TECHNOLOGY: Smart Homes and Businesses – Prairie Business

When Mark Honzay started his career in architecture eight years ago, the only smart technology going into homes and businesses was programmable thermostats. Nearly a decade later, Honzay, an architect with JLG Architects in Fargo, N.D., designs commercial spaces that have the potential to be entirely automated with a single tap of a touchscreen.

Thanks to the increasing popularity of smartphones and apps, customers want to always be connected to their homes or offices, and communications companies are making it happen. “We are always connected,” says Brad Schoenfelder, vice president of operations at Midcontinent Communications in Sioux Falls, S.D. “We are never away from our phones, and we want to be able to watch our primary investments — our children and homes — and have peace of mind.”

Smart Technology Options

Midcontinent introduced its SmartHome service a year ago on a limited basis and has now rolled out the service to its large markets. The company is working on a do-it-yourself installation service, which would bring the service to the company’s small markets as well. SmartHome is a wireless product that “allows you to be more connected to your home and family,” Schoenfelder says. “We felt there was a missing link in the traditional security system, and our product fills it.”

SmartHome services include security cameras, motion sensors, alarms, water sensors and keypads, thermostats and lights that can all be activated remotely. “There are a lot of products that do home security, but our service lets you customize exactly what you need. It’s not just security either; SmartHome also lets you remotely connect and control your home,” Schoenfelder says.

For interested customers, Midcontinent provides a consultation to give them the best options for their needs. “Many people don’t need SmartHome for security, so they aren’t aware of everything it can do. For a reasonable cost, you can know when your children come home, save energy and make your home comfortable,” Schoenfelder says.

Midcontinent has not extended the service to businesses because most businesses want recorded cameras, which is not an area the company has invested in yet, Schoenfelder says.

Bemdiji, Minn.-based Paul Bunyan Communications offers a whole suite of smart technologies for both the home and office, says Gary Johnson, the company’s CEO and general manager. Those technologies are featured in the Launchpad, Greater Bemidji’s co-working space located in Bemidji’s historic Mayflower building. Paul Bunyan installed its GigaZone gigabit Wi-Fi, digital cameras for monitoring and remote access control throughout the entire Mayflower building. The Launchpad features a high-definition video wall for digital signage in its atrium and other digital signage throughout the building, all of which can be controlled remotely by staff, as it is all software based.

The Launchpad’s boardroom is the smartest room in the building, Johnson says. It features an eight-foot LED panel display, video conferencing and Apple TV for wireless presentations. Everything is wireless and can be remotely controlled. The entire room, including the screen and lights, is controlled via an iPad. “It’s a very simple interface and is all integrated together to be user friendly. This has been a fun project for us, and we’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to explore the technology and see all of these services layered together. This was an opportunity for the facility to have smart technology, but also for us to showcase what we can do,” Johnson says.

Johnson says the majority of the smart technology featured in the Launchpad is also available for homes. “We’ve had interest in smart homes since our announcement of gigabit Wi-Fi. We’ve offered smart home technology for two years.” The company has worked with numerous small home-based businesses as these smart technologies have become cheaper. “Those business owners used to be limited because of money, but now they can afford to monitor their homes and businesses.”

Jamie DeJean owns Smart Home Technologies, a West Fargo, N.D.-based smart technology company. DeJean describes Smart Home Technologies as a “system integration company.” “We take the various parts of a home — such as the heating/cooling system, motorized shades, lighting and audio/video system — and allow them to work together as a single, cohesive system,” DeJean says.

Smart Home Technologies provides whole home video and music systems, lighting control systems, motorized window treatments, heating/cooling system control, home network systems and video monitoring equipment. These systems can be controlled by in-wall keypads or touch panels, hand-held remote controls, smart phones or iPads, depending on a client’s needs.

DeJean’s company can provide fully integrated homes, but the service can also extend to businesses, including office buildings, conference rooms and bars and restaurants. For example, in a conference room “a single press of a button can automatically prepare a room for a presentation or meeting, and then turn off lights and audio/video equipment when the room is no longer in use.”

DeJean says Smart Home Technologies works directly with clients, but many times builders and architects will bring their clients to him, at which point Smart Home employees will do a technology interview with the client to determine which package best fits the client’s needs. “Technology integration allows the different parts of our homes and businesses to operate together in a simple, efficient manner. We are focused on making our clients’ daily lives more enjoyable through simple-to-operate entertainment and technology systems.”

Designing for Tech

When Honzay, the JLG architect, designs commercial spaces, every building has at least a programmable thermostat. It depends on the client — because it is still expensive technology — so they have to see the value in spending the money on it,” Honzay says. “For example, if IT spends a lot of time setting up rooms, then there could be value in investing in smart tech.”

Honzay says he sees the most requests for smart technology from universities. “Higher education administrators want their lecture halls to be able to change very quickly. The lighting can all be programmed via touchpad, and the lecturer can choose what they’re doing and it will activate the whole room.” For example, a professor could tap a button labeled “projector” and the projector would turn on, the screen would lower, lights would dim and window screens would roll down.

Many universities and commercial spaces have also invested in room scheduling integration, Honzay says. Digital signs are mounted outside meeting rooms and are updated as soon as the rooms are reserved online.

When he’s designing, Honzay tries to future-proof facilities as much as possible. “It can be difficult, because technology changes so quickly. What we can do is provide infrastructure that allows the system to be switched out with minimal work and minimal disruption,” he says.

Stan Schimke, director of health care services at EAPC Architects Engineers in Bismarck, N.D., focuses on making health care facilities smart. “Health care providers want to create a patient experience, so mobile check-in and technology-based registration have become very popular,” he says. Hospital beds are more advanced, there are smart boards in patient rooms and patients have control of their environment with remote control window blinds and overhead lighting. Patients can order meals from a tablet, while doctors and nurses access patients’ charts via tablets.

“When we’re working on a health care facility, the technology is talked about right up front,” Schimke says. “We walk through the project and figure out where we can work in various technologies. We also future-proof the facility for changing technology.” Schimke says he frequently attends health care conferences, lectures and trade shows to keep up with the latest trends in health care technology.

“Health care providers are starting to see a lot of their patients using wearable health care devices, so they’re tracking their health in real time and are becoming part of the care team,” Schimke says. “The more connected people are, the more options we want to provide.”

At the Mayflower building, Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel says it was important to him that the building showcase the smart technology available in the region. “We renovated the Mayflower to act as a front door for Bemidji,” Hengel says. “People might think we don’t have technology, but when you walk in here, it shows that a rural community like Bemidji can have emerging technology. This technology shows we aren’t a typical small community; rather, we’re an emerging regional center.”

Hengel says technology is a geo-equalizer. “You don’t have to be in a metropolitan area to be successful. This technology provides everyone the same opportunity and creates opportunities for businesses in regional centers like Bemidji.” PB

Kayla Prasek

Staff Writer

Prairie Business magazine




Write a Reply or Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.