The Internet of Things – an ever-growing network of connected devices which communicate with a central server as well as with each other – is about more than just connectivity. The real power is in the data generated by those tiny devices and sensors, and how that data can be parsed and analyzed with predictive applications to create better usage, more efficiency, and even an opportunity to bring in artificial intelligence to learn the user's patterns.
The day-to-day household IoT applications which are becoming so commonplace are already making our lives easier, but the big payoff in facilities-based IoT is going to be in the hospitality industry. As is often the case, technology used in consumer applications realizes the big payday when that same technology moves to the enterprise. Smart homes are beginning to give way to smart hotels, bringing hoteliers and office park managers an opportunity to better serve guests, offer value-added services, and run the facility on the back end with far greater efficiency than was ever before possible.
Not just a corner office
Office parks are already bringing in IoT technologies. EastBanc, a real estate development company in Washington DC, utilized a Senseware system across their commercial and retail sites for exterior lighting, exhaust fan, and HVAC controls. Sensor bridges were installed with current transformers to wirelessly monitor energy consumption as a virtual meter, a lower-cost alternative to submetering. Wireless controls were also installed to schedule equipment and reduce peak demand.
The remote management facilitated by the system came in at significantly lower than would have a traditional BMS or wired retrofit, without disruption to tenants. The IoT-enabled system generates real-time data, which gives users of the system a comprehensive view of the building status anytime, facilitating big benefits including energy conservation, water conservation, indoor air quality monitoring, predictive maintenance, and failure detection.
A fluffy robe, in-room coffee, and IoT
IoT convenience can be tied to a smartphone, as evidenced by Amazon's experiment with its Amazon Go retail outlet, which recognizes shoppers when they walk in the door and click a button on the app. The hotel industry isn't too far off in offering something similar, and the most obvious innovation would be an automated, smartphone-enabled check-in service. When a guest is close to the hotel, the smartphone's app could automatically send a message to the hotel notifying them that arrival is imminent, and check-in would be automatic and transparent. Such an innovation would be more convenient for the guest and would save costs for the hotelier.
The hotel experience would be further improved as everything in the hotel, from the gym, the café, an even the free treats in the lobby would be equipped with sensors, so that the smart hotel app would learn each guest's personal preferences over time.
But it's not just about providing just the right coffee blend to each guest, it's about bigger things like HVAC systems. An IoT pilot program at a hotel determined that IoT-enabling the HVAC system alone would save $60,000 annually in just a single location. On the back end, StarwoodHotels in Stamford, CT achieved Platinum status from the U.S. Green Building Council for their use of 'daylight harvesting,' an IoT-enabled system which adjusts indoor lighting according to the amount of natural sunlight coming in through the window.
'High-end hotels and hotel chains will gain a double benefit from IoT innovations,' said Chris Rivett, travel expert at HotelsCombined.com. 'Some hotels are already installing Bluetooth door locks that enable guests to use their smartphone as a key. There is, of course, a cost-cutting benefit in hospitality IoT apps, but that's not the most important part of it. In the hospitality industry, hotels achieve success only when they can deliver a superior customer experience on a sustainable basis. Nothing will ever replace a highly-skilled concierge, but giving that human concierge these sorts of sophisticated tools will allow them to deliver service that no human on their own ever could.'
Hilton and Starwood are already providing guests with Bluetooth-enabled smartphone keys. Telkonet's EcoSmart is also allowing hotel brands to control other guestroom IoT products through the same app that unlocks the door.
It's a brave new world in hospitality. It's a wonderful thing when a return visitor walks up to the front desk or the concierge and is immediately recognized, but the human brain only has so much capacity. When the hotel room itself recognizes you, and flawlessly remembers all of your preferences and transparently provides them, anticipating your every need, then hotel brands have entered into the next big wave of customer experience.