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Connected Homes and Intelligent Buildings in the COVID-19 Era

By May 14, 2020 October 9th, 2020 No Comments

ASHB has launched a new online publication, the ASHB Journal, with perspectives on emerging research, information, trends, and challenges in the intelligent buildings and/or connected home sectors. In recent posts, Christopher Larry of exp. US Services, Inc. provided insights on the health of a building, as revealed through building data, and Ken Wacks looked back on the innovations that caught his eye at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. In the inaugural post, reproduced below, ASHB President & CEO Ron Zimmer surveys challenges and opportunities for the industry in a world radically transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has now impacted the world in a manner not seen since the Spanish Flu over 100 years ago. Back in 2015, Bill Gates predicted in a TED Talk that the world would soon experience a “once in a century” pandemic. He urged governments and the private sector to join forces and prepare for this pandemic or face the consequences of economic turmoil and widespread death.

Similarly, President Obama also made prescient forecasts of a pandemic and unfortunately not many prepared for a virus like COVID-19. So today the new normal of shuttered businesses, social isolation and unprecedented change is global. Every country has been impacted by this virus and has been trying to cope and map a strategy that will be effective for their citizens and economy.

Most countries are now making efforts to open their economy and businesses to help their economies. The harsh reality is that the virus could claim the lives of 2% of every person infected. It appears that the endgame is to slow the virus until “herd-immunity” or a vaccine will forestall and end this deadly virus. If this is the new reality, what will be the short-term consequences and how can “intelligent buildings (IB) and connected home” technologies help society in this pandemic?


As COVID-19 spread across the globe, by governmental decree entire countries and cities closed like dominos. In the wake, were ghost towns, deserted streets, parks and buildings. Almost overnight businesses were forced to undertake a massive organizational shift of either closing or deploying their staff to home offices. This international social experiment was logistically complex and unprecedented in scope.

Over the past decade some organizations had been experimenting with “home-office or telework”, but most have never had to engage almost their entire workforce.  For many nations this was a once in a lifetime test of their technology networks to see if they could withstand the shifts in video, data and voice traffic.  Fortunately, the years of investment in solid networks and IT infrastructure paid dividends as these networks allowed massive numbers of people to work from home.

There was an added benefit for businesses with buildings that had incorporated intelligent buildings technology. Remote monitoring and diagnostics of energy, security and life-safety, lighting, digital signage, now seemed like a great investment as stay at home orders were enforced. Those organizations that also digitized their operations, employed data analytics and artificial intelligence could take advantage of sensors, monitors and digital twins.

As new rules and policies are enacted by federal, state/provincial and municipal governments, technology can assist in transitioning to this new reality. Many expect that new building codes and regulations will be coming from all levels of government, not just to set the new standards and benchmarks, but to also help mitigate the litigation that is also likely to come with COVID-19.  What is very important is to show employees, customers and guests that your buildings are safe and that health risks have been eliminated or dramatically reduced.

One key example of the changes that have occurred is the postponement or cancellation of all industry conferences and events. The new norm is for virtual events or scaled down webinars. Companies like ASHB Board member Microsoft, Zoom and Cisco Systems have all stepped in to meet the new demand for robust video conferencing technology. Some pundits have said that business day trips will likely never come back as webinars and video conferencing has been shown to be so much more efficient and cost-effective.

While IB technology still has shortcomings, it can be utilized to instill confidence and trust over healthcare and protection to employees and others. To really achieve an economic recovery, one big step is to show that buildings can be transformed into safe and healthy environments. In fact, Mondor Intelligence is now predicting that IB technology will grow globally at 23% CAG for the next four (4) years.

The health care sector has always been a leader in embracing IB technology and will increasingly take advantage of new technology. Several examples include HVAC systems with filters to attain the highest levels of indoor air quality.  The use of germicidal ultra-violet light has already been in widespread use with both fixed lighting and robots. In fact, UV lighting will gain mainstream acceptance as an acceptable way to kill COVID-19. Allied Market Research states that UV lighting is already a $1B industry and they are projecting that it will grow to over $3.4B by 2026.

So, what about energy and buildings? While large buildings were cutting their energy usage, the energy usage increased exponentially in suburbs. While the shifts in usage and new patterns of energy use were challenging, utilities were able to cope. It will be interesting to see if the ‘new normal’ will see an increase in microgrids, renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage, etc. This era may be the opportunity to switch to clean energy create less traffic with more work from home and achieve not just a better environment but help solve the global warming issue.


