Smart, connected offices of the future will change the way employees go about their work


From the outside, it looks like any other modern building. It’s in a good neighbourhood, there’sno denying that: Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district, with the World Trade Centre Amsterdam across the highway, publicly funded VU University just behind it, Google’s local office around thecorner and ABN-Amro Bank’s headquarters barelya stone’s throw away.

However, what makes the Edge – a towering 40 000 m² building with consultancy firm Deloitte as its main tenant – impressive isn’t its location. It is what’s happening inside.

The Edge is the greenest office building in the world (UK rating agency Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology awarded it the highest-ever sustainability score of 98.4%), and by some distance one of the smartest.

It is purpose-built to foster the comfort and well-being of its tenants. Consider this: when nearing the office parking garage, a camera checks your car’s licence plate before the gate is raised to allow you in. A smartphone app then guides you to an available parking spot.

As you walk into the building, that same app checks your schedule for the day and determines the workspace you’ll need. It could be a sitting desk, standing desk, meeting room or concentration room. Either way, you’ll work at what is referred to as a ‘hot desk’ – a workspace that can be reserved in advance by a mobile worker whenever they are required to be in the office, as not all seating in the Edge is assigned.

‘A quarter of this building is not allocated desk space, it’s a place to meet,’ PLP Architecture founder and designer of the Edge, Ron Bakker, told Bloomberg. ‘We’re starting to notice that office space is not so much about the workspace itself; it’s really about making a working community, and for people to have a place that they want to come to, where ideas are nurtured and the futureis determined,’ he said.


At your workspace, the app adjusts the light and climate based on your preferences (which it memorises), and although each one is within 7m of a window, you won’t hear any traffic from outside as the roof is designed to mute the noise. When you needa break, the office canteen coffee machine remembers how you take your espresso.

To run this complex system, the Edge uses an extensive network of interconnected devices, from the air conditioner to the coffee machine. A smartphone app is installed on every resident’s mobile device, which gathers and processes gigabytes of data from a network of 28 000 sensors, dotted around the building. That data is then analysed to discover how residents interact with the building and each other.

The Dutch locals have a term for all of this. They call it ‘het nieuwe werken’: the new way of working and the Edge not only represents this, but is alsoa tipping point in the discussion around smart buildings and, by extension, smart cities.

‘The newest generation of workers expect their office to be an inspiring and enjoyable place to work,’ says Tony Galetti, joint CEO and co-founderof Galetti Knight Frank. ‘Historically the preserveof technology and media firms, this new office combines collaborative spaces with individual work areas, as well as providing amenities that encourage people to think of work as an extensionof home.’

Last October, global IT advisory firm Gartner announced its annual list of strategic predictions for the next few years. For 2016, the list was dominated by visions of an interconnected world powered by smart machines. ‘The “robo” trend – the emerging practicality of artificial intelligence – and the fact that enterprises and consumers are now embracing the advancement of these technologies, is driving change,’ Gartner vice-president, fellow and analyst Daryl Plummer said in the report.

‘Gartner’s top predictions begin to separate us from the mere notion of technology adoption and draw us more deeply into issues surrounding whatit means to be human in a digital world,’ he said.

In one prediction, Gartner expects that by 2018, 6 billion connected things will be requesting customer support. ‘In the era of digital business, when physical and digital lines are increasingly blurred, enterprises will need to begin viewing things as customers of services – and to treat them accordingly,’ the report states.

Seartec are the SA distributors of Sharpproducts, which cover a large range from pocket calculators to multifunctional printers and soon. It recently diversified its portfolio through the acquisition of providers FuzeCloud (enterprise cloud solutions), AVT Solutions (video conferencing technolgy), and Limtech (security systems).

plugged in
‘Data science is going to be the catalyst to the next wave of invention and modernisation’


With those services alone, you have the first virtual bricks of a connected building. ‘Almostall new technology developed today either has the capacity to, or can be, augmented to connect tothe cloud,’ says Mark McChlery, CEO of Seartec.

‘Data science is going to be the catalyst to the next wave of invention and modernisation. Withthat said, capacity or ability alone is not enough.The more devices you connect to the cloud, themore valuable the device becomes.

‘Consider the fax machine. The first one eversold was worthless and its value doubled when the second unit was installed. Its value increased exponentially as the network of fax machines grew. That was in the analogue world,’ he says.

‘Now consider the digital era. In the knowledge economy, when the working hours you keep cangive valuable insights into the energy managementin your office building, or when you log into your computer at a satellite office, your desk extension follows you to the terminal you are sitting at. The time of day determines what level of system access your staff has, or even how long you look at an advert on display in a retail outlet. This network grows with any connected device, and at a far more rapid rate.’

What we need now is someone to take careof the backhauling and data processing. That’s where companies similar to Teraco Data Environ-ments, Africa’s largest vendor-neutral data centre, come into the picture.

‘Teraco is a co-location provider, or a commercial data centre. A whole bunch of companies co-locate within Teraco, and it allows them to interconnect with one another. So on the connected buildings side, we would do the background work,’ says Carla Sanderson, head of marketing at Teraco.

‘A company such as Dark Fibre Africa would interconnect the buildings or residences, laying the actual fibre, and then you’d need to backhaul that somewhere. Data coming from or going to the building needs to go somewhere. We’re the somewhere.We’re the holders of the content in the background,’ she says.

In September 2015, Teraco announced the completion of a high-speed, low-latency fibre link between the JSE and the Teraco Isando data centre in Johannesburg. This new route, which spans 32 km, provides capital market participants with the reliable, high-bandwidth and high-speed connectivity required to transport critical financial data.

‘In real terms, this link offers a sub-500 microsecond round trip and is a virtual extension of the JSE’s “meet me room” into Teraco,’ the firm’s chief financial officer Jan Hnizdo said at the time.

We’re still some distance away from smart cities filled with sustainable, interconnected office blocks such as Amsterdam’s the Edge. But in companies such as Seartec and Teraco, we have the foundations for something such as this in the future. And that future is closer than one might think.

Last March, Gartner researchers released a report estimating that 1.1 billion connected devices would be used by smart cities in 2015, with that number exploding to 9.7 billion by 2020.

In the report, Gartner’s research vice-president Bettina Tratz-Ryan defines a smart city as ‘anurbanised area where multiple sectors co-operateto achieve sustainable outcomes through the analysis of contextual, real-time information shared among sector-specific information and operational technology systems.

‘Smart cities represent a great revenue opportunity for technology service providers (TSPs), but they need to start to plan, engage and position their offerings now,’ says Tratz-Ryan.

‘The majority of internet of things spending for smart cities will come from the private sector. Thisis good news for TSPs as the private sector has shorter and more succinct procurement cyclesthan public sectors and cities.’

However, it doesn’t end at the office. Gartner expects residential buildings to drive this emerging technology – with, as their report puts it, ‘residential citizens [leading] the way by increasingly investingin smart-home solutions’.

According to Tratz-Ryan: ‘Homes will movefrom being interconnected to become information- and smart-enabled, with an integrated services environment that not only provides value to the home, but also creates individual-driven ambience. The home will become the personal space that provides assistance or personal concierge experiences to the individual.’

This signals the beginning of the end of buildings as we know them. If the developers behindthe Edge have their way, the smart cities ofthe future will have smarter, better, far more sustainable buildings and, by extension, fewerof them.

‘We think we can be the Uber of buildings,’Coen van Oostrom, CEO of the Edge developerOVG Real Estate told Bloomberg. ‘We connect them, we make them more efficient, and in the end we will actually need fewer buildings in the world.’

By Mark van Dijk
Image: Mr.Xerty ©