GSA explores productivity boost from smart building tech

GSA (Wikimedia Commons)

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General Services Administration’s Internet of Things program GSA Link was largely meant to save money and energy for the agency through smart building technology. But since it launched in 2013, GSA Link has shown value in other ways, particularly by boosting workforce productivity.

GSA Link generates a whopping 27 million data points each day from more than 13,000 sensors embedded throughout 81 GSA properties. Using analytics software, the system automates certain environmental outcomes based on given inputs. For instance if an employee reserves a conference room with GSA Link, the system will automatically start the air conditioning for that room and turn the lights on for the allotted reservation time. When the room is not in use, those systems are turned off.

While this was first and foremost a strategy to boost energy efficiency — and it did, saving at least $7 million so far — Chip Pierpont, GSA’s director of facilities operations and technologies, told FedScoop GSA has realized secondary value in enabling a hoteling system that lets employees work wherever they want throughout the building, a sort of hybrid mobility rarely seen throughout federal government.

“The hoteling, the nonreserved office space, has greatly increased the efficiency and flexibility of the workforce because they can check in and work wherever is most appropriate for them,” Pierpont said.

When a GSA employee enters the building each day and scans his or her personal identification verification card at security, they have to digitally reserve a space to work. Gone are the days of cubicles and a lack of natural light. If a worker needs to collaborate on a project with someone from a different office, he or she can reserve adjacent desks or even large conference rooms.

Pierpont said there’s also the opportunity to “greatly improve the tenant or the occupant experience” with the thousands of sensors scattered throughout the headquarters. Using a widget GSA employees have on their computers, they can change the environment around them — to an extent.

“If you’re in a space and you’re hot or you’re cold, you can hit that widget and tell the system, ‘Hey, I’m cold,'” he said. “And what it does is query a handful of people in your area and asks them whether they’re hot or they’re cold.” With the aggregate of those responses, GSA Link will respond appropriately.

“You feel like you’re empowered to participate in controlling some of your own environmental destiny,” Pierpont said.

So far, all evidence that the system improves productivity is anecdotal. But GSA hopes to do some empirical research to “to put a metric on it” and see if that correlation truly exists, Pierpont said

While GSA Link is only in GSA-owned properties, there’s the possibility that GSA will offer the system to other agencies as a shared service. Pierpont said he’s talked to several other agencies already about the opportunity.

“We’ve established it as an extremely successful and powerful tool,” he said. “We’re constantly getting further expressions of interest for other governmental entities, and we’re trying to work with them.”

Read more of FedScoop’s special report, “Focus on Mobility 2015.”

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Agencies, emerging technology, General Services Administration, Government IT News, Internet of Things, Mobile & Wireless, mobility, Tech, telework, workforce, Workforce & Leadership
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