Editor’s note: This article is part of our JLL proptech series, produced in cooperation with JLL, a leading professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management. We believe in transparency in our publishing and monetization model. Read more here.

The first “smart” device in the world is said to be a soda machine connected to the internet made by a student too lazy to walk to another building to check if there was any Coke in it. That was in 1982.

Today, thanks to cheap processors and sensors, it is possible to include almost anything into the Internet of Things, from smart pills to whole buildings.

IoT has a broad set of applications from healthcare to traffic management to agriculture to real estate.

One of the uniting themes for use cases is that IoT allows us to monitor and control locations over which we previously had little oversight such as inside the stomach or deep in the basement.

We spend much of our lives in buildings, from home to the office to the mall. IoT is helping us to understand the built environment better.

If we imagine a building as a living creature, the steel in the reinforced concrete could be seen as the skeleton, the water pipes as the vascular system, while the sensors and the IoT that connects them can be seen as nerves that send information to the brain—the building’s management system.

One of JLL’s roles is to help building owners install IoT sensors.

“Our Command Centre system uses a full range of IoT sensors to give owners real-time insights into what is happening in their building” says Chris Cheung, head of property and asset management at JLL East China.

“Sensors alert us to potential maintenance issues in the building, give early warnings of potential equipment failure, and enable our staff to focus on customer services, instead of spending time checking equipment,” said Cheung.

Sensors are an efficient way of understanding what is happening in a single building, or in a whole portfolio of properties. Is it too hot or too cold? Is there enough light, is it noisy, is it too humid? How often are your meeting rooms used, and do you really need all those workstations?

These are all questions that can be answered using environmental sensors connected by IoT and there is a strong economic incentive—they help to optimize energy use and space use.

Optimizing efficiency, for example, is the key driver behind WeWork’s adoption of IoT technology.

“There are things like proximity sensors under the desks, so we can tell how much time people are using their private desk instead of being in a meeting room,” said Julian Leung, WeWork’s product tech manager.

These insights can help a business determine how much space it is actually using and help them save costs, according to Leung.

IoT is also entering our homes. One of the first consumer appliances that went online was a fridge made by LG in 2000 and back then it was considered a bit of a joke. These days we are no longer wondering which of our devices will become smart next but which platform will take the lead.

In the West there are platforms such as IBM, Apple, Amazon’s AWS, and Microsoft’s Azure.

China is also building its own connected worlds. Xiaomi is offering smart home devices through its own app-based platform. Midea offers smart connectivity for appliances. Alibaba Cloud is offering the HomeLink platform. JD.com has WeiLian.

IoT is a big business. Gartner predicts that 20.8 billion connected things will be in use by 2020, and that this year the total spend on IoT devices and services will reach $3.7 trillion.

Greater China, North America and Western Europe are the regions driving the use of connected things. China has even inked IoT into its 13th Five-Year Plan.

Changing how we build

When it comes to property, IoT is not only saving energy and costs, it’s changing the way we create buildings.

Many of us know that feeling of drowsiness that starts when a work meeting goes on for too long but not many realize that this is not just because meetings are usually boring. How alert and creative we are depends on how well the meeting room is lit and the temperature and carbon dioxide levels inside.

“People may have wearables to monitor their heartbeats, people may have environment sensors to monitor air quality, but what we do is push further trying to understand how the people in the environment can really change their thinking, minds, and behavior,” says Xue Ya, president of Delos Asia, which is opening China’s first Well Living Lab project in Beijing.

The Well Living Lab not only tracks the building’s environment with sensors but also human reactions through wearables and surveys in order to design spaces that better fit people’s needs.

This is one among many examples how this massive amount of data collected through IoT are being used. However, in many cases with IoT projects, we are collecting data without knowing exactly what insights might emerge.

“The volumes of data collected are enormous. At this stage we only know what some of it means,” says JLL’s Cheung.  Now, a spike in power usage on a piece of equipment may mean that maintenance is needed. In the future, further data analysis may yield different insight.  “We are hoping to spot other patterns that we don’t know about yet,” said Cheung.

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Masha Borak

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] technode.com. Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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