Bee’ah builds the smartest building in the world
UAE environment services company Bee'ah has teamed up with Microsoft and Johnson Controls to create an AI-integrated smart headquarters
One of the world’s most advanced buildings is currently under construction in the UAE. The Zaha Hadid-designed structure is set to become the new headquarters for environment management company, Bee’ah, as well as becoming one of the smartest facilities yet conceived, complete with its own highly integrated AI persona to manage the building and the operations within.
While the building might sound more like something you would find in Silicon Valley than in the Emirate of Sharjah, HE Khaled Al Huraimel, Bee’ah’s Group CEO, explained that the new HQ is just the latest innovation from a company that has delivered a number of regional and global firsts in its mission to pioneer sustainable quality of life in the region.
Bee’ah was founded in 2007, and has expanded its activities from waste management, refuse collection, and recycling, to embrace a wide remit of sustainability and technology projects.
“We have done a lot in the last ten years,” Al Huraimel said. “We achieved the highest diversion rate of waste away from landfill in the Middle East, at 76%, and we just started construction of the first waste-to-energy plant in the Middle East.
“When that plant is commissioned by 2021, we will be the first city in the Middle East to achieve zero waste to landfill here in Sharjah. We do everything, from the collection of waste, to street cleaning, to managing landfill, recycling and the conversion to energy, so when you are looking at the circular economy, when it comes to waste — we’ve done it all.”
The adoption of advanced technology is nothing new to Bee’ah, Al Huraimel added, and the company has been an early adopter of technology both in its own operations and in the services it has developed for customers.
Bee’ah was the first company in the world to go live with Wi-Fi connected rubbish bins, that alert a central control room when they need emptying. The bins were were deployed on the streets in Sharjah while other cities were still testing the concept.
Bee’ah also brought reverse vending machines to recycle plastic bottles and aluminium cans to the UAE, launching them five years ago.
The company is in the process of switching its vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and it was the first to place an order for Tesla’s ‘Semi’ electric truck, which will help to replace its current diesel trucks with a cleaner alternative.
Last year, Bee’ah launched a joint venture, called ‘ION’, an end-to-end sustainable transport solution provider, which is offering services from consulting on city infrastructure, to support for electric vehicles. ION is already providing a complete fleet of electric vehicles to UAE-based ride hailing company Careem.
The company has also strived to be one of the most digitally-enabled organisations in the region, Al Huraimel said. It was one of the first adopters of SAP in the region, and has conducted a company-wide program to digitise processes and business functions.
The new headquarters will bring together these two themes of sustainability and digitisation, he added: “Our headquarters reflect these two pillars. It will be one of the most sustainable, and one of the most digitally-enabled buildings in the whole region, if not the world. It reflects our vision.”
One of the last buildings designed by the late Zaha Hadid, the shape is meant to reflect the sand dunes of the desert. The building will be LEED Platinum standard, and completely solar powered, for zero net energy consumption, with its own 3MW onsite solar farm, and battery packs from Tesla that will be used for energy storage. The building will recycle grey water for landscaping, and operations will be paperless.
The building will also be one of the smartest in the world, with the AI solution integrated into all of the building functions, and into the company’s ERP and productivity solutions. The digital components have been developed in partnership with Microsoft and Johnson Controls, along with Bee’ah’s digital arm, Evoteq.
All aspects of building functions, including concierge services, back-office, energy and space management, will be managed using intelligent edge systems, connected to Microsoft Azure Digital Twins and other IoT solutions. The smart building capabilities will enable monitoring and management for energy efficiency, and other building functions, while analysis of operational data will help improve performance.
An AI persona is being developed for the building, which will act as the interface for business functions including HR, customer care, procurement, administration, and for building management systems. The combination of office management and IoT solutions will enable the AI to monitor functions like procurement, to analyse procurement patterns, automatically order supplies, and optimise sourcing and purchasing.
