Breaking down the barriers to reap the benefits from smart buildings

Since 2015, analysts have been talking about the Internet of Things delivering new types of ‘smart buildings’ that are able to provide a better experience for tenants and a more efficient, highly monetizable set of building management services to facilities managers. The picture now emerging is one of digital transformation at building level and the benefits of this approach are translating into a huge market opportunity, estimated at $31.74 billion by 2022, to deploy, and make useful, smart technology in buildings.

Thanks to the availability of lower cost IoT devices that in their millions can harvest data at scale; integration of local area and wide area wireless communication networks to relay sensor data, enhanced data processing via cloud-based data analytics, and mechanisms to enable action from insight, the design of commercial, industrial, buildings and their operations blueprint has now changed. So what are the opportunities that smart building technology can offer and how can the barriers to adoption be overcome to ensure the growth of the IoT market continues at its predicted rate?

One of the most significant barriers to adoption within the smart building market is cultural. The UK is one of the most CCTV intensive nations in the world and in recent challenging times, we have become used to the fact that our movements are constantly being observed. However, when the subject of big brother is raised, the majority are of the opinion that 24/7 monitoring makes people very nervous, especially when it comes to the issue of data protection. In order to realise the true benefits that intelligent building technology can provide, a wide range of data measurements need to be taken and this could cause concern for those who are apprehensive about having their personal data recorded. For an environmental monitoring solution, for example, information such as energy usage, humidity, carbon monoxide and acoustics needs to be monitored. But what happens to that data, and who owns it? Many do not understand how smart technology can have a positive impact on elements such as energy usage, not just in terms of lowering bills but in turn reducing the impact on the environment and many more subsequent benefits. Without this insight, the automatic response to new technology can be nervousness and skepticism. Education is therefore key to overcoming these cultural concerns and by encouraging collaboration between all parties at an early stage of the plans, the benefits can be clearly explained.

The potential cost of an IoT implementation can also be a perceived barrier, but in the majority of cases the cost benefit analysis can present significant financial savings. For example, IoT technology can help to lower the maintenance quotient of a building by monitoring key parameters such as water usage, temperature and movement of people. With this approach, maintenance can be performed swiftly when it is required, rather than waiting until a system breaks down. IoT technology can also aid in energy reduction, by helping to identify the causes of energy spikes and in turn resulting in an overall decrease in energy bills. By interfacing IoT-enabled devices to a building management system, key data parameters can be used to anticipate needs, take the requisite action and control the entire process from end to end e.g. turning the air conditioning on or off when required – without the need for human interaction. Whilst this involves monitoring a level of personal information, with data protection legislation in place individuals cannot be identified but can still play their part in the smart building measurement model.

There are many new developments that may stir the market of Intelligent Buildings, including wafer-thin sensors that can be placed unobtrusively in challenging areas, robotic assistants that are able to ‘walk’ with you around a facility, tiny drone surveillance of perimeter security, and many, many more. These new developments seem to be focused on a single main objective: improvement of operational processes with the attendant commercial impact and increase in user satisfaction. A good example of this is in the Nordics where office facilities are dynamic, flexing shared desk space and working facilities for tenants and guests based on actual demand on any given day.

Outside of the Nordics, this style of working is becoming a global trend, with smart offices changing the future design of the office environment. A revolution that is being led by American office giant, ‘WeWork’, provides increased transparency within the working environment, as when combined with smart technology, these smart offices have been transformed into an intelligent ecosystem. From temperature sensors that can control the climate and make sure empty spaces aren’t being heated, to window shades that move with the sun, and water gauges that can detect leaks, IoT technology delivers endless benefits and efficiencies for the workspace and the users within. This shared intelligence, which has been designed specifically for flexibility, means that people and spaces are becoming more agile and interconnected than ever before. The reality is that with technology employees are now able to work from anywhere, and individuals are therefore demanding workspaces that are dynamic entities that extend from the office to the home and to third party environments. However, the current challenge for building owners and developers is the upfront retrofitting costs of these environments. Education is key to increasing awareness of the many cost benefits smart buildings provide from energy conservation to facility security and an enhanced environment for the user – all of which can quickly contribute to a rapid return on investment.

In the near future, we expect this flexibility to go even further, with an increase of highly customisable buildings that will provide individualisation and personalisation of the environment for the individual user, bringing together multiple ergonomic parameters that can be customised at will. For example; technology that matches the seating settings in your car to your desk chair, individual temperature zones by desk, digital image overlays around the user and adaptive lighting to positively impact mood will all work together to provide a more productive, pleasing and personalised environment for each user.

Nick Sacke, Head of IoT and Products at Comms365, a leading managed solutions provider, specialising in bespoke data connectivity, network services and IoT.

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