Ever since its launch, Pokemon Go has proved problematic for many facility and building managers. The smartphone game based on the 90s phenomenon took the world by storm when it debuted early in July. With millions more people wandering around with heads stooped and fingers primed, some are paying even less attention to the world than usual. Pokemon Go’s 1-1 map of the real world is leading intrepid explorers through buildings and onto private property in search of the perfect Pokemon, including any number of inappropriate locations.
While the game might have interesting applications for some businesses, the only impact for many businesses will be employees sneaking off in their lunch breaks. But from the view of a facility or systems manager, the success of this app tells us a remarkable amount about how people use mobile devices, and reflects on the considerations we need to have when applying concepts of big data and networked devices to the modern workplace.
The trend away from desktop and laptop PCs towards mobile devices has shown no signs of stopping. According to market analysts Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer 2015 report, 76% of adults in the UK now own a ‘smartphone’: one which combines the features of a traditional phone with a computer. A quarter of respondents do not even make a phone call in a given week and mobile phones are increasingly becoming people’s primary or only means of digital engagement.
But what does this have to do with smart buildings and the Internet of Things? Well, it’s a sure sign that phones are more than platforms for watching Netflix on the bus. When the vast majority of the population are carrying powerful computers in their pockets, it makes sense to factor those capabilities into the workplace. Replacing cumbersome PC interfaces with the familiarity of touchscreen mobile UIs could be a huge boon to productivity, reducing the usual frustration with slow, underpowered desktop hardware. Where most businesses have been afraid of the disruptive potential of personal devices, there might be a new way to look at phones in the workplace: as a seamless integration of work and personal lives.
You might come to work and sign in, open doors and access your workstation by using your phone as a keycard. The game’s GPs tracking and forthcoming Bluetooth accessory, a badge with a button and vibration feedback, suggest even greater advancements in the simplicity and autonomy of services. Constant wireless connections to a local network and the use of wearable technology could cut down on the need for such vast arrays of IoT sensors, tracking individuals as they move around a building. Wireless casting and screen sharing, projecting the view from your phone to a local display, could also be a simpler means to increase mobility and workflow.
More devices means more data, and here too Pokemon shows us the pitfalls of such digital integration. The game’s ‘Pokestops’, local landmarks that provide players with items, can have ‘lures’ attached to them that draw people to the real world location. A few reports allege that this has been used by criminals to ambush unsuspecting players.
Like the Pokestops, a network with lots of devices can be a big flashing beacon to canny cyber criminals. Large networks mean more potential points of access for those seeking to enter your network illegally, while wireless networks can easily leak out of buildings and present people outside with access, particularly with the long-range protocols utilised in big buildings. Indeed the ubiquity of mobiles and the escalating speeds of mobile networks means hackers or attackers looking to overwhelm a network can do it from almost anywhere.
Successful hacks however have been limited to very large corporations with very poor security protocols. Take the example of US retailer Target, whose customer databases were compromised because of lax security in their heating system.
Smart buildings can create more doors onto a network for people to gain access, but the process of locking them is still the same. They don’t even have to lead anywhere – the most effective deterrent can be isolating different systems on different servers. If your heating management system doesn’t need to be linked to the rest of your IT systems, don’t link it. The bulk of cybersecurity is common sense, but it has to be part of a coherent and comprehensive strategy.
As people become used to controlling everything else from their phones, it makes good sense for this to apply to the workplace. While business should scale up their IT capabilities sensibly in order to keep pace with security and ensure a capable network infrastructure, so much data already exists, and is just waiting to be utilised. An employee’s phone could become the skeleton key to all of their digital services, and the key to untold levels of commercial efficiency.
MCS delivers integrated real estate, facility and workplace management software solutions for large private or public sector organisations, helping to improve real estate performance in terms of total cost, risk reduction, employee satisfaction, brand perception and sustainability.