Navigant Research Blog

Ericsson Presents Its Future Vision for the Neural Grid

— February 13, 2018

At its London-based industry analyst event, Ericsson detailed areas for future growth. Its primary customer base (communications service providers [CSPs]) is looking for growth in an age of flat revenue from existing services. Ericsson believes this future growth will be made possible by the rollout of 5G communications—by 2026, Ericsson predicts 5G will contribute to a potential 36% of revenue growth for CSPs.

Ericsson cites the utilities industry as the largest opportunity for digitization. With a $101 billion addressable market likely in 2026, utilities present the second largest Internet of Things (IoT) opportunity (after manufacturing). The energy transformation is central to this growth. As the industry shifts toward a distributed future, connected asset deployments will increase exponentially. In addition, regulatory focus on advanced network flexibility requires significant improvements into a distribution utility’s visibility of loads and supply. All things being equal, the energy industry presents a juicy opportunity for CSPs.

Cellular Carriers to Prosper in Utilities with a Group of Technologies

Ericsson stated that CSPs will only succeed with a combination of technologies, and presented the reasonably compelling proposition of IoT services, supported by network-slicing-enabled 5G communications, and a concept it calls the distributed cloud.

IoT is often cited as the next big thing for CSPs. The term IoT has failed to gain traction in the utility industry primarily because the industry was comfortable with the technology long before the term was used to describe it. But this experience also presents a problem for telcos chasing profits in energy—the industry has to be convinced to switch from the proprietary, self-built, and decades old IoT communications networks to public carrier networks. The critical question is how Ericsson, and its CSP clients, can profit from the utilities industry.

Existing infrastructure may be difficult to convert to a public carrier, particularly for utilities rewarded for CAPEX on new assets. However, the sheer volume of low value assets that will become connected in the future pose many problems to utilities. Passing responsibility onto a third-party provider could well be an attractive proposition, if issues surrounding scalability, security, cost, and network availability are overcome.

5G may be the answer to this, particularly when connecting lower value, less critical assets (such as customer owned distributed energy resources (DER) or network equipment on low voltage networks). 5G offers much greater bandwidth than previous communications, while the ability to create virtual slices of the same physical network communications will help utilities overcome concerns regarding network availability for more valued assets.

Ericsson’s Distributed Cloud Approach Could Help Future Distribution Operation

Ericsson’s distributed cloud concept plays well into utilities’ current and future needs for edge computing. Ericsson has identified an opportunity for CSPs to host cloud servers in their existing real estate. CSPs’ buildings often have underutilized floorspace, yet are in central locations, directly connected to fiber rings and have good power supply. Ericsson believes its distributed cloud could compete as a low cost alternative to utility-owned, grid-edge computing that provides local data filtering and analytics.

Navigant Research has actively defined the technological needs of future transactive markets, in particular real-time visibility into DER, the calculation of hyper-local pricing of network access, the hosting of localized smart contracts for transactive energy participants, and more. The technology proposed by Ericsson has surprisingly close alignment with these requirements. Ericsson’s biggest challenge to convert an opportunity into sales is to overcome the industry’s innate conservatism and the current preference for proprietary IoT infrastructure. Regardless of how attractive the public network is, utilities still have a strong preference to build their own networks. Increasing cybersecurity concerns will only reinforce this attitude.


IoT: Building Awareness – Part 1

— December 12, 2017

Marcus Aurelius once said, “That which is not good for the beehive is not good for the bees.” Conversely, what is good for the bee is good for the hive—a metaphor not lost on Internet of Things (IoT) and smart building integration. A paradigm surrounding the building automation space is developing as businesses begin to focus more on occupant experience. Smart building technologies are widening the building investment landscape to include tenant engagement and satisfaction. Value-generating technologies, like IoT-enabled devices, make it easier to manage energy and businesses. Building owners are able to leverage existing communication platforms, capitalize on energy efficiency, and promote healthier lives with healthier buildings.

