Have you ever heard the expression: ‘…to a T’?
It’s an unusual phrase that means a complete or perfect fit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, its origins are unknown, yet it perfectly sums up a fundamental aspect of digital transformation. Because when it comes to technology and digital transformation, it is impossible to have one without the other – and they need to fit perfectly.
If we want to radically transform the way we choose to use physical items, to make them more productive for example, we need also to radically redesign the technology that underpins how those items function.
That’s where our Buildings Technology Systems (BTS) and WSP Digital teams come into play. Working together, they develop and implement smart technology strategies for clients. Put very simply, BTS leads on the hardware – the Internet of Things (IoT) – the sensors, monitors and analytics platforms that gather data; while WSP Digital works on the software integration of building systems, analytics platforms, and user-facing apps and interfaces.
Operating globally, they work in multidisciplinary teams to bring the benefits of ‘the smart revolution’ to a wide variety of projects.
Technology for the smart era
The interconnected nature of the IoT makes it very difficult to just add physical items to existing IT networks and expect them to behave smartly.
To be truly smart – in the digital sense of the word – software and hardware must combine seamlessly and completely within a fully integrated system. Digital applications must be able to interact on many different levels to respond appropriately to any set of circumstances.
Imagine, for example, a hotel loyalty scheme so integrated with building systems technology that it alters room settings to a customer’s preferred heat and light settings before they even enter their room.
This type of scenario is already easily within our capabilities, but it’s often not possible because buildings technology systems are operated independently. Take the humble PIR motion sensor, often used to save energy by turning off lighting when nobody’s in a space. If it is connected into a smart system, rather than wired to an independent device, it can count how many people are coming into a space, sense humidity and temperature, and make decisions based on conditional elements. It becomes smart.
For smart to work properly, many user interfaces and data gathering technologies need to be combined. A smart commercial precinct, or even a smart city will have hundreds – if not thousands – of data points, for example.
Transforming to seize the benefits
It can be tempting to make small incremental changes to systems to minimise the risk of digital transformation, when radical change is needed to make a profound difference. We have seen clients try an ‘out of the box’ solution that can make a small performance improvement when they could achieve much greater gains by analysing their businesses and operating processes to redefine them.
Simply collecting information about the workplace is often not sufficiently valuable without developing a platform that orchestrates the relevant IoT data and adds it into the existing organisational data lake for analytical comparisons to be made.
Melbourne Liveability Monitor (MLM)
In Australia, a project for Melbourne Metro is helping to achieve smart delivery of two nine-kilometre tunnels which will deliver a dedicated pathway through the city for two of its busiest rail lines.
MLM is an interlinked series of sensors, instruments and databases that capture and store an extensive range of data for use during construction and beyond completion of the tunnels. A cloud-based IoT platform enables communication with devices in the MLM Sensor Network. The interfaces include a public website where interested parties can inspect a subset of the sensor data received by the IoT platform, and various private web apps that enable specific authenticated users to interrogate data.
This is a smart construction project in which both BTS and WSP Digital have played a part.
Taking a holistic approach
As we enter an era of profound technological advances which will further disrupt conventional businesses and create new ones, our business transformation services and digital know-how can certainly make us more valuable to clients.
We must work together across our disciplines to combine technology with the transformation process. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when we have combined them to a T.