How to smarten the Indian office space!
Real Estate

How to smarten the Indian office space!

Despite clear advantages, what’s holding back the development of smart office space? Charu Bahri explores.

__________

Here and there, Indian commercial realty is acquiring a new tag: ‘smart’.

Consider these real features of smart workplaces:

  • Lighting and shutters or curtains controlled automatically depending on the time of the day and occupancy.
  • Air-conditioning adjusted to the number of people inside the building, including visitors.
  • Meeting room lights that switch on only when a meeting is scheduled instead of always staying on.
  • Housekeeping staff that steps forward to clean a meeting room only after it has been used instead of daily by default.
  • Despite clear advantages, what’s holding back the development of smart office space? Charu Bahri explores.__________ Here and there, Indian commercial realty is acquiring a new tag: ‘smart’. Consider these real features of smart workplaces: Lighting and shutters or curtains controlled automatically depending on the time of the day and occupancy. Air-conditioning adjusted to the number of people inside the building, including visitors. Meeting room lights that switch on only when a meeting is scheduled instead of always staying on. Housekeeping staff that steps forward to clean a meeting room only after it has been used instead of daily by default. Sound good? “Smart offices use resources only when they are genuinely needed, which is much more efficient [than using resources per a regular schedule],” explains Sandeep Kaul, Co-Founder & CEO, Hipla Technologies. “Workplace smartness means the ability to manage employees, properties and assets using smart technologies,” says Pradeep Lala, MD & CEO, Embassy Services. Read on to better understand why smartness in an office is desirable. Smart savings Of the lifecycle cost of a building, 20 per cent is capex invested upfront and 80 per cent is operational expense, observes Prabal Bose, Vice-President - Regional Solutions & Services, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens India. If the building uses smart workplace solutions, the 80 per cent operational expense is reduced. “Our customers have been able to reduce their lighting consumption expenses by 50-60 per cent,” he affirms. Schneider Electric’s Internet of Things (IoT)-powered technological infrastructure EcoStruxure continuously collects data such as humidity, airflow, pressure, temperature, CO2, VoC and occupancy levels from sensors. All this data allows EcoStruxure, among other things, to help adjust HVAC setpoints to reduce energy consumption. “Equipment analytics, remote monitoring and comparing the real-world performance of HVAC equipment against a ‘digital twin’ helps verify HVAC operations, reduce the number of site visits, identify when and where intervention is required and reduce the need for preventative maintenance checks,” explains Sanjay Sudhakaran, Vice-President - Digital Energy, Schneider Electric India. “Remote root cause analysis and problem correction can fix about 80 per cent of problems.” Smart workplace solutions also yield returns by “directly impacting business revenue,” adds Bose. “For example, in a retail application, asset tracking can yield insights on customer behaviour, which can be used to re-strategise the business. Such cases improve the ROI of the solution.” Companies using tech-enabled processes tend to spend less in the long run while non-smart workplaces may spend more on just management of manpower, observes Lala. For instance, “a simple visitor management system for an office lobby would always have a better ROI than hiring a full-time receptionist,” suggests Kaul. Across Panchshil Realty’s ~17.5 million sq ft commercial office space portfolio, automated kiosks have replaced human resources for visitor management and ordering/payments in the larger food courts, shares Prakash Mirpuri, Executive Vice-President – Communications & Marketing, Panchshil Realty. Embassy Services uses a set of 12 tech tools labelled ‘e-spectrum’ for data-centric facility management. One such tool helps negate the use of manual logbooks, which traditionally need manual administration, thereby reducing the cost of paper and manual entry. That’s only the beginning of the advantages. Drivers beyond cost “Automation could be about cost savings,” explains Farook Merchant, Chairman & Managing Director, Messung Group of Companies. “But it could also be about workplace ergonomics for more productive employees, or even brand image.” Indeed. In enabling a safe, secure, helpful and productivity-enhancing environment, “smart workplaces help retain and attract talent from the digital generation,” points out Bose. With EcoStruxure, building occupants can use a mobile app to avoid over-occupied areas, find a parking spot, reserve a meeting room, or learn about community events, adds Sudhakaran. In a Gartner Inc study, 67 per cent of digital employees in India said that evolving technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and the IoT were increasing their productivity at work, quotes Sudhakaran. “Customers implementing Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure have reported up to 33 per cent fewer employee complaints and increases in worker productivity of up to 2 per cent.” “Smart workplaces help employees work better and faster and focus on business,” observes S N Tripathi, GM - MEP Services, Rudrabhishek Enterprises. “So, we are extensively digitising the amenities in a new building complex (REPL Knowledge Center) that is planned to be our next corporate office.” Although the ROI of smart workplace solutions is typically less than two to three years, intangible benefits such as improved employee productivity and right-sizing real estate with space utilisation analytics improve the actual ROI, observes Bose. More takers for smart offices are forcing the commercial real-estate industry to