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Smart Building Technology: Seven Emerging Trends for Retailers

The days of traditional brick-and-mortar are in serious transition. As the Internet commoditizes many store-bought products, new ways of thinking are required. Current technology represents retailers' best chance to jump the board. Technology always favors the early adopters.

Here are seven emerging techno-plays that are potential game-changers for physical retailers. Make the move now to be in a position to reap the rewards.

1. Build Smart

Retailers who are planning to build new stores, should build smart. It's that simple. Today's latest smart building systems include controls and optimization for air conditioning, heating, ventilation, lighting, security and other equipment, and can incorporate everything needed to effectively gather information and manage your facilities more efficiently and sustainably. Remote sensors, microchips and smart devices are already in place.

The new models optimize space, lower energy consumption, support responsible environmental practices and appeal to today's “green-minded” consumers. What's more, advances in prefabricated construction make going green easier and more affordable than ever. When breaking ground, it makes sense to go smart from the start.

2. Environmental Sustainability Means More Than Savings

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, an energy savings of just 10% annually equals a 1.55% increase in net profit margins, not to mention an additional $25 per square foot in equivalent retail sales. When combined with advisory services, advanced controls and wireless technologies, a cloud-based facility management platform can consistently deliver more than 20% annual energy savings. Right off, that represents a healthy boost to the bottom line. Also consider what a sustainable policy delivers to a brand. The largest consumer population in America is now comprised of people born in 1982 or later. According to a recent Nielsen online study, these consumers are:

- 75% willing to pay more for sustainable offerings.

- Prefer shopping with companies that are environmentally friendly.

- Committed to businesses and causes that demonstrate viable social value.

Retailers who want to be a hero should go green. The planet will reward you.

3. Embrace IoT and Let Machines Sweat the Small Stuff

Simply put, the Internet of Things (IoT) describes the interworking of machines talking to machines over the Internet. As Kevin Ashton, the digital guru who coined the term, puts it, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

IoT is at the core of smart building technology. It describes electronic systems and devices, connected online, to record data in real-time and be managed interactively to optimize outcomes. There are IoT cellular devices that can be connected to virtually any building system in a multi-site real estate portfolio and programmed to report on and control each device remotely over an integrated management platform.

Most interactions can be programmed to happen automatically for instance, if no one's in a room, the system simply turns the lights off and the thermostat down. But, if a system is in danger of failing, before it crashes, the IoT device can send an alert to a technician and schedule a repair before replacement is required. Retailers who have not already incorporated the IoT into their facilities portfolio, should act now.

4. The Digital Ceiling: Things Are Looking Up

Alongside IoT thinking, a new integrated technology is pushing the envelope in smart building design. Digital ceilings, recently introduced by Cisco, employ voice, motion, data and video sensors embedded in lighting systems that automatically communicate with and manage building systems and services.

When someone enters a room, the sensors detect traffic, temperature levels, light intensity, even Bluetooth signals, and report the data to the master controller. Based on pre-set operating rules, the system can then automatically adjust room lighting, temperature and other building resources to match the current situation. This allows retailers to not only finesse isolated energy consumption throughout a store, but also collect occupant information for security purposes, and improve marketing and merchandising decisions around proven traffic patterns.

5. Go Mobile and Get More Done

Mobile apps represent another way to connect the dots across a dispersed portfolio and facilities crews to ensure that everyone and everything is operating in sync. According to Pew Research Worldwide, "almost 200 million or 89% of U.S. residents owned a smartphone" in 2016, including "99% of 18-34 year olds." To work effectively and efficiently, facilities managers must have up-to-the-minute information about their stores at their fingertips, and there are apps available to help them do just that.

Whether entering work orders, checking on store issues, tracking service providers, auditing facilities or reporting to headquarters, field personnel equipped with mobile technology can engage team members, as well as existing building maintenance systems (BMS), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and energy management systems (EMS) to improve overall enterprise transparency and systems performance.

6. Augmented/Virtual Reality: Not Just for Gamers

First, a couple of definitions. Augmented reality (AR) integrates digital information with a real-time perspective of the user's environment. The "yellow first down marker" that overlays the playing field on a football television broadcast is augmented reality. The marker isn't really there, but it gives you information about the unfolding situation.

Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial environment, created by software using sight and sound. Think of a 3D computer image being examined interactively via keypad or mouse controls.

Now, imagine how these two combined technologies could assist in diagnosing a malfunctioning HVAC. An IoT sensor projects the image on a mobile tablet, overlaying the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) specifications and repair suggestions onto the image, with rotating engineering drawings in a pop-up box to clarify next steps. Instead of two trips to the truck, a technician could diagnose what needed repair and come fully equipped to accomplish the mission in a single attempt.

The same powerful combination could be used to train technicians in the field, remotely walking maintenance personnel through complex procedures, or take a virtual stroll through a retail store to identify ideal flow patterns and design sets. Pretty cool, huh?

7. Cyber Security for Airtight Systems

Cybersecurity regulations are on the rise everywhere, and retailers are not exempt. Cyber criminals, vandals and activists who simply disagree with your store's policy can pose a threat to your systems, so you had better firm up.

Consider cloud-hosted software as a viable remedy. Reliable hosting companies maintain the latest and greatest versions of security software and encryption technology. They also provide redundant facilities to ensure backup is available in the event of a catastrophe, monitor all assets 24/7, limit system access according to your profile, and provide password management, timely alerts and immediate intercession in the event of a breach.

Retailers who are still uncertain about the security of your sensitive information, should engage a cybersecurity consultant. A good one will develop a security protocol for the company and test it at least once a year.

Check, Mate

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