The future of smart buildings: digital planning tools hold the key

Today digital planning tools are a competitive advantage. Tomorrow they will be seen as table stakes.

Not long ago, electrical installation planning tools were a piece of paper, a pencil, some catalogs and a calculator. However, these days we have seen a rise in digital planning tools that have made the entire process more effective, more productive and ultimately more rewarding for both the installer, and the commercial or residential customer. 


The practical benefits of digital planning for smart buildings

To demonstrate how, it helps to look at an example. Imagine an electrical installer who specializes in cutting-edge smart homes. A client asks for a consultation to learn more about what products are on the market and what they can get for their budget as a part of a high-end custom home construction. Digital planning tools can help bring the project to life on-screen while achieving the following benefits:

  • Insight: You can easily capture important project scope details such as size, purpose, and required functionalities, helping you focus recommendations to only the systems and hardware that make the cut. For this client, you would be able to learn about their priorities, such as aesthetics and functionalities, and only show  the options that meet their requirements.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Many solutions come with a wide range of options. A digital planning tool can help you determine in minutes if your budget will cover the functionality and design desired and, if not, where you might be able to effectively cut costs. For this client, you might see the opportunity to make the budget go further by using high-end design units in the living areas and a lower-end design unit in the basement.
  • InnovationAt the speed that technology changes, you can’t be expected to know about every single new thing every system can do. A digital planning tool incorporates the latest functionality of whatever system or products you’re looking at so that you can take its latest features into account. For this client, you could discover that the latest version of a system has received a significant upgrade since you last installed it on a different project, impacting your recommendations.
  • Flexibility: Few buildings are ever built as first conceived. As scope and budgets change throughout the life of the project, a digital planning tool can easily help you pivot and adapt your solution as needed. It can also warn you of any issues that may arise due to proposed changes, so you aren’t caught unaware later on. For this client, you would be able to update the project as they make changes to the home layout with just a few clicks of a button.
  • Confidence: A digital planning tool gives you a single source of truth for the project. For this client, you would use it to ensure everything was installed in exactly the right spot as planned.


The future of digital planning technology

Some installers are still using versions of the paper and pencil method today. This is because there have been relatively few digital planning tools available that provide the ease of use and functionality necessary to plan effectively. However, as more and more digital planning tools are released on the market by various manufacturers, installers will soon not just expect the option to use digital planning tools, but demand it.

As a result, digital planning tools are poised to become a business enabler of the future. Very soon, no customer or installer will be willing to work with a manufacturer who cannot offer the insight, cost-effectiveness, innovation, flexibility and confidence a digital planning tool can provide. While these tools are a competitive advantage today, tomorrow they will be seen as table stakes.

In addition, these planning tools tie directly into one of the mega-trends impacting the world today: the need for data. These tools are able to use data in sophisticated ways to help installers scale and grow their knowledge and capabilities. In turn, manufacturers will use the data produced by these planning tools to gain new insights into their customers and how their products are used, helping to inform everything from their sales and marketing approach to how they design new products. A digital planning tool is not only a win for the installer and their customer, but for the manufacturer, their employees and their shareholders.

At ABB, we consider these to be very exciting times. As a frontrunner in the development of digital planning tools, we’ve seen firsthand what these tools have been able to do for the business of our partners and installers. In just the past few years we’ve been busy rolling out planning tools for systems ranging from door communication to fire alarms to smart homes.  We offer these tools in English, German, Dutch and Italian, with more to come. The world is about to enter the golden age of digital planning, and we’re excited  to be part of it.


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About the author

Igor Schitkow

I believe there’s no reason why the planning and commissioning of an electrical installation should not be more intuitive. As part of the Global Product Group of Building and Home Automation Systems at ABB, I get to work on incorporating new ways of using digitalization to make electrical installation smarter. Before joining the Global Product Group, I worked in Global Marketing and Global Sales for ABB, where I learned that innovation can come not just in the form of a product or service, but also in the form of an innovative business model.
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