To maintain a strategic focus on innovation, established as a separate division, the Unica Innovation Center remains an important driving force for the innovation of service provision in the broadest sense of the word. One task of the division is to recognise and combine innovative developments within the Unica companies, and to join chain partners, customers and other market parties in developing new forms of service provision.
Collaboration with Schoonster is an excellent example of a practical application that has already been put into operation. Schoonster plans to offer dynamic cleaning services in line with space occupation and utilisation. These services will rely on data from the Building Insight data platform developed by the Unica Innovation Center. The data will be used to optimise the cleaning route on the basis of algorithms. Communication to the cleaner, via a specially developed app, guarantees more efficient cleaning services and reduced costs. The application will be put to use among others at the head offices of Unica, where Schoonster is responsible for cleaning services.
The cleaning application is a clear example of the continued development of the Building Insight platform that was launched in 2020. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus last year was on a module that monitors air quality, but since that time a range of other spatial conditions have been added to the platform, on the basis of which new functional applications have been developed. The Unica Innovation Center is already working to implement the monitoring services for Legionnaires' disease (from Unica Building Services) and energy consumption (Unica Energy Solutions) on the platform.
The expertise available within the Unica Innovation Center is not only employed for the company’s own platform applications, but is also available to customers. In 2021, an inventory was conducted among all Unica companies to assess which traditional services are suitable for digitalisation, and pilots were organised at a number of customers to determine where service optimisations can be achieved. On behalf of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), for example, experiments are underway involving remote first-line support, where an engineer from Unica Building Services uses virtual applications to, as it were, ‘look over the shoulder’ of the caretaker when a breakdown occurs. On behalf of FrieslandCampina, based on knowledge provided by Unica Building Intelligence, a close-knit network of sensors has been created for monitoring energy consumption in the production process of this dairy cooperative organisation.
Under the leadership of the Rotterdam branch of Unica Building Services, the efficiency of central heating boilers at the Woonbron housing association is being analysed. By measuring return flow rates, the application checks the optimum setting of the boilers. In collaboration with the University of Technology in Eindhoven (TU/e), work is underway to investigate the optimum energy conditions for preserving archive materials and works of art in the most energy-efficient manner possible on behalf of the National Archive. Based on the study results, TU/e plans to develop an energy standard for archiving services.
Finally, the application developed for BMW Dusseldorp combines several of the specialisations at Unica. The charging and energy infrastructure used by the car dealership has been fully automated, to ensure optimum use of the charging capacity and prevent wasting energy when charging electric cars. The results are displayed in the showrooms of all affiliated dealers, in the form of a dashboard of sustainability figures, connected to BMW Dusseldorp’s own ICT environment and managed by Unica ICT Solutions.
Customers use the Unica Innovation Center as a sparring partner, but at the same time suppliers are encouraged to develop new concepts for improving services along the chain. With that in mind, Unica organised a second Innovation Challenge in 2021, in which the company challenged its partners to submit proposals for more service circularity. Four ideas were shortlisted for a final evening when a jury of Unica experts declared AQ Group the winners. AQ Group, specialists in the maintenance, disinfection, inspection and cleaning of air conditioning and drinking water systems, came up with a concept for circular air filters, in which only the cloth filters need to be replaced rather than the entire frame with the filters. Replacing the filters requires far less material now and as a consequence far less packaging. Because the filter cloth itself can also be produced in the Netherlands rather than abroad, less transport movements are required. Unica has freed up an investment budget to further elaborate this innovation in collaboration with AQ Group.
Within regular operations, too, there are innovation programmes relating to existing services. The Battery Power Supply solution from Boele Fire Protection is a textbook example of an innovation in the fire safety market, whereby a variety of products and services are combined to deliver an integrated fire safety solution. Another special research programme in which Unica was involved in 2021 is Delta21. This initiative is an integrated plan focused primarily on protecting the Netherlands against flood risks with a valuable alternative to dyke reinforcement programmes. Delta21 is also intended to act as a large-scale ‘battery’ for storing electrical energy in the form of an energy lake. Unica Datacenters has made a financial contribution to this social initiative, and as a project participant will examine the possibilities for developing a floating data centre in the delta area, the power supply for which will be extracted from the energy lake.