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Smart buildings: Choosing the right tech

Carl Staël von Holstein, Industry 4.0 segment lead at Axis Communications, talks smart building infrastructure and key technology

The concept of a ‘smart’ building – one that uses connected technology and data to more effectively manage a building’s core functions – is fast becoming a reality. There has never been a more exciting time to invest in developing smart building infrastructure, with such buildings becoming a key part of the city landscape. As a result, it’s important to consider the technology best suited to improve operations, and integrated access control solutions provide a foundational element of building management

Access control solutions based on open standards – and therefore enabling integration with other building systems – can provide users with a high level of automated control across a building. Whether used to optimise and control a building’s lighting, electrical, HVAC or security systems, the benefits of access control range from reduced operational costs to increased energy efficiency.

To not limit potential, it’s important to future-proof smart buildings. This demands technology with flexibility. This can be achieved by understanding how to employ integrated access control solutions, and the core functions they provide within smart building infrastructure.

Technology must be able to adapt to a building’s changing needs. Open, flexible solutions support future-proofing smart buildings with easy integration. Whether installing IT infrastructure at the hardware layer or focusing on the software layer, more value is created in the long-term by choosing solutions that can be swapped in and out, or easily integrated with other systems.

This is a particular benefit with open standards-based access control given its ability to be integrated with any other similarly open system, be that security and surveillance, lighting and HVAC systems.

For example, while it may not be a priority today, there may come a time where a building manager wants to integrate access control with their visitor booking system as an added security control. At a more advanced level, they may want to grant specific access for a delivery so it can be taken securely from reception to an office on, for instance, the fifth floor, with complete traceability.

Regardless of whether installing IT infrastructure and hardware or an IoT product and then adding the software layer or vice versa, opting for open, flexible solutions enable access control functionality to be as simple or complex as needed. This not only applies to the needs today, but also for the future.

When investing in technology today, it’s crucial to ensure this won’t create limitations for future developments. Open IoT solutions enable scalability – solutions can be initially implemented in line with current business needs, while allowing further enhancement in the future.

For instance, access control can be used to enable building access with a variety of credentials. These can range from more traditional methods such as key cards, to more innovative choices like biometrics, QR codes, or even through logging into a social media account and scanning the unique assigned code at the door.

It is unlikely that all these options would be needed at the same time, and steering clear of traditional access control systems – those that cannot integrate with other intelligent systems – means there’s no barriers to enabling entry with other credentials whenever these options are needed.

Integrating access control with essential business systems enables building staff to be managed in more responsive, secure, and efficient ways. This includes removing the need for staff to visit security offices in person to obtain ID or access badges – remote self-enrolment allows it all to be done seamlessly – it’s now practical to stagger shifts, regularly change working locations and pivot operations to meet whatever new operational priorities arise. This further reinforces access control as an enabler of change.

Open access control solutions are not limited to how they can elevate existing building systems, given that the openness enables compatibility with other technologies.

For example, if prioritising sustainability efforts, users can decide to build in automation which supports better management of energy usage. At an advanced level, this can mean opting to integrate the access control system with the ventilation system, and automating processes so that the temperature is lowered and ventilation increased where lots of people are gathering in a certain area within the building.

Another option is to combine access control with audio. This can be as part of efforts to support a building visitor’s experience. For instance, speakers can be used to instruct and help visitors navigate their way to certain areas of a building, or the users may decide to play music in certain areas to encourage people to spend time there, or to make a waiting room more bearable…

Combining audio and access control can also enable easy-to-scale emergency procedures. Whether opting for automated, pre-recorded audio messages sounding in emergency situations or choosing to set up live audio feeds that direct people out of a building safely and in real-time, users will be able to utilise a solution to suit the emergency scenario.

This ability to scale up can apply from the small steps taken to begin establishing a smart building, to the development of a full, end-to-end, complex intelligent building infrastructure. At the more advanced end of the scale, a digital twin of the building can be created. In creating such a twin – an exact digital replica of a building and its systems – managers can establish a real-time understanding of how a building performs, and test out which adjustments can optimise efficiency and safety, reduce energy usage, and cut costs.

Innovation continues apace in the intelligent buildings space. Users must choose their digital infrastructure and access control solutions carefully or otherwise risk the technology they invest in today boxing them in with proprietary systems and limitations. The potential of open access control with its ability to integrate and scale up can ensure the user will be well-placed to not only adjust to suit changing requirements, but to take advantage of the exciting new intelligent building solutions which the future undoubtedly holds.

Whether it’s creating a smart building at the planning stage, or implementing intelligent technology into existing infrastructure, access control solutions can play a central role in operational efficiency, security, and the visitor experience.

Check out our preview on ISE 2022 and the Smart Building Conference here.