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Clouds Over Sharjah

Microsoft, Johnson Controls Collaboration Brings IoT to the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a country renowned for high-tech luxury and advanced technology. It certainly isn’t every country that builds massive artificial islands and loads them with houses and resorts. It’s fitting, then, that the new headquarters building for environmental services company Bee’ah will benefit from a high-powered collaboration between tech company Microsoft and Johnson Controls, a huge global conglomerate with a strong presence in the fire, security, and HVAC fields.

Located in Sharjah, the Bee’ah HQ center is expected to be delivered sometime this year. The building is designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and will be powered by 100% renewable energy, but it is the property’s brain that makes it stand out. Powered by Microsoft’s Azure Internet of Things (IoT) system, Bee’ah’s new headquarters represents a new horizon of building advancement. Azure is a cloud-based digital twin hosting platform that can provide a digital representation of a building’s layout and act as a control center to manage all of its various systems. That’s where Johnson Controls comes in.

Johnson Controls will be producing a range of software and devices to further tailor Azure’s capabilities to Bee’ah’s specific needs. One noteworthy element is an AI concierge that will help workers with administrative tasks such as finding meeting spaces or coordinate transportation, a little like Siri or Cortana for an entire building and not just your smartphone. Johnson Controls has been growing rapidly, with recent M&A activity as well as a new “HVAC Rooftop Center of Excellence” focusing on the full scope of design & manufacturing uses opening this month in Oklahoma.

For Microsoft, Bee’ah building Azure services into the building is a tantalizing reward and a positive indicator for the $5 billion investment the tech giant recently made into IoT, the world of connected devices from light bulbs to refrigerators, that have the ability to “speak” to one another and communicate data and commands. A fully IoT-enabled apartment, for instance, would allow the renter to control lighting intensity, music, door locks, and even preheat the oven from a computer or smartphone – whether from the couch or across the country.

While Bee’ah is leveraging Azure itself, companies with less bandwidth for facilities management and process improvements have pathways to benefiting from IoT and digital twins as well. As one option, real estate services giant CBRE is offering their own platform, called CBRE 360, which built a unique workplace management system onto the nuts and bolts of Azure.

There’s more than one way to build a spectacular, headline-catching building. Some go high vertically into the sky. Some introduce laundry lists of luxury amenities. For Bee’ah, the answer was to develop a truly smart building that in some ways, particularly through its AI concierge, actually becomes an experience in and of itself. Only time will tell to what extent Bee’ah’s workers take advantage of these unfamiliar service. Or perhaps the services are familiar, but just delivered in an unfamiliar way.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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