beck. Services include complete mechanical and electrical maintenance.

Building Efficiency is involved in over 500 global renewable energy projects, ranging from solar to wind and geothermal energy. The division's solutions are estimated to have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 13.6 million tons, generating total savings of US$7.5 billion since 2000. This vast experience has been brought to bear on some major corporate clients in the Middle East, says Beck.

Johnson Controls itself is a global diversified technology and industrial giant represented in 150 countries, focusing on solutions that optimise energy and operational efficiencies of buildings. The company's commitment to sustainability dates back to 1885, with the invention of the first electric room thermostat.

The latest trend is tenant energy management, such as the system that Johnson Controls is pioneering at the Empire State Building refurbishment project in New York. Every floor will be sub-metered, and individual tenants can opt for their own meters and  monitor consumption via a Web site.

But what about the workplaces themselves? This is where Global Workplace Solutions fits in. "We see workplaces as opportunities to make big contributions to a company's bottom line," says Beck. Global Workplace Solutions does this by focusing on the entire real-estate lifecycle. This is critical, as real-estate costs are often the second-highest item on the balance sheet of a company. "Hence reducing the amount of space needed by optimising its utilisation will have a significant impact on a company's bottom line," says Beck.

"This is particularly relevant in Dubai, where the recent boom saw companies occupying a lot of office space commensurate with their corporate status. Now with the downturn companies are seeking to cut costs and reduce overheads, with energy efficiency and workspace optimisation emerging as the two major trends in this regard," says Beck.

"What we do at the outset is conduct an audit of the workplace in question in order to determine how the space is utilised. It is critical to gather this sort of information before any improvements can be suggested or properly formulated," says Beck. This is often the most fraught part of the process, as it is often seen as an interrogation of a company's culture.

However, Global Workplace Solutions has the latest technology at its disposal to ensure the initial, fact-gathering part of the process is rigorously scientific. "This goes a long way to reassuring companies," says Beck. The Visible Living Lab, as it is known, is a Web-based space management and real-time occupancy tool developed by Johnson Controls.

"It helps businesses see in real-time where their workspace is occupied, and how it is being used. With this intelligence, companies are able to improve space utilisation, increase staff productivity and gain savings from strategic property management," explains Beck. The tool uses RF smart tags to provide real-time intelligence.

The benefits of adopting such an approach are obviously financial, with potential occupancy savings of 20% to 30%. In addition, the accumulation of accurate data not only improves decision-making, but allows for location-based security and response in the event of any emergency, adds Beck. Another benefit of this process is it attunes companies to current trends and developments with regard to workplace management.

"A lot of workplace utilisation improvement is predicated on a mindshift change in culture and behaviour. It is often difficult for established companies to gain a comprehensive overview of their work patterns; we are able to provide such a viewpoint, which impacts directly on sustainability and profitability," says Beck. It also allows companies to benchmark themselves against global competitors.

What are some of the latest workplace trends? One thing Beck is confident of is that the traditional office set-up is here to stay. "There is a lot of talk about the demise of the office due to flexi-work and the freedom allowed by advances in telecoms and the Internet. However, workspaces are important for companies to brand themselves and inculcate a corporate culture among their employees," says Beck.

The future of the ‘smart' workplace is being shaped by various factors and trends. Buildings are no longer sustainable by merely incorporating ‘green' technology; sustainability is increasingly being measured by space utilisation efficiency. "This helps reduce vacant office space, which is an important consideration in Dubai at the moment," says Beck.

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