How can we accelerate the global take-up of smart building technology?

With the expected number of smart devices predicted to hit 20 million by 2020, smart technology is now mainstream. Over the last five years, says Oliver Iltisberger, managing director of ABB’s Building Products business line, we have seen a shift from simple functions like thermostats, doorbells and light bulbs to truly intelligent buildings that adapt to meet user needs. But, one of the major misconceptions about smart building technology is that it costs too much and is too complicated to install.

These are myths that, as an industry, we need to dispel.

As a pioneer of digital technologies including building automation, having launched over a thousand new products during the last five years, our main priorities are to continually evolve solutions so they are future ready. We also need to ensure that the technology we develop is more affordable and that we clearly communicate the benefits that connected devices bring.

To meet this future demand, our industry must focus on simple and intuitive solutions that are easy to install and, more importantly, simple to use. The reality is that connected devices allow us to monitor and update systems anywhere in the world at any time from a handheld or mobile device. This is a major benefit that we need to capitalise on.

Taking a holistic approach

It is crucial we take a more holistic approach to smart buildings and look at the whole eco-system to make sure that a building is smart enough to meet users’ expectations.

With over 70% of the world’s population set to live in cities by 2050, we have to harness the enabling power of the IoT, combined with clever technology, to create commonality across the marketplace and smarter solutions that not only improve the quality of life for a building’s occupants – both at home and at work – but significantly reduce our impact on the environment.

Likewise, those businesses in energy, renewables around solar, storage and Electric Vehicles (EV) need to focus on a move to a total energy management solution that also takes care of comfort, security and safety. Plus, we need to better explain the life enhancing benefits smart technology brings to end specifiers, installers and consumers, so that we stimulate take up.

Oliver Iltisberger

With the number of interconnected devices set to reach 33 billion by 20202, increasing digitalisation will also create positive opportunities for growth in smarter buildings. As the cost of communication falls, more applications will become possible and affordable, which creates a positive future for smarter solutions.

Changing expectations

Consumer electronic demand is already exploding, so now is the time to influence the B2B market and drive connectivity. Smart technology is no longer just the remit of luxury and ultra-modern buildings. Consumers, especially younger generations, see it as the norm and will expect more from their technology. This way of thinking will apply to established buildings too, with growing demand in the retrofit arena. ABB will continue to invest to share the message globally that older buildings can be made more intelligent.

Smart technology also delivers the ability to manage energy consumption and associated costs with automated functionality in smarter buildings, which can reduce costs by up to 50%. That’s a powerful message for present and future consumers, who are jointly concerned about climate change and household budgets.

Upskilling our people

To capitalise on increasing demand for smart technology, the workforce will need to adapt. Installers should become our largest advocates by showcasing how simple this sophisticated technology is, with easy to install instructions from a mobile app and simplified techniques that work with the owner’s mobile device. As a result, our training is being upgraded to educate installers who need to learn the essentials of smart home and building technology.

ABB has invested heavily in a network of specialist engineers in more than 100 countries around the world who conduct on-the-ground, classroom training. As we move to digital solutions, we have also developed new online training tools that are simple to follow and intuitive to use. For example, our new online training course on energy management, upskills participants to manage energy in electrical installation projects through branch or circuit monitoring.

Our recently launched Connect Partner Hub, an online portal, allows professionals to seamlessly interact with each other and share best practice, which should lead to a broader conversation about the power of smart building technology.


We also recognise the need to promote and enable greater interoperability between providers and manufacturers – because to meet smart building user demand, we must be aligned.

With the increase of users, there is a greater concentration on more and improved IP devices and sensors and these products are all designed to revolutionise the user experience, further improve cost effective predictive maintenance and drive efficiencies in building control from anywhere in the world.

Ultimately, we need to make all our solutions intelligent and connected. Our unified, cross-industry digital offering, ABB Ability which extends from device to edge to cloud, creates common systems and platforms, enables end users to know more, do more and do better, together.

Only in this way, will we write the future of smart technology for generations to come.

The author of this blog is Oliver Iltisberger, managing director, ABB Building Products business line

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