Smart Building

COVID-19 is Driving the Need for More Technology and More Data

Daniel Charles

COVID-19 has taught us a lot. Personally and professionally, we learned that we’re able to pivot and adjust quickly to solve new problems. We discovered that people and technology are truly the backbone of many organizations.

In fact, McKinsey Digital says we moved nearly five years forward in terms of digital adoption in a span of only eight weeks.

As the world slowly transitions back to utilizing shared spaces again, people will want to know: What’s in place to protect against the transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses? How is safety maintained when people are coming together?

In order to answer these questions, we’ll continue to increase reliance on information. Having access to accurate, real-time data is vital to making healthy, safe and informed decisions about workforces, customers, students, guests and patients.

Now that we’ve had nine months (or longer) to adjust to newly available digital services—seeing a doctor via computer screen, closing on a new home without visiting a bank and receiving groceries via delivery just a few hours after ordering them online—it’s likely that these behaviors will become the preferred mode of interaction in many cases, even beyond the pandemic.

Here are a few examples of technology that may become more prolific as a result of the pandemic … but is likely here to stay.

The Use of Thermal Cameras
Thermal cameras are now serving as prescreening devices, using infrared technology to identify people with higher-than-normal body temperatures.

In some cases, these camera systems are integrated with access control and surveillance to prevent people from gaining access to certain spaces if a high temperature is detected. When monitored in real time, individuals can be asked to step aside for additional screening before moving forward.

Relying on Touchless Mobile Credentials
Using mobile credentials as a form of access control—often seen in hotels—is coming into focus to secure other building types as well, including offices.

Mobile credentials eliminate the need to touch shared devices (such as keys, keypads or cards/readers). Through an app, users’ smartphones sync with door- or wall-mounted Bluetooth readers; as employees approach an entrance, they access the app so the reader can scan credentials and unlock the door (or keep it locked) accordingly.

Deploying Digital Signage in New Ways
In many environments, digital signage is integrating with voice activation or QR codes to direct people to their destinations, eliminating the need to interact with someone for wayfinding.

In some cases, digital signage also shares real-time information—or pushes it to users’ smartphones—about visitor requirements, current occupancy levels, CDC guidelines, wait times, adjusted hours and product availability (to save shoppers a trip inside if what they need isn’t in stock). 


Screens are also being used as replacements for menus in restaurants to reduce shared materials and surfaces, as well as in fast-food drive-through lanes to showcase promotions. Many times, screens are serving as the only interaction. They can also support contactless remote payment.


Implementing Elevator Automation

To decrease wait times and support social distancing, access control systems may be integrated with elevator controls to prevent people from gathering in lobby areas as they wait—and to manage how many people enter an elevator cab at once. Voice-activated control panels may be another option to reduce the need to touch elevator controls.


Although destination dispatching has been available for many years (a technology that groups passengers headed to the same destination into the same elevator to reduce travel time), some experts believe it will increase in popularity and accommodate voice control or keycards/mobile credentials to tell the system where users need to go.


Monitoring Occupancy Levels

Some facilities are monitoring occupancy levels so they can stay within certain parameters. Integrating video analytics (people counters, density assessments, etc.) into surveillance systems can constantly monitor how many people are in a building or area at any time so adjustments or announcements can be made as needed.


Depending on the technology, occupancy monitoring systems may also be able to control access and communicate messages and updates to those waiting to enter the building.

COVID-19 Means More Data
Although there may be fewer people onsite using an enterprise network, the number of devices connecting to them—and the data these devices product and share—will increase network requirements and reinforce the need for a futureproof, flexible data infrastructure.

This new technology is also driving a movement toward less “fixed” or wired connectivity in the walls; instead, connections are moving to the ceiling to support devices such as cameras, wireless access points, occupancy sensors, etc.

Cabling and connectivity infrastructure is crucial to making sure new technology stays connected, performs as expected and produces the data needed for decision-making. You can invest in all kinds of emerging technology and devices to maintain social distancing, reduce touch and support virtual learning and working, but the systems won’t perform as expected if the infrastructure isn’t designed to handle higher bandwidth and speed.

Fiber and Category 6A solutions are set to give public spaces what they need to confidently support higher information capacity and bandwidth. As we rely on more data to make decisions about what’s safe and effective for people accessing buildings, outdated cabling will become a hindrance to productivity.