transition towards smart workplaces. In turn, “high absorption rates for sustainable low-carbon facilities and buildings offering digital amenities are driving up the value of smart assets,” observes Sudhakaran. “On average, smart buildings are worth 7 per cent more than traditional buildings and their demand is doubling every three years.” Lala believes the commercial office sector has adopted technology very quickly as many organisations find great value in being ‘green’ and need to comply with statutory norms. For instance, Embassy Services is certified for international frameworks of ISO, the British Safety Council and CII, and operate LEED and IGBC-certified buildings, thus necessitating top-of-the line waste management, housekeeping, environmental health and safety, employee welfare and sustainability initiatives. Pandemic push In the post-COVID world, smart conferencing solutions are the main driver of office automation because of the variety of devices used by employees, and the need for stable, good quality meetings over online platforms, opines Merchant. “Increased digital connected device usage, cyber security needs, Cloud adoption and actionable insights backed by data are the key drivers of smart workplaces,” agrees Sudhakaran. This impetus has, in turn, opened a dialogue about other facets like human-centric lighting, smart curtains, sensors in lavatories for a touch-free experience, avoiding switches cluttering the walls, and app-based control and voice control to avoid touching switches, explains Merchant. Lala believes redesigning workspaces with smart and contactless technologies is the need of the hour. “Boardrooms, front offices, cubicles and common areas such as pantries and recreational zones are key areas that need redesign.” Owing to the pandemic, Embassy Services has introduced a fully automated infrared thermal screening solution using AI and ML for highly accurate personnel temperature scans, thus automating the entire safety check.__________ Who’s smart? Primarily, big international companies and MNCs opening offices in India with some prior experience of automation opt for smart workplaces, but tend to prefer familiar prestige brands, says Merchant. Among the major takers for smart workplaces, Sudhakaran counts MNCs and SMEs with pan-India operations with a need to standardise the employee experience across office spaces, as well as the IT/ITES industry looking to establish secure connected networks for uninterrupted workflows. In the context of the pandemic, Kaul says demand has stemmed from tech offices, BPOs and pharmaceutical companies. Bose speaks of huge demand from IT/technology companies and co-working spaces for workplace experience apps and/or space booking apps to re-open offices. The Prestige Group has completed 112 commercial projects spanning 36 million sq ft. Speaking of the company’s 24 upcoming commercial projects spread over 42 million sq ft in some of the country’s major cities, Juggy Marwaha, Chief Executive Officer, Prestige Group, says “Our next-generation office buildings shall leverage the learning from the pandemic as well as technological advancement such as technology-driven predictive maintenance, automated car parking, destination-controlled elevators, double-decker elevators in high-rise buildings, IoT-enabled building management systems, QR code access, sensor-generated data for better user experience and face/retina sensor-based access control (as against RFID cards).” “We remain committed to offer tenants of our business parks and technology parks a hassle-free experience from the main door to the workstation,” says Marwaha. “In our changing world, technology has become essential to keep buildings relevant.” A world-class Enterprise Facility Management System has helped Panchshil Realty optimise facility management across its commercial office space, says Mirpuri. “Some measures implemented to smarten those workplaces include the automation of the switching of critical power/lighting from raw power to UPS power, the automation of pumps, timer-based/auto HVAC exhaust fans for toilets and pantries, RFID-controlled vehicular entry to each campus with auto boom barriers and elevators with touch-free destination control technology. Carbon monoxide sensors in basements trigger exhaust fans to enhance air quality when needed. CCTV cameras covering the campus periphery and critical areas are monitored 24x7. More sensors are proposed to be installed to automate services such as the doors to common parking lobbies, washbasin taps, urinal flush valves, etc.” Barriers to smartness Companies tend to be willing to invest in the upfront cost of digitisation for smart workplaces only if they own the building, believes Tripathi. Customer mindset is the biggest barrier to office automation in India, agrees Merchant. “The perception is that every vendor is looking to upsell. Customers come in asking for five things, and get disturbed if you suggest 10.” Merchant explains that, usually, sound reasoning is behind recommendations to increase the automation scope. For example, a customer may not be aware that a central climate control solution with one outdoor unit and a few internal AC vents or cassette-type ACs could deliver zonal and independent climate control and energy efficiencies with AC gateways on different ducts and by incorporating room sensors. In India, most customers are unaware of what’s possible and hence need help to identify the best solution, continues Merchant. “For instance, the owners of a 9,000 sq ft office in Pune (with modern concepts like an idea zone and an open conferencing space) demanded regular light dimming alongside zonal climate control and app-based control and energy metering to keep tabs on their monthly consumption. Insofar as the lighting was concerned, Messung’s design team instead proposed tunable lighting, involving LED lights with both white LEDs and yellow LEDs and dimming drivers connected to each to change the