We want the insights that smart buildings bring, but what are the take-up challenges, particularly in older assets? 

Ubiquitous internet-enabled devices and sensors, constantly monitored and communicating with each other, represent a system collectively referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

When sensors are deployed in the built environment as data capture, and communication devices are paired with big data analytics, the concept of smart buildings emerges, providing value-driven results for owners and occupants. IoT technology permits multifunctional building systems to be integrated and interrogated with linkages to the operating needs of occupants via the business’ own core operating systems.

The resultant diagnostics enable the analysis of building efficiency, covering services performance, maintenance requirements and energy consumption as well as monitoring occupier use and comfort including space utilisation, indoor air quality, daylight metrics, acoustic levels and more.

This connectivity and analysis also enables the performance of the buildings to be managed remotely, altered to meet occupiers’ needs and enhance business productivity.

Implementing these IoT Smart Building approaches is challenging, however, particularly in existing ageing assets, which, although they currently service occupier needs, it’s in a relatively inefficient way.

The Challenges

The IoT world is exciting, but there are technical and implementation challenges that need to be addressed.

Often the sense of urgency associated with IoT initiatives results in project commitments that are made without really understanding how these technologies will affect operations and what is needed to derive value by tying back into the core business objectives.

The implications of how the installation of thousands of different sensors across the business and buildings occupied will lead to improved business performance are seldom mapped. This is not unexpected, particularly when considering that most enterprises currently only extract minimal value from their existing data.

In these applications, the forward-thinking planner needs to see how each part fi ts into the whole and how the whole provides the ability to synthesise the macro- and micro-operational environments and requirements. Understanding how to meet the security, analytics and testing requirements for these new applications, is also a challenge often neglected.

Keeping up-to-date with emerging technologies and planning appropriately, with the right balance of data – not too much, nor too little – requires insight and business acumen. While smart devices have been around for some years, their application is rapidly increasing and the potential behind IoT with more impactful applications, is expanding.

But it is not only inadequate planning that impacts the ability to benefit from IoT in the built environment; businesses are also limited by the capacity of legacy information management systems and resource limitations. Being able to merge legacy building systems with new facilities devices further complicates the adoption of new smart building management systems.

Proper Planning

The most effective way to derive value from sensor technology, the IoT and big data analytics, is to ensure that the data gathered can be analysed and acted on to improve operations.

Too often these projects are embarked upon so that it can be reported that an IoT initiative is underway, without proper planning. The objectives should explicitly define the details of the data to be collected and the leverage expected to determine the practical requirements:

  • types of sensors required
  • where the sensors capturing data will be located
  • how the sensor data will be cleansed and validated
  • tools needed to visualise and interpret data
  • what infrastructure is necessary to support the analysis, and
  • what governance policies are applicable to protect the data.

Many organisations do not know how sensors and big data will impact data analytics and storage requirements. It is also important to know how such technology is likely to impact operations on a day-to-day basis, with the necessary specific expectations, delivery processes and timelines, needing to be defined.

Not all data is equal, and requirements will depend on the data type. Data pertaining to equipment functionality is likely to be important and time-sensitive, demanding real-time review with immediate processing to report costly malfunctions.

Other data may only be needed once a month and still be able to convey something that is meaningful and actionable. This means carefully choosing a combination of complementary analytics solutions with employees having access to the right tools, knowing how to properly use them based on understanding the data value-driven outcomes.

Smart Building Checklist

Documenting all the issues and opportunities, identifying where to potentially save money, boost profit margins and reduce energy consumption, is the starting point. This checklist will cover every aspect of facilities management requirements including electrical outlets and devices, lighting systems, air-conditioning and heating, elevators and escalators, fire alarms or smoke detectors, equipment monitoring and relevant asset management tools.

But the checklist also needs to cover aspects related to monitoring for occupant, worker and customer usage, including internet via Wi-Fi, location-based service needs, smart conference, breakout and meeting rooms, parking, storage space and outdoor grounds management, entrance and emergency exits security cameras, locks and access controls.

Part of the checklist is assessing how these systems link into Local Area Networks (LANs) through servers and firewalls, and whether these systems come on automatically or stay on permanently, and can be accessed remotely with automated threat alerts and notifications.

There is relatively little value in having sensors and analytics deployed in isolation. Using a single platform to collect and analyse the data streams at scale provides more contextual layers for modelling and analysis. The result will be more financially responsible decisions related to the building assets.

Context and scalable data can be the difference between treating symptoms or, with broader trends emerging, rectifying the problem itself.

The Future

There is ongoing debate as to the extent that the IoT and smart building technologies will be used to manage and control the management of assets as well as user and occupier experiences over the next five years.

Generally, in the built environment, the use of IoT is still considered to be at an immature stage; however, a surge in adoption may be timely because of a number of converging forces including:

  • product supply businesses constantly identifying new ways to leverage IoT products to make improvements in current operations in the built environment
  • solutions providers managing to adapt and evolve their services in line with the ascent of IoT and the evolution of products
  • costs to implement and use the capabilities of IoT technologies, which are reducing rapidly and becoming the new normal for more complex and premium-grade buildings, and
  • market conditions in specific sectors such as continued increases in the pricing of and demand for energy, but with ageing energy infrastructure grids struggling to handle the demand, IoT may provide timely sector advantages.

Despite all the hype and possibilities around smart buildings, however, preparing the financial business case can be a challenge if the value proposition is not understood and is not easy to quantify.

The return on investment should be self-evident, with the insight provided by IoT technologies enabling facility managers to address problems directly in real time before the degradation of asset capital commences and limits operating downtime and repair costs.

With the future value proposition based on enhanced building service reliability and the appropriate use of maintenance expenditure, leading to improved working environments and greater workplace productivity, the advantage of these outcomes can be complex to quantify objectively.

For new building projects, it is now common to provide additional cost estimate premiums in the initial construction budget to include smart building connectivity using advanced building products and equipment, as well as the analytics based on smart systems processors and overlays.

For existing buildings, however, upgrade works to undertake retrofits, BMS upgrades and installation of sensors are usually stand­alone projects, and the relevant financial metrics are likely to be more complex.

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