What will happen to offices, now that we’re getting COVID somewhat under control? Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, wants everyone back at their desks, while Google has shifted its plans to a more flexible, hybrid model after an employee outcry about its original return to work plan that required workers in the office three days a week. So assuming we won’t all be working from home, will cubicles become a thing of the past? Will large open spaces and hot-desking ever be on offer again? What we do know is that the uncertainty around how we work is driving interest in smarter, reconfigurable office spaces.
And Cisco has decided it’s in a prime position to take advantage of this trend. This week, the networking company announced that it will offer its DNA Spaces software for managing buildings on a wired switch, which allows customers to connect their wired sensors and building management devices to the IT network. The software for physical switches builds on Cisco’s Meraki portfolio of Wi-Fi gear and software that let customers control and manage wireless devices on a corporate network.
This may seem like a small announcement, but I think Cisco’s overall smart building strategy deserves a closer look. For decades, Cisco made money selling proprietary boxes and software that was tightly integrated. As customers demanded more flexible networking and cheaper gear, it gradually loosened that integration. Now, when it comes to smart offices, Cisco is trying to open up to other partners and players while inserting itself as a middleman between various building management systems.
As part of its strategy, Cisco is trying to espouse the idea of programmable buildings, where a facilities manager can add new capabilities and devices simply by adding a sensor or device to the wired or wireless network, then linking it to the system it should work with using Cisco’s DNA Spaces software. So as long as a facilities manager has Cisco’s gear and the DNA Spaces software on hand, she could plug in a new Honeywell occupancy sensor for her office security system and tie that to the security applications — and she could also link that sensor to scheduling software for the conference room the sensor was monitoring.
If she later wanted to turn the conference room into a lactation room to address the needs of a new mom, she could link the occupancy sensor to a door lock for the room, or use it to trigger the HVAC system. Cisco’s software and hardware make it possible to combine elements of many smart building systems into one software application from which they can be controlled.
Cisco’s also trying to sell office customers on its 90-watt Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, which lets facilities managers put sensors and lighting on powered IP networks. The 90-watt PoE gear is an upgrade from existing 60-watt gear; delivering more wattage increases the number of items that can be powered by a single port. This reduces the need for cables and unnecessary ports, which cuts down on costs and cabling. Cisco pitches this as a “green” innovation, but I imagine the cost savings are what will drive adoption.
Cisco’s not alone in its hope that post-pandemic spending on office buildings will lead to technology expenditures. Schneider Electric, Honeywell, Siemens, and others are all investing in smart building platforms. Meanwhile, there are several open source projects underway to map out building management systems and build software to connect devices from multiple manufacturers.