Intelligence quotient

Honeywell, Alastair Reynolds, smart buildings, BEMS, controls, IoT
Alastair Reynolds

Changes in working patterns and the need to optimise energy use are creating new challenges for building managers. Alastair Reynolds considers the impact of the IoT.

The connectivity provided by the Internet of Things (IoT) is making buildings smarter. As a result, buildings are increasingly capable of adapting to the needs of occupants while also better managing energy use and day-to-day operations. By integrating next-generation systems, facility teams are making it possible to create structures that anticipate the needs of users.

The result is the cognitive building – a smart environment that is as distinctly different from the traditional workplace, as the electric motor is from its steam-powered predecessors. And the step up in performance is just as marked. Smart buildings are changing the occupant experience in ways that empower the people that work in and own them. Moreover, these benefits are quantifiable: by integrating next generation analytics, it is possible to measure their value. This combination is transforming the building environment into a tangible contributor to organisational outcomes.

As a consequence, the role and scope of the facility manager is changing, too. Automation had already helped free up facility teams from many basic, repetitive tasks but it wasn’t smart – it was a routinized process. Cognitive buildings aim to take technology beyond automation to one that monitors events and feeds back real-time actionable insights, which can be used to help reduce energy consumption, optimise space usage, improve security and enhance safety.

For example, it is now feasible to monitor occupancy rates, energy use, individual pieces of equipment and user interactions – remotely and as they happen. It is also possible to deploy and extend environmental controls and security measures, such as access systems, to enhance occupant safety and comfort.

As a result of these initiatives, one of the biggest challenges facing facility managers is ensuring that energy systems are operating efficiently, reducing the building’s carbon footprint and bringing down costs. Energy is a complex issue that touches every aspect of a building and presents many simultaneous challenges – energy costs, occupant comfort, security and reliability of supply, to name a few. A recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has revealed that a smart building can realise up to 30–50% savings compared with conventional buildings that are deemed energy inefficient.

This includes heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which all need to be closely monitored. Traditional building management systems typically have stand-alone applications with separate monitoring and control stations for HVAC controls, energy metering and power management, central plant equipment and lighting. While each application is beneficial on its own, the real power lies in managing them as one intelligent solution that can identify occupancy trends and match this against actual energy needs. For example, turning off lights or turning down HVAC systems in unoccupied parts of a building can offer immediate savings without compromising comfort or safety.

Space optimisation is also key as it helps companies use their offices more effectively. Technology that can monitor and track footfall can help facility managers identify where changes might be desirable. This can extend to the use of car parking spaces, depending on sensor installations.

And things are set to get smarter, faster. The implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) is already adding sophisticated fault detection and preventative maintenance thanks to the use of next-generation data analytics. It is also helping improve tenant comfort by integrating mobile apps and wearables that help occupants directly control the ambient temperature and lighting levels, for example. AI-based systems can also learn and adapt as circumstances change, perhaps due to shifting patterns of occupancy.

Many buildings contain multiple disconnected systems – they exist in walled gardens or isolated silos. Often these do not communicate with each other, leading to manual maintenance, data trapped in proprietary systems, disconnected teams, over or underused space and a poor occupant experience. However, when properly deployed, a fully integrated digital system can help overcome these obstacles, cutting operating costs by monitoring and controlling building processes across an entire business: multiple sites, one scalable, smart vision.

Personalisation is an important piece of the smart building puzzle. Digital services and app-based interactions will help structures individualise the user experience by means of learning-based data analysis and voice-controlled smart devices. This type of interface is eventually expected to support the development of cognitive districts and cognitive cities, which in turn should help deliver a range of insights to improve long-term sustainability and safety management.

The role of the facility manager will continue to be shaped by technological developments, which are already enabling cognitive buildings to proactively adapt to the needs of their occupants. And with so much data to be captured and analysed, it will be critical for businesses to partner with technology specialists that can help them implement and maintain the appropriate smart building solutions, now and in the future. This level of adaptability is key as employees are spending less time in the office and more time in alternative workplaces. A cognitive buildings strategy will help adapt to this trend, enabling businesses to optimise the use of buildings.

Universities are getting smarter by design 

Melbourne’s Monash University was looking to automate its building environment in order to better meet the needs of its students, staff and other key stakeholders. The university therefore installed connected technology to more efficiently manage the buildings on its campus in Victoria. This transformation was centred on adding technology that helps enhance learning environments for optimal educational outcomes. This connectivity is expected to help the university reach its goal of zero net emissions by 2030.  

To help turn campus buildings into ‘intelligent contributors’ it is essential to first establish desired outcomes. This will not only determine the most appropriate technological foundation, it will also reveal what layered, scalable applications are needed to fully bring a building to life. Armed with this information, universities like Monash can create spaces that better match expectations and usage patterns, helping to make them more comfortable for those who use them, and often more energy efficient to help save on operating costs.  

This data-driven approach can also improve security management and building equipment performance. It may be appropriate to implement app-based technology, so students and staff can have control over their surroundings, directly from their smartphones.  

The pressure is on universities to make capital improvements to attract top students and faculty staff. Limited budgets and aging infrastructure are creating obstacles, which are compounded by a growth in student numbers. However, as educational institutions around the world are discovering, intelligent building management systems, including the use of IoT connectivity, can help overcome these problems. A smarter built environment for a smarter learning experience is increasingly part of student life. 

Alastair Reynolds is general manager for Services at Honeywell Building Solutions, Europe.

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