Smart building strategy: Tackle behavior first, technology second

It’s no secret that technology changes behavior, and that’s likely to be just as true with buildings as it is with, say, mobile devices. But while we often think of the latest technology as a way to improve building functions, we usually fail to fully consider how technology might alter the way people use those buildings. In other words, we tend to overvalue the role of the technology and undervalue the resulting re-engineering of the operational processes. And those process changes, rather than the technology itself, actually can have the biggest impact on costs, effectiveness and efficiency.

To demonstrate the relationship between technology, behavior and performance, here are a few examples of smart devices that use automation technology to change, control and adapt behavior.

  • The smart fork: Eating too fast can lead to overeating, indigestion, heartburn and other problems. The HAPIfork smart fork changes eating behavior by monitoring how fast users are eating – measuring the time it takes for the fork to travel from hand to mouth – and alerting them to slow down when necessary. It comes with an app to track users’ eating via "fork servings" per minute as well as intervals between "fork servings."
     
  • Smart garbage bins: In order to encourage more recycling, the BinCam – essentially a smartphone in the garbage bin – takes a photo of everything thrown into the trash and uploads those photos to an Amazon service called Mechanical Turk. That service analyzes the photos to determine whether a household is recycling correctly, and then can post those photos to Facebook along with a rating of your household’s recycling habits. Think of the peer pressure and the possibilities to increase recycling as a result.
     
  • Smart Scales: These Wi-Fi-connected scales can measure, not only weight, but also body fat and a host of other health statistics, which they then send to a personal website that tracks and trends the data. The information can be shared with doctors, family or social media. The idea is that all of this scrutiny supports dieters’ efforts and helps them stay fit.

The commonality of these devices is not the technologies, but their clear focus on changing behavior. People who will buy and use these products have clear goals and objectives summed up in a few words: don’t overeat, recycle waste, stay healthy, etc.

The lesson for buildings

Those devices may not seem related to building operations, but they do underline a lesson that we can learn. With all of the technology being deployed in buildings, are we linking the technology to clear objectives and process improvements the way the smart fork links its data to slower eating?

Image of business hall blue by Dmitry Yashkin via Shutterstock.

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