Better Building, Better Business

Building automation systems with IoT-enabled sensors can not only increase energy efficiency, but also improve worker efficiency, leading to more productive businesses. Research finds that comfortable work environments enhance business productivity by improving the health and satisfaction of its workers. Advanced sensors, like those in Amsterdam’s building superstar The Edge, have given building managers better information on how building space is being utilized by monitoring occupant behavior. This is important because the more we know about occupant behavior, the more we are capable of creating environments that will optimize worker performance. Studies on the effect of building systems in schools also found that indoor air quality and thermal comfort have a direct effect on concentration. Classrooms that are thermally comfortable with lower levels of pollutants increase student learning, resulting in higher levels of student performance.

Show Me the Money

The advantage of investing in smart building technology is twofold, as these systems are not only more sustainable and energy efficient, but potentially more lucrative as well. Businesses operating within these smart systems are better positioned to make financial gains, as employees are more productive. Reports like JLL’s 3-30-300 rule suggest that prioritizing tenant satisfaction and well-being creates larger payoffs for building owners and investors—more so than savings on monthly utility bills would alone. The study finds that “a 2% energy efficiency improvement would result in savings of $.06 per square foot, but a 2% improvement in productivity would result in $6 per square foot through increased employee performance.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The argument stands that smarter buildings make better workers. Smart buildings are attractive from a business perspective, as these technologies enable employees to be more productive and less distracted by time-consuming administrative tasks, such as booking conference rooms or scheduling in-house meetings. The more comfortable the worker, the better work they will produce. This, in effect, raises the value of the business and contributes to the overall value of the building. In terms of ROI on smart buildings, focusing on occupancy satisfaction takes a bottom-up approach that supports greater integration and interoperability, improving bottom lines across the board.

Connectivity Is Key

The paradigm surrounding building management systems is shifting as more attention is being paid to occupancy experience. We know that effective operations and maintenance through IoT-enabled devices improve building performance. Why not apply that same logic to worker performance? The significant effect data analytics continue to have on the uptime of building systems could equally improve the livelihoods of the people operating within those structures. Facilitating better working environments optimizes worker efficiency, adding value to businesses and buildings. What is good for the worker bee is good for the hive (and hive investors), as smart technologies continue to add value to both residents and buildings alike.


UK Cities Are Embedding Smart City Principles in City Policy

— November 7, 2017

My previous blog summarized five of the Innovation Awards spotlighted in the UK Smart Cities Index 2017, commissioned by Huawei, which assess the 20 leading smart cities in the UK. Those awards focused on five key smart city service areas: transportation, health, energy, education, and public safety. Equally important are the cross-sector strategies and technology investments that enable innovation across these service areas.

Four other Innovation Awards identify key strategic and technical areas where UK cities are making significant contributions to the development of smart city policies and infrastructure:

Sustainability: Cities are making sustainability the heart of city policy, as they recognize the need to reduce their environmental footprint and contribute to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Peterborough takes the Innovation Award for its environmental focus and commitment to becoming a circular city, as exemplified in the Share Peterborough programme for resource sharing. Also commended are Bristol, European Green Capital in 2016; London, which has launched an ambitious new environmental policy; and Manchester, which has set a goal of being a zero carbon city by 2050.

Internet of Things (IoT): UK cities are looking to establish a large-scale test bed environment that can support a rolling programme of innovation projects. Bristol Is Open continues to lead the way in terms of its scope and ambition and the contribution it is making to the city’s broader plans. Other leading examples include Manchester’s CityVerve IoT demonstrator, Milton Keynes’ MK:Smart, and Cambridge’s new LoRa-based intelligent city platform.

Data and analytics: All the cities included in this report are looking at how to use data to improve services and boost innovation. London continues to be at the forefront on data innovation with its London Office of Data Analytics and a new Chief Digital Officer accelerating the use of data to improve services across the capital. Leeds also deserves mention as one of the pioneers for open data in the UK with Data Mill North, just one of several data-focused initiatives in the city.