The headquarters will be home to 250 Bee’ah staff, but with visitors, as many as 500 people could be on site at any one time. The services that the building will deliver to staff and visitors will be an experience in itself, Al Huraimel said.
“To give you an example, if you are coming to meet me in the office, you will get a notification through your mobile of the location. When you arrive at the location, it will automatically tell you where your parking space is, and then when you enter the building, the building will recognise you, through facial recognition, and it will notify the person you are coming to meet. Then either a robot, or digital signage will direct you to the room where your meeting is. The meeting will be recorded, so when you are done with the meeting, you will automatically get minutes of the meeting,” he explained.
“Another example, if you are staff, and you want to apply for leave, you just talk to the building. The building will have its own persona, linked to the ERP, so staff can talk to the building, and apply for leave that way. Their manager can then just say ‘approved’, and everything will be automatic and seamless.”
“We are seeing how far we can go with the office of the future,” he added. “We are not just doing it because we want the smartest office, but we believe that using technology, embracing it, we will be more productive, and we will create more value.”
Realising such a complex vision for a smart building might be a daunting prospect, but Al Huraimel said that Bee’ah has taken risks with new technology in the past, such as the WiFi bins or reverse vending machines, and is willing to spend time and resources to ensure that the solutions are delivering as expected. The company will start with multiple use cases for the building, and will work to perfect them based on the data and experience and feedback it gathers through operations.
The company also selected the best partners for the job, he added: “With the choice of the building [partners], we didn’t just decide to go with Microsoft and Johnson Controls, we did our research and spent at least a year to find the right company and the right technology. [We didn’t want] something that we will just test, but that will actually work.
“Microsoft is a leader in office productivity, they have been on a path to how the office of the future will work, and how AI will be a part of it, and we saw that they are aligned to what we are trying to do,” he said.
“Johnson Controls is the same — they have done lots of projects around the world, they have a long presence in the UAE in terms of systems integration and office building systems, so these two parties are the right parties to help us make this a success and to help us commercialise this project. We don’t feel we are taking a risk, we feel this is the future, and we are going for it.”
On the commercial front, Evoteq will act as a project manager for the new headquarters, with the aim of offering the same building automation and AI capabilities to other customers in the region. The building AI solution will also be rolled out to all other Bee’ah facilities as well.
“We feel there is potential — we will prove that using this technology, we can create more productive work spaces, more positive spaces, and we can help anyone achieve that in their own organisation,” he added.
Evoteq, which was established three years ago, is already established in the digital sphere, with projects including working on a digital transformation project with the Municipality of Sharjah, the largest digital transformation project for a municipality in the whole region.
Bee’ah’s plans do not stop at the new headquarters however. With the experience gained in AI from this project, Bee’ah intends to utilise more artificial intelligence in areas like optimising the operations of its 1,500 vehicle fleet. Combined with electrification, this is intended to reduce the environmental impact of its vehicles even further.
The company has also installed air quality monitoring towers across Sharjah, and is supporting Sharjah Municipality and utility company Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, to plan and deploy more infrastructure to support electric vehicles in the emirate.
Bee’ah has recently commissioned an industrial waste water treatment facility, one of the most advanced such facilities in the UAE, and has plans for a 50MW solar plant, which will be built on a landfill site, to provide sustainable power to its facilities across the UAE. It is also developing monitoring solutions that provide real time tracking of waste in its recycling facilities, and has developed a blockchain-based waste permit system for Sharjah’s Hamriyah Free Zone.
The new building will raise Bee’ah’s profile to new levels, Al Huraimel said: “We are keen to move into the HQ very soon, by the end of the year the building should be complete. This will be a showcase for the region of sustainable and smart buildings, and show that this is actually happening, that this is the way forward in terms of office productivity, and will provide more support for others to follow, to go into more green directions,” Al Huraimel said.
“By creating one of the smartest buildings, one of the most sustainable buildings in the world, it will position Bee’ah globally as a leader in sustainability and digitalisation.”