In 2021 and beyond, we will be relying on technology more than ever before. Here, Dwight Stewart, chief information officer at Igor, explores various PoE use cases for smart buildings that could not only improve the health and wellbeing of those occupying the buildings concerned, but provide various sectors, as well as electricians, the competitive edge they need to stay relevant in an ever-evolving world.
Upping the ‘intelligence’ of physical spaces is expected to accelerate quickly in a post-pandemic world. Whether building owners are looking to improve the experiences of employees, patients, students or consumers, empowering people to feel both safe and seen will be the foundation for many of their strategic decisions.
For electrical professionals to remain relevant and competitive in this environment, it will be important to offer immediately deployable solutions that inspire confidence in the client, as well as the client’s often vast network of influencers.
Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) cabling is gaining traction as one such solution. Once a niche technology deployed only by bleeding-edge innovators, PoE is rapidly gaining market acceptance in the mainstream.
As the construction market responds to increasing pressure from clients to reduce costs, decrease environmental impact and leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) for a myriad of benefits, the low-voltage approach has gained favour with professionals on both sides of the client-contractor relationship.
Electricians are also getting in the game. As James Dawson, principal of consulting, design and project management firm TM Technology Partners (TMT), noted, it’s a must if they want to continue serving an evolving clientele.
“Clients are looking at the costs as compared to traditional line voltage projects, and they’re finding they can implement a PoE-based solution at about the same cost as a traditional project and have so much more upside in terms of control and data,” commented Dawson.
The New York City-based firm’s first introduction to the technology came through presentations from lighting manufacturers who were interested in working with the company’s east and west coast US clients.
“We walk a fine line when it comes to emerging technology,” said Dawson. “Our clients expect us to be on the forefront of technology; they also expect us to present feasible solutions. So, we kept a watchful eye on PoE, followed its progression and then got to work with it on a large lighting job. Since that time, we’ve completed another dozen or so PoE jobs, and we’ve become believers. Beyond the cost, control and data benefits, clients are also utilising the technology to implement a greater number of IoT solutions, such as wayfinding and asset tracking.”
Ready to go
Four market sectors are set for immediate PoE innovation within their spaces: office, hospitality, healthcare and education. Each of these verticals is confronting rapidly changing market realities, while also being charged with protecting vulnerable populations from a continuing pandemic.
Office and hospitality spaces are hosting people with jobs to do who also have ongoing concerns about Covid-19. Healthcare and education spaces must accommodate the very sick and the very young, not to mention the caregivers and teachers they depend on.
Beyond the near-term need to calm the fears of people in their spaces, the facility managers and building owners within these four verticals are also looking ahead to the ‘new normal.’ They are anticipating significant changes in the demands and preferences of a post-pandemic stakeholder, and are working to get in position now to meet those expectations as quickly as possible.
Here are a few of the possibilities PoE opens up for each of the four markets and the electrical professionals who serve them:
Employers bring remote workers back: Compete for talent
Data is expected to be an important piece of the return-to-work strategy. Smart buildings, equipped with PoE-connected sensors such as people counters and occupancy detectors, will help employers provide real-time tracking of employee locations, as well as provide a comprehensive data trail of their efforts to maintain social distancing among workers.
In addition, office spaces equipped with IoT controls will be in an ideal position to offer hyper-personalised experiences to in-demand executives and their teams. As new workspace trends emerge, being able to offer things like customisable office hoteling and hot-desking will up an employer’s competitive position in the ongoing battle for talent.
Being intentional about integrating technology that provides a calming, relaxed environment, such as intelligent lighting systems, will be especially important for an incoming generation of employees. Researchers anticipate exposure to Covid-19-related stress during their formative years will have a lasting impact on Gen Z – one that employers will need to monitor and manage too.
Hotels layer cleaning approaches: Carve out differentiation
In some areas of the world, travel is beginning to pick up. For both business and leisure travellers, confidence in the cleanliness of a hotel’s spaces will be even more important than in years past.
Similar to the possibilities a PoE-powered digital ceiling opens up for the office environment, hotels can take advantage of the technology’s controls and automation to layer new cleaning methods, such as UV-C intelligent lighting disinfection, on top of traditional ones.
To compete for a larger portion of the traveling public’s business, hotels will also need to accelerate plans for achieving competitive differentiation. The same digital ceiling that enables cleaning automation can enable customisation of environmental settings for the traveller, triggered to deploy upon check-in or when the guest dictates via engagement with the hotel’s mobile app. A Covid-era study revealed that 80% of hotel guests would download a hotel app that would enable them to check in, check out and get all information about the hotel.
Extending the capabilities of such an app is possible with PoE, enabling guest control of things like personalised room temperature, lighting options and window shade settings, even customised TV, sound system or digital security safe access.
Improvements to senior living
According to Senior Housing News, 87% of senior living facilities said they expect their organisations to increase their technology budgets in 2021, spending more on items such as resident monitoring, contact tracing, telehealth and virtual tours. While much of this is related to the pandemic’s impact, a great deal is also simply to address changing expectations among residents and family members.
Enabling meaningful visits with family and friends while practicing Covid-19 safe behaviours has been challenging for even the most technically savvy senior living facilities. PoE-enabled facilities can take advantage of a range of new and emerging technologies to improve these visits, both remote and in-person.
Allowing visitor scheduling systems to connect with access points and wayfinding beacons, for instance, can keep visitors in their assigned spaces without feeling confined or restricted. Residents can move through the facility with confidence and within social distancing requirements. Artificial intelligence-enabled camera systems and real-time location systems can help staff maintain high levels of attention without breaking with pandemic-related restrictions.
The benefits of powering such devices with PoE include both control and data. PoE allows devices to talk with one another, as well as to data tracking and visualisation tools. The other element to consider when pitching technology to this vertical is the decision-maker stakeholder segment.
As more individuals making long-term care decisions for ageing family members fall into the digital-native category, the expectation for seamless connections, personalised experiences and self-service will naturally grow.
When equipped with PoE, these facilities can easily enable devices and sensors to talk to one another and to the humans relying on them to monitor the health and wellness of the seniors occupying those spaces. Sensors watching for movement or listening for heartbeats can unobtrusively monitor health and safety from afar, giving residents a greater sense of privacy without sacrificing necessary attention.
Enhanced security in schools and real-time environmental changes
PoE-powered lighting, in particular, can enhance the security and enjoyment of time spent inside schools, colleges and universities in a surprising number of ways. Storm and fire warnings accelerate evacuation during emergencies, and when connected with communication systems, also expedite distress calls to authorities.
User-friendly controls can also make switching from instructional overhead lighting to ambient lighting when teachers engage AV systems, smartboards and other screen-based platforms. This is especially important as teachers navigate a hybrid model in which students are learning in-person and online at the same time.
Lighting can make or break a remote-learning session; being able to adjust in real-time to an online learner’s request can greatly improve both the student and teacher’s experience.
PoE is progress
PoE can be added to an existing building to transform traditional spaces into smart spaces. However, increasingly, our technologists are being asked to partner with GCs and designers on new construction projects at the project’s outset. The marketplace is beginning to see PoE as they do an I-beam structure. Just as steel provides for long-term durability and strength, PoE future-proofs a building against power and data innovation.
Much of the marketplace acceptance has to do with a significant shift in the mindset of influential electrical contractors. Rather than view PoE as a competitive threat, they now see it as an opportunity to diversify their skill set and offerings.
“I anticipate more electrical firms will expand into PoE,” TMT’s Dawson recently told me. “They’ve done it with low voltage. Progress is progress. There’s enough traction with this technology. It’s not going anywhere.”