How cool would it be to walk into your vacant conference room and simply say “let’s start the meeting” and to have the blinds adjust, the lights come on dimmed at just the right level, the temperature fine-tune to accommodate for an influx of warm bodies and the flat screen TV light up ready to display your presentation and to start your video conference? No futzing with devices. No searching for misplaced remotes. All you need to do is to say what you want to do.
The Smart Office is Here
Imagine, you’re the first to arrive to your office in the morning. The door is locked. Bag in one hand, smartphone in the other, the lock senses your arrival and the door magically opens for you. Upon entering the office, the lights automatically illuminate and as you walk through the space, the lights sense your presence and light your way. You notice the temperature is just right; the thermostats have anticipated your arrival. On your way to your desk, you walk by the kitchen and say “brew some coffee.” As you start getting settled at your desk, you ask, “what’s in the news” and NPR plays you the latest headlines. Breaking news: your coffee is ready. You go grab it and bring it back to your desk and ask “what’s on my schedule today?”, your itinerary is read back to you, you ask your digital assistant to make your first call, and you’re off and running.
All of these things can be done and so much more.
Simply put, a smart office is a collection of smart devices that are assembled to do the things you want them to do.
Commands are simply spoken. Other automated actions are “programmed” to react, to anticipate or to work on a schedule.
A smart office is not only cool but it can save you time, it can save on electricity, and it can provide added layers of security and monitoring. A smart office can make routine tasks effortless. It can add a “wow” factor. The types of things you can do with a smart office are comprehensive and will only continue to develop as more and more manufacturers come out with more and more smart devices.
Right now Amazon, Google and Apple are the three big smart home/office players. All three work in much the same way and offer many of the same features, but there are slight differences between each.
Where They Are Similar
All three solutions:
- require an account with the service provider;
- use a microphone/speaker device for receiving and responding to voice commands;
- have specific and limited wake words;
- rely on sending voice commands to their respective clouds where the commands are processed; and
- use a combination of devices and online services to integrate the various devices and automation commands.
Many of the differences between the solutions are related to the nature each of the provider’s core businesses:
Amazon has arguably the most comprehensive smart office solution. Amazon integrates with the most smart devices and services, and has excellent voice recognition capabilities. Amazon employs its very affordable Echo device as its interface. You activate it by saying one of the four optional wake words: “Alexa”, “Echo”, “Amazon”, or “Computer”. Amazon is also at the forefront of smart home/office development and seems to be putting the most resources into creating solutions and allowing for third-party integrations. The Amazon solution tends to be comprehensive and easy to use. As an online retail business, Amazon is actively pursuing the concept of the “Internet of things.” All of which makes purchasing everything from music and video to household items and even services as easy as saying: “Alexa, get me…” Amazon is an excellent solution and perfectly suited for the office environment, consumerism notwithstanding.
Google is very similar to Amazon in the sense that it integrates with a large number of devices and services. Google employs its Google Home device with various options with speakers of varying sizes and quality. “OK Google” and “Hey Google” are the two interchangeable wake commands. Google excels at providing information as Google Home is an extension of their search-engine service. If you use G-suite for your office, Google Home integrates nicely with mail, calendar and other online tools. As a data collection and marketing company, Google also has a vested interest in its development of and participation in the Internet of things.
Apple is a bit of an outlier in the smart office mix. Apple has comprehensive device and service integration, but their approach is quite different. Instead of using a sedentary room device like the Echo or the Google Home, Apple relies on the device you carry around with you: your iPhone and/or iPad. That said, Apple has just released the HomePod, its version of Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. The HomePod is a high quality speaker, but lacks extended office automation functionality. We can only hope Apple will add functionality in the near future via software updates.
Apple does something with device integration that none of the other services are doing. Instead of simply allowing for third-party compatibility, Apple collaborates with the third-parties to certify compatible devices and to add an encryption layer to all compatible device communications (something the other solutions sorely lack). This means that compatible devices must be labelled Apple “HomeKit” compatible (not just “Apple compatible”) and, in turn, come with a unique pairing code used to verify the device and establish encrypted communications. “Hey Siri” is Apple’s sole wake word. Voice recognition is excellent and the things you can do are comprehensive. Apple’s smart home/office model is in line with its business model of creating its own ecosystem of devices and services. Although not entirely exclusive, Apple’s solution is carefully designed for integration within the Apple world and expansion within it.
There are many other smart office solutions that are currently available. This article greatly simplifies the conversation. Other players to keep an eye on include: Ikea, Microsoft, CastleOS, Mycroft, Athom, Ivee, Ubi and Insteon.
Make It Your Own
Creating a smart office can seem overwhelming and complicated. The best place to start is by simply forgetting about the technology and defining the things that you want to do to improve your business and business environment.