Smart building: when workplace flexibility meets building sustainability

Published on 16 November 2022
HenKPronk3 Office Switzerland

Cergy, 16 November 2022With sustainability and talent attraction becoming two of the main concerns for companies, the use of smart and innovative technologies provides a win-win situation: strengthening the attractiveness of the workplace and taking a step further towards achieving sustainable goals. Henk Pronk, Regional director South West Building Solutions at SPIE Nederland and member of the SPIE Group's Tech FM Committee, shares his views on the matter.

As digital technologies come to the fore, conversation increasingly turns to “smart buildings”, what does this term actually mean?

This concept of “smart building” has become a particularly fashionable term with numerous definitions. I would summarize it as such: a smart building is one that uses technology to enable an efficient and closely monitored use of resources, while creating a safe and comfortable environment for its occupants.
In this type of building, technology is adapted not only to the user of the building, but also to the activities that take place within it, thus offering a positive effect on the performance of people, as well as new opportunities for the management of the building and its resources.

In concrete terms? Smart innovative techniques allow for optimized maintenance, energy control, heating, lights, and an efficient use of space. In doing so, intelligent building technologies contribute to the total performance of the organization.

Speaking of performance, are these technologies relevant to achieving companies’ sustainability ambitions? What about performance in terms of use and in quality of life at work? 

Absolutely, the hallmark of an intelligent building is to consume energy frugally and responsibly without ever compromising the employee’s experience!
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of teleworking and 'hybrid' working has caused building occupancy rates to drop. Within traditional buildings, this vacancy is neither cost effective nor sustainable. This is where the smart approach and the Internet of Things (IoT) come in. Sensors can map data about the occupation and use of workplaces systematically, objectively, and anonymously. Accurately measuring these changes in building usage provides information to proactively, and predictively manage buildings. As a result, the use of smart buildings allows to reduce energy consumption, to increase comfort, to react with flexibility to user behaviour and local energy supply and demand, and to save on facility maintenance costs…

SPIE has led multiple intelligent building projects, which has allowed us to measure how promising this technology is from all points of view and in particular with regard to the user experience and sustainability. For example, we recently applied this data technology to a more than 20,000 square meters building complex that includes a theater, a concert hall, and an art school. The results are compelling: energy consumption has decreased by 16 %, the tenants save around 80,000 euros in energy annually, and the number of complaints and reports has decreased by 65 percent, thus significantly improving the user experience.
In essence, here is a technology that offers a rare opportunity for companies to achieve smarter and more flexible maintenance services, to improve the employee experience, to create a sustainable future, and to save money for businesses.

Have you witnessed an increase in demand for smart building solutions among your current or prospective customers? 

As SPIE, we are witnessing a growing interest in these technologies, on a wide variety of projects. From the tender to the design and implementation phase, as well as during the renovation and improvement of existing buildings, we are increasingly asked to conceive and provide digital solutions and associated data models in order to be able to manage buildings in an integrated way.

I strongly believe that smart buildings are gaining popularity because they address many trends and issues facing organisations. 
First of all, captivating and retaining employees in an attractive working environment is increasingly important in a tight labour market. IoT is now a real differentiator, a source of added value for the employer brand because the first beneficiaries of Smart Buildings are their occupants, those who live or work in these connected buildings. Ensuring well-being at work and a comfortable, modern, interactive, and agile working environment is a performance lever and a factor in retaining talent thanks to the services offered.

In addition, building owners face more pressure to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets and regulatory requirements. To address this problem, energy consumption can be optimised in many ways: better connectivity of buildings, good facilities maintenance, building use studies... Therefore, not only can our customers reduce their operating costs, but their carbon footprint is significantly reduced. In today's context of soaring oil prices and an increased risk of gas shortages, this is a significant advantage.

Finally, smart building technologies allow for our clients to be fully informed and in complete control of the building wherever, whenever. The customer experience is totally renewed, a simple glance at the dashboards allows to know exactly what is going on (access to quotes, malfunctions, documents and insights into scheduled and completed maintenance) and to generate actions to manage it (approving assignments, work orders and invoices..).  This transparency and interactivity are highly valued.

What role will these technologies play in the evolution of jobs in the multi-technical services sector?

The digitalization of our businesses is already a reality, and it will be even more so in the 2 to 3 years to come. 

The opportunities are as exciting as they are challenging, that is why SPIE is working to drive this change successfully and has an ambitious digitalization strategy. For instance, we started a pilot to carry out maintenance work using smart glasses allowing technician to hand over the assistance to remote specialists in case of troubleshooting. This type of technology will be a considerable asset in a context of shortage of staff.

The implementation technical facility management digital platforms, such as SPIE’s SMART FM 360°, makes every day work so much easier for maintenance technicians. The smart dispatching feature plans maintenance visits in advance with the best qualified team, provides historical data and best practices for upcoming visits, and prioritises them to ensure the continuity of operations. Visit reports are produced in real time, and available to all parties concerned. For the contract managers, building energy-performance management processes are also much easier, from real-time tracking of consumption, to devising global energy efficiency strategies and evaluating their financial impact. The platform even defines predictive strategies for optimising building maintenance and operation processes.

Technological evolution implies the renewal of the sector's professional skills. We are actively involving all SPIE employees and technicians in the ongoing digitisation of our organisation. Internal campaigns offer awareness about these profound changes in the core business, as well as tools and advice on how they can easily do their work using more digital assets. We attach great importance to diversifying the capabilities of these technicians. In addition to the expertise and craftsmanship of our technicians, we increasingly recruit talented individuals who master adjacent disciplines or have technology-related experience. 
The training and diversification of our workforce is a prerequisite to be able to deploy a promising technology to our customers, whose attractiveness and sustainability issues are increasing every day. 


About Henk Pronk

With a mechanical background, Henk Pronk started his career at SPIE in 2015 as a business unit manager within SPIE Nederland’s building division. In 2018, he took charge of the Tech FM division before becoming regional director South West of the newly created SPIE Building Solutions division in 2022. As such, Henk Pronk is closely involved in the integration of the Tech FM division and Worksphere within SPIE Nederland.