The home office was thrust upon many people with little warning and or time to prepare for the reality of COVID-19 and a new work environment. Throw in some home schooling for your children and social isolation really created a new routine for many people! It is fair to say that home office or telework has exploded and there will be no going back to the old days. The C-Suite and managers who would never accept employees working from home, have now had a chance to see the positives of employees working from home. While it is not for every employee or company, COVID-19 allowed them to test this option and adjust their future workforce.

What has surprised many is that in most cases robust networks and infrastructure have been solid and allowed many employees to transition to their home office. Having cloud technology, IT support and access to some of the best technology has certainly helped in this workplace transition. Consumer electronic sales, not just items for the home office, but gaming, music, smart televisions, voice activated devices has exploded in the last two (2) months.

Okay, it is agreed that consumer electronics sales were already on a steep growth cure, with a record number of devices being showcased at CES 2020. In addition, the wave of Internet of Things (IoT) was also fueling this growth. Add millions of people working from home to this formula and you have just added steroids to this increased demand. In fact, IDC’s research states that by 2025 there will be 41.6B connected IoT devices carrying 79 zettabytes of data.

What are some other immediate and noticeable changes due to COVID-19? E-commerce was already becoming a dominant force in retail and a thorn in the side of ‘bricks and mortar’ retail outlets. Shut down many of the retail outlets during COVID-19 and tell everyone to stay home was a boost for anyone providing on-line sales and delivery. Amazon and Shopify are just two (2) examples of organizations that have seen unprecedented growth. Unfortunately, a number of small and large retail outlets will not survive this pandemic.

Telehealth and telemedicine have been around for many years and with COVID-19 health and wellness has been front and center for nearly everyone. Clearly COVID-19, due to logistics and fear, created many more healthcare networks in the last two (2) months. It is estimated that in the US alone there are now 200 million people using health care networks. In fact, in many jurisdictions, telehealth was only just authorized due to the issues related to this healthcare crisis.

There have been many positives related to technology and as a result many businesses and essential services have continued to function.  Unfortunately, there are also dark forces at work. Cybersecurity is still a major issue and cyber criminals continue to prey on the unsuspecting or the vulnerable. Many people not in the safety of their office and under the watchful eyes of their corporate IT department, have been experienced malware, identity theft or ransomware.

Privacy concerns are also a major issue and will continue to be an issue. An example of this is whether entering a business or having someone at the airport ask to take your temperature.   Refuse to comply and you will not be allowed on that plane or into a certain building. Multiple research reports in the last year including the ASHB Landmark Research Report indicates that cybersecurity and privacy concerns are the #1 and #2 reason why consumers don’t buy connected home products and services!


It is very clear that COVID-19 will be with us for at least 1.5 – 2 years. Until someone is able to find a vaccine or people can achieve ‘herd immunity’ of 60 -70%, society will be in a slow dance with the devil. Once we are able to achieve a victory in this war, then we can move to a more normal state. However, the new normal will never be the old normal…. society, people, buildings, technology will have changed dramatically forever.

So here are a few of my recommendations for those in the “connected homes and intelligent buildings” sector:

  • Everyone must digitize…digitize…digitize!
  • Form task forces that should review every aspect of your operation. Bring in non-traditional players such as medical experts, architects, etc.
  • For OEMs of software and hardware, analyze every product and service. Now is the time to invest in R&D, especially to solve the problems of existing or new customers. Drop products and services that are marginal.
  • End-users, like builders, developers and facility managers, should develop a strategic plan or Roadmap for their buildings.
  • Like a snowflake, each building is unique, and priorities will differ, based on many factors.
  • Realize that ‘home networking’ will be a large part of the workforce going forward. Therefore, there may be less need for the existing office space.
  • Open office, hotelling and in-person group work will be on hold for the foreseeable future.
  • Understand and work with governments, insurance companies and organizations, like ASHRAE, to understand the new standards, rules and best practices.
  • Based on this knowledge, work with your legal team and develop new rules, regulations and contracts that protect employees, customers and your business.
  • Understand your insurance both for liability and health and know that litigation related to COVID-19, whether from employees or customers, will be a part of the future!!

The most important point is that in the last 30 years technology for “connected homes and intelligent buildings” is well positioned to help people and businesses survive COVID-19. Unfortunately, not every end-user is aware of what is available and how it can assist them. Position your existing and new products/services such that everyone benefits.

Finally, work with ASHB as we can help you …Connect to what’s next.TM

Ron Zimmer [email protected] is President & CEO of ASHB (