The quiet IoT revolution
The power of the IoT (Internet of Things) to realise integration and automation through cross-system communication to make possible real-time monitoring, optimisation and automation can improve out approach to managing all aspects of a building’s operation. Kas Mohammed of Schneider Electric takes up the story.
Employee expectations, rising energy costs and mandates for increased energy efficiency are forcing businesses to change the way they approach building management. This is making the shift towards an IoT-enabled (Internet of Things) network particularly attractive. Yet, taking steps to make their buildings or facilities IoT-ready is undoubtedly a daunting venture. What would be wrong, however, would be to view the IoT trend as purely reactive and reluctant.
The potential for savings, innovation and optimisation in an IoT-enabled environment represents a substantial return on investment. By connecting previously siloed systems [including software, hardware, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units and building management systems (BMS)], businesses can use the IoT to augment their processes and energy-management capabilities.
The power of IoT — integration and automation
Only through cross-system communication is real-time monitoring, optimisation and automation possible. Much of the IoT’s value lies in its ability to integrate the various and complex components and IT systems that comprise any modern building, functioning as a cloud network where these myriad devices can collaborate. When building systems can ‘talk’ with one another without complex interfaces, the resilience of the infrastructure is strengthened and provides access to a greater volume of intelligence, leading to better use of resources.
Such a system augments an organisation’s pursuit of greater energy efficiency, where the rapid collection of, and reaction to, massive amounts of information are essential. For example, having IoT devices and sensors integrated with an HVAC system means that organisations can collect real-time data on all of their products and services. Here, thousands of sensors are gathering data while the system is communicating with the outside world. This will include actionable data from outside of the building itself — such as electricity, utility and commodity prices. By understanding and organising this information, the system will enable organisations to take a fresh look at their current practices, generate business change and create efficiencies.
The benefit of an IoT network is also realised when dealing with software that visualises and reports utility bills, monitors assets, detects and diagnoses system faults and enables optimisation. These tools aren’t new, but have previously demanded a considerable amount of human involvement that often reduces speed and overall effectiveness. As long as this software is in place, the automated nature of an IoT network means that organisations can reallocate human capital to higher-value tasks.
Benefits at work
How then does this benefit an enterprise in practice?
There are significant opportunities for greater efficiency, sustainability, and productivity in an IoT-optimised environment. For example, consider an office that is minimally staffed. An occupancy sensor, integrated through the IoT to the BMS, will detect a reduction in the CO2 levels of the office and set off an immediate chain of actions. This can include switching off heating, ventilation and lighting systems and generally placing the environment into a temporary low-power mode.
The IoT-powered BMS will also enhance the experience and performance of a building’s occupants. There is a clear correlation between an employee’s output and their ‘thermal comfort’ — their physical and psychological reaction to the air temperature of their environment. The IoT’s superior ability to measure and respond to its surroundings, specifically to temperature and relative humidity, will actively ensure that employees are at their most comfortable. Healthier and happier staff invariably contribute to increased productivity and higher retention rates — the quiet components of business growth and success.
Finally, cheaper proactive and predictive asset maintenance practices rely on the monitoring capabilities of an IoT system. Equipment maintenance is cheaper and more effective when a building’s devices are communicating with one another. It is more difficult for failures and malfunctions to go unnoticed when a BMS can detect a fault and automatically schedule maintenance, all without human input.
Buildings will continue to get smarter so long as it makes sense commercially, both in terms of saving money and increasing productivity. In fact, McKinsey Global research estimates the economic impact of IoT adoption in factories, retail settings, work sites, offices and homes will total up to £5000 billion by 2025. This will be the result of improved hardware and advanced, more efficient BMSs for buildings that increase the productivity of employees and create less wasteful buildings.
Connected, intelligent equipment and systems have proven their ability to provide greater insight into performance and deliver a considerable, measurable return on investment. What is happening in homes, where HVAC, lighting and security systems can be managed from anywhere, is finally headed to transform the commercial space. Finally, the power of the IoT environment is giving people increased power to change the way buildings are managed.
Kas Mohammed is BMS business manager at Schneider Electric.