Strategy: The successful adoption of new technologies to improve city services requires cities to rethink the way they design, manage, and operate city services in the digital age. All the leading cities are taking a fresh view on the impact of technology on city policy making, planning, and service design. The Innovation Award goes to Aberdeen for its new Target Operating Model, which seeks to embed smart city thinking into city planning, service design, and infrastructure investment. This will be enabled by new approaches to the provision of digital infrastructure and services.

The 10th Innovation Award is for City Partner and reflects the importance of central government and other agencies in fostering collaboration between cities and supporting follower cities as they develop smart city initiatives. The Future Cities Catapult is having a strong influence across the country by helping cities initiate smart city programmes, share ideas and insight, develop common standards, and accelerate innovation in areas like smart planning.

These Innovation Awards demonstrate the range of activity occurring across UK cities. In my next blog, I will examine some of broader insights to be drawn from Navigant Research’s efforts for the report and its conversations with city leaders.


What It Will Take to Make Healthy Buildings a Business Priority

— October 19, 2017

Healthy buildings are an emerging hot topic at industry events and in facility trade publications. In September 2017, I participated in the half-day Healthy, Adaptive Buildings Summit at this year’s GreenBiz Verge Conference. The conversations were invigorating, shifting from environmental justice to workplace transformation and back again. I was left with a lingering question: Are healthy buildings the next overhyped trend? Does the movement aim to encompass technology and business but will fail because of a misguided, yet well-intended focus? Not if industry leaders refine their message.

The panelist noted the similar lack of a common lexicon, or a range of definitions that reflect the wide stakeholder groups showing interest in the idea of healthy buildings. The opening panel discussion during the summit reminded me of ongoing conversations I have in the broader building technologies arena on terminology: Is the building smart, intelligent, a structure of connected technologies made up of systems? What threshold defines that next generation space? Panelists shared their differing, yet parallel points of view and these definitions resonate with me:

  • Health is basic, the absence of things wrong.
  • Well-being is how you feel about your health, and how you respond emotionally.
  • Wellness describes the proactive steps you can take to maximize both.

These descriptions clarify health at a personal level, but how can these ideas be extended to buildings? Healthy buildings can describe the effects from equipment operations on energy consumption, sustainability, environmental justice, and even employee productivity. If stakeholders can align their messaging, there is a great opportunity in the movement to make healthy buildings the next umbrella concept for the facilities industry. The answer is adaptability—flexibility in how to deploy and use technology in addressing multidimensional business objectives. The second theme of the summit, which is a valuable dimension that can showcase technology as a means to the wide-reaching goals of the healthy building movement.


JLL’s 3-30-300 Calculator has become the go-to metric for explaining why the intelligent buildings market has pivoted and the focus has moved from energy up the chain to that big 300 number—the cost of people and the aim to improve productivity. This metric is powerful because it speaks to the heart of the business perspective. While sustainability, social responsibility, and other potentially amorphous corporate goals are important from a branding and positioning standpoint, the bottom line still drives investment. If the healthy buildings movement can use technology and the data and analytics from the intelligent buildings market to quantify productivity, the investment is worthwhile. This is no simple task; data is key. There are so many variables that affect the measure of productivity and the industry has failed to create a single equation to measure the 300 just yet.

New Calculation of Adaptability

Thinking of adaptability as a lens on how to select and deploy technology for use in multiple ways may just be the framework the industry needs to make healthy buildings a substantial initiative, meet multiple stakeholder needs, and move away from surface-level buzz. Real-time data on occupancy and movement, indoor air quality, feedback on comfort, and data on business output could be valuable measures for a new calculation of adaptability. The measure of adaptability is also attractive as a way of reframing the conversation in line with the focus on the occupant we hear in the market more and more. Can adaptability describe the healthy building movement and provide the data that key decision makers need to characterize how their facilities are best in class? I would argue this approach can create a common conversation around dynamic systems with automated, ongoing performance improvement and a way to root the soft concept of health in the stiff framework of technology enablement.


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