Working Smart The Internet of Things and Connected Offices

Mention the Internet of Things (Iot) and there's a good chance people will start thinking of the Smart Home. It's not surprising, because there are some amazing products that are starting to fill that space.

But there's another area that's just as interesting, though it has yet to attract the same level of attention. It's the Smart Office.

Last month, Cisco, a company with a large stake in the IoT, formed a new partnership with AGT International, a security firm. The announcement, which explained how the two companies plan to use analytics and cloud technologies to "dramatically change the way cities are managed and safeguarded," made me think.

Connectivity Everywhere

The home is smart. The city will soon be smart. Surely, there is room for greater connectivity to improve day-to-day functions in the office.

Most of us are already using some of the connected devices that are common in the office. There are those Internet connected printers that allow you to print to from pretty much anywhere. And that IP phone — the one that takes full advantage of converged voice and data networks — offers a whole range of advanced features, from streaming music to video chatting with coworkers.

But we're still missing smart products that could help us streamline office operations. 

One of the projects AGT and Cisco plan to undertake involves bringing Internet connectivity to all the trash bins in an unnamed city in Asia. Why? So sanitation workers can optimize their routes. It would help them avoid sending a crew to empty trash bins that are only half full, effectively saving time, money and resources.

This project reminded me of an office where I once worked.  Every Friday night a sensitive documents retrieval team would collect the paper in the bin connected to the shredder, regardless of whether the bin was empty or had been at capacity since Wednesday. Since the bin was secured, there was no way for anyone at the office to know how much paper there was unless the "full" indicator came on.

If the hired company had had a way to check the capacity of the bin remotely, like Cisco and AGT are planning to make possible in Asia, it could have scheduled pickups as needed. It could have better served its customers in the process, while saving the time, money and resources it wasted to send a crew and truck to retrieve an empty bin.

Making Meetings Smarter?

Just about everyone has seen something from the iRobot line aimed at the home consumer. The company's Roomba can zip around your house while you are gone and clean your carpets or floors, then dock itself for a recharge when done. The Roomba is a great device, and some of them can be found in offices already. But one of the more interesting office offerings from iRobot is the Ava 500.

The Ava 500 is a telepresence robot which can move autonomously around the office and participate in meetings wherever they might be taking place, even if they happen on the move. To make this smart office device a reality iRobot partnered with Cisco. As I mentioned, Cisco has made very aggressive moves to position itself as a leader in the IoT space — or, as Cisco is fond of calling it, the Internet of Everything (IoE).

There is no doubt that connected sensors will be integrated into more devices and that manufacturers will continue to build smart devices that allow the work places to become more flexible and efficient.

Flexible and Scalable

In a paper released last November, a team of Slovakian researchers spelled out its vision for an IoT-connected office. The challenge, the team said, is to "design a proper structure of IoT-based Smart Office applications" that would be able to support the following features:

  • Flexibility and scalability, achieved by an adaptable architecture of networked sensors, devices and information resources, empowered by a suitable communication network infrastructure, open interfaces and service-oriented IoT middleware.
  • User experience monitoring and evaluation functionality that enables adjustment of the applied solution to a particular office type and specific business needs.

My hope is that we find ways to bring IoT technology into the office in a way that saves money and frees workers from tasks that take away from their productivity -- and isn't limited to things like smart break rooms that make it easier to buy coffee and donuts. I have a broader vision for the coming smart office. And in a hyper-connected world, it's not outside the realm of possibility.

What is your dream connected office device, and how close to you think it is to reality?

Title image by Felix Mizioznikov (Shutterstock).