About the case
These days everything is ‘smart’. Our telephones, televisions, fridges, fire alarms, and even clothing are all becoming more intelligent using sensors and the Internet. It’s specifically due to more people, things, and technologies becoming connected that new initiatives are arising to make living and working easier. Heijmans started their initiative two and a half years ago.
The company, founded in 1923, is an innovative player in the construction industry. The firm initiated the BeSense project, a smart sensor system which collects a range of data in buildings to create a smart, sustainable work environment. In collaboration with several partners, including ITvisors, Heijmans launched this new Internet of Things platform at the start of 2017, altering the future of building management and workplaces dramatically.
Sensors for sustainable decisions
The way we work has changed significantly over the past few years. The fixed workplace has been swapped for a flexible or mobile one, and the times we work are no longer set from nine to five. All of these developments have changed the usage and functionality of offices. This evolution was recognized by Ton Fleuren, Director of Business Development Utility, who was the driving force behind BeSense. He then assigned Project Manager of Innovation Thomas Thunnissen to turn this innovative plan into reality.
According to Thunnissen, “BeSense came about because we wanted to focus more on the health, welfare and productivity of the end-users. Using sensors mounted on desks, walls, and cealings, BeSense collects anonymous data on the space utilization, occupation and usage of a building. Each sensor has a unique ID number and is connected wirelessly to a software system. They constantly measure the issues which are important for office locations: space occupation, temperature, CO2 levels, light intensity, and humidity. By aggregating and analyzing all of this information, smart and sustainable decisions can be made.”
Thunnissen quotes a few examples: “Suppose you discover that an area which is heated day and night is only occupied 12 percent of the time. Or that office X often has a worryingly high CO2 level, which negatively influences concentration. Or that the eastern side of the building is by far the favorite – and why that’s the case. Companies can take proactive action with this knowledge, making a difference for the building manager, the employer, the staff, and also for the cleaners. They can all work more efficiently and with more focus. For instance, BeSense can map out the best possible cleaning route, based on which areas it predicts will be dirty.”
With this low-code development platform it’s possible to build applications much times faster. Because Mendix works with visual modelling rather than programming, everyone can make an active contribution to building an application. Many components are also reusable in Mendix, so that time-to-market is shortened significantly.
Data platform and app development
For the first year and a half, BeSense was developed by Heijmans, working with sensor manufacturer Clickey and the CSU cleaning company. They were looking for information which could raise the cleaning quality to an even higher level. This was entirely possible using the information the sensors produced.
Pre-programmed algorithms produced alerts for where and when areas became dirty, so that an office could be subjected to more specific cleaning. After eighteen months — when BeSense had achieved an adequate level of design, its ideas had been worked out in concrete terms and it had been sufficiently tested – the need arose to start developing a data platform and an application. Logically, all the sensor data needed to come together somewhere so that it can be analyzed and converted into actionable information. Various end-users of an office also need access to the app, and various systems (of the cleaning company, for instance) need to be linked.
Heijmans engaged ITvisors for the platform’s development. Both parties had already worked together on some of the construction firm’s other IT projects. This collaboration began by developing a proof of concept. Thunnissen explains, “I was impressed with the quality and speed of that proof of concept. In just a week, ITvisors built an IoT concept using Mendix, and then iterated toward the final solution. With a strong understanding of IoT and how the application had to support specific processes, they were the right partner for this project.”
In mid-2016 ITvisors and the BeSense project team started building the application in Mendix, based on the Agile methodology. Pressure had grown to deliver the application quickly – the first version had to go live in just a few months.
Thunnissen, who is not an IT person, became familiar with the possibilities and speed of the Mendix platform. He explains, “With this low-code development platform it’s possible to build applications much times faster. Because Mendix works with visual modelling rather than programming, everyone can make an active contribution to building an application. Many components are also reusable in Mendix, so that time-to-market is shortened significantly.”
The new application was ultimately developed within six months. Through the LoRa network, all the sensor data comes together on the Microsoft Azure platform in the cloud. This is where the data security and management occurs, after which the aggregated data is made accessible through the Mendix application.
This app now focuses primarily on four end-users:
- The cleaners: The BeSense cleaning app gives the cleaner information about the various areas, toilets and desks which need cleaning. In this way, the cleaner receives precise information about his or her duties, planning, and routes. The cleaner is also able to submit specific notifications through the app, for instance if a light has to be replaced.
- The employees: The app gives them insight into the available workplaces and the occupancy rates in particular departments. On arrival at the premises, they can see immediately where space is still available.
- Facility managers: The app updates them on all the ins and outs of the building, so that they can optimize their building management, maintenance and hospitality accordingly. It also provides insights that can be useful when it comes to refurbishment or new construction.
- CEOs: By having an awareness of the actual occupancy and use of office premises, CEOs can make smart decisions that will ultimately save money.
Thunnissen says he is highly satisfied with the new application, but certainly also with the ITvisors collaboration. “Mendix is a splendid platform and offers us the scalability and flexibility we really need. In the years ahead, we want to let BeSense evolve to become a larger system which can link information from multiple facilities services. It’s not only good technology which is sufficient for a successful project, the excellent collaboration with ITvisors also played a crucial role. And the Agile working method produced enormous progress. By working iteratively, we were able to test at an early stage, and adjust quickly where needed.”