light intensity as well as the hue, from a cooler white during the day to a warmer yellow towards the evening. Eventually, installing four tunable lights in a corner huddle room for a month as a proof of concept helped the client see why that was the better solution.” “Our experience is that office occupiers accept some or all of our recommendations if they see the gain,” adds Tripathi. “For instance, HVAC consumes 60 per cent of a building’s energy cost. Companies are willing to invest in technology if it can directly reduce this cost.” While Kaul also identifies the short-term mindset of building managers as a barrier to automation, Sudhakaran counts occupants’ poor participation, lack of collaboration between key departments (IT, HR and facility management) and inappropriate technology adoption as barriers to workplace smartness. Bose identifies a paucity of funds as a concern, saying, “Finding the budget from operational expenses takes time—therefore long gestation cycles affect the overall ROIs of these solutions.” Not surprisingly, “very few organisations have the technology to aid the ‘management’ with operational processes like facility management,” observes Lala. Buying right More than the geographical origin of solutions, what is important is the technology protocol, the design and programming language used to implement the solution, cautions Merchant. “For instance, the KNX protocol is known for levelling the playing field as KNX products from any brand globally work with other KNX products. A rigorous certification process and a single programming language (ETS software) monitored and maintained by KNX.org ensures that a KNX product manufactured in India, say a dimmer actuator, will work with a European KNX keypad and a Japanese KNX power supply.” So, when shopping, ask about the solution’s compatibility with other technology. Hipla Technologies’ solutions are hardware independent. Schneider Electric offers adaptable architecture; customers can select segregated or integrated architectures dependent on their site requirements. Flexible architecture optimises the opex costs with straightforward accessibility to the BMS segment. Be very clear about what you need. “Price and quality influence automation choices but what’s most important is to know your exact requirement from automation,” advises Merchant. For instance, while Lala admits to being “certain that the adoption of new technology and ensuring compliance norms at the workplace is critical to our sustenance, this year, Embassy Services’ emphasis is on the further inclusion of technology, contactless machinery, and Cloud-integrated practices.” Sensors are a key component of smart solutions. Though both Indian as well as imported sensors are available, which is better? “Through working with various manufacturers we have observed improvement in the quality of sensors made in India in the past couple of years, spanning people counters, humidity sensors, ambient light sensors and devices for indoor tracking,” says Kaul. “But there is still a long way to go. Make in India has definitely attracted some new start-ups, which is good.” Siemens’ breakthrough IoT platform enables smart lighting control and building intelligence by featuring the industry’s first autonomous wireless sensor, shares Bose. “This ‘thinking’ sensor is the size of a coin. It integrates ambient light, occupancy, temperature sensing, wayfinding, space utilisation analytics and asset tracking.” As long as futuristic developers stay focused on the needs of futuristic occupiers, the bar on workplace smartness will continue to rise. Work from home gets a makeover COVID-19 brought new technologies to rudimentary home offices. “During the pandemic, many employers asked us for ‘geo-fenced attendance’,” shares Sandeep Kaul, Co-Founder & CEO, Hipla Technologies. “Private secured networks were on high demand and usage during that time.” Remote working accelerated the need for devices and digital solutions to facilitate seamless collaboration between teams, automate their critical work processes, and help employees work productively. “Xerox provides a secure cloud environment and digitisation and workflow automation tools for a collaborative, efficient and secure work environment,” adds Leo Joseph, Managing Director, Xerox India. “Advanced services like Workplace Cloud, Print Management and DocuShare content management enable seamless document capturing and sharing anywhere, anytime. ConnectKey-enabled devices connect remote workers to the Xerox App Gallery to download useful apps like CapturePoint, Easy Translator and Auto-Redaction.” Home offices are typically space-constrained and therefore need compact devices. Here, Xerox offers multifunction A4 printers that are easy to set up, operate and copy-scan-fax-and-print from any mobile device, laptop or desktop, conveniently over Wi-Fi, through an intelligent touch screen for an enhanced user experience, shares Joseph. Smartness or intelligence is also fast becoming a feature of laptops. Dell’s latest Latitude 9510 uniquely adjusts to different user needs with a built-in AI platform (Dell Optimizer), says Vivekanand Manjeri, Brand Director, Client Solutions Group, India, Dell Technologies. For verticals like construction, the Precision family of workstations delivers maximum performance, he continues. The Precision 5550 features a four-sided InfinityEdge display with touch option, advanced thermal innovations and the latest 10th Gen Intel® Core™ and Xeon processors in a 39.6 cm or 15 inch thin and light frame.__________ Even now that offices are reopening, many establishments are going hybrid—part working from home, part working from office—which creates new opportunities. “Hybrid working models require software platforms and are a huge opportunity for digitalisation,” observes Prabal Bose, Vice-President - Regional Solutions & Services, Smart Infrastructure, Siemens India.

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