Where the smart money is

The workplace has changed beyond all recognition over the last 10 years or so and, with new technology being introduced on a continual basis, the process of evolution is far from over. Casey Wells, Digital Customer Marketing Manager of Trend Controls Limited, explains the benefits of connecting building services to create truly intelligent buildings, and what to consider when doing so.

We live in an increasingly connected world and the term ‘intelligent building’ has become part of the common vernacular. The Intelligent Building Dictionary defines it as ‘a building that integrates technology and process to create a facility that is safer, more comfortable and productive for its occupants, and more operationally efficient for its owners. Advanced technologies – combined with improved processes for design, construction and operations – provide a superior indoor environment that improves occupant comfort and productivity while reducing energy consumption and operations staffing’.

All for one

Traditionally, every building service had its own isolated infrastructure and used disparate systems, standards and protocols. This resulted in duplication of effort and materials, the coordination of multiple cabling infrastructure installations and a cost overhead to the project budget. It also produced a legacy of multiple underlying communications technologies, and increased complexity and cost in terms of facilities management.

Times have changed and it is now possible to connect previously disparate building services such as security; digital signage; fire detection; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); lighting and Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) over a cloud based infrastructure. This creates a more ‘joined up’ approach to occupancy comfort – for example, while heating and ventilation play their parts in ensuring good air quality, they can also be connected to a lighting control system that simulates the natural daylight cycle and makes a building fully in tune with the circadian rhythms of occupants. This can help improve productivity and reduce instances of eyestrain, migraines and headaches.

Need to know

As connected devices multiply, so too will opportunities for Apps to interact with the workspace in a multitude of productivity enhancing ways. Imagine being able to ‘friend’ or ‘like’ a building that learns your personal space and occupant preferences, and creates that environment before you set foot inside. The data that intelligent buildings provide, added to the analytics necessary to turn it into meaningful information, are crucial tools for building owners and managers, as they are pushed harder than ever to reduce cost and maximise the productivity of both people and assets.

It is important to remember that creating a truly effective intelligent building relies upon knowing what interested parties are looking to achieve – some will prioritise comfort conditions and a more flexible workspace over energy efficiency and reducing water consumption, and vice versa. Whatever their objectives, there will be a requirement for data that can be used to learn the ‘rules’ that apply to a building and configure the optimal way of operating it.

The danger here is that although there is the potential to acquire lots of data, collecting it merely for the sake of it is a pointless exercise – ultimately, it’s what you do with it that counts. Organisations need to hone in on high-value, 'target-rich' data that is easy to access, available in real time, has a large footprint and can effect meaningful change if it is given the appropriate analysis and follow-up action. If, for instance, data is used to configure ways to reduce energy use, a good starting point is to use a BEMS to monitor energy consumption by sensors, metering and sub-metering. Then analytical software can be utilised to collate, decipher and present the information in an easy to understand format, such as a dashboard or graphical user interface.

Action plan

One of the real benefits of this is that it allows building owners and managers to be proactive rather than reactive in terms of how they respond to actionable insights. As the missing link for companies that want to drive business outcomes from their data, actionable insights can be derived from a BEMS to prevent downtime and stop problems before they start, such as running plant more optimally to lower wear and tear, which, in turn, saves money by prolonging its life.

Mechanical equipment will occasionally cease to perform correctly. A BEMS can monitor plant efficiency in real time and send an alert if something is wrong. In terms of remedial action, this granular information means that the right engineer, with the right tools and spare parts, can be deployed to fix the issue.

Not only does this save time and effort, it stops the production of CO2 from unnecessary journeys and reduces reliance on planned preventive maintenance (PPM), which involves replacing certain components on a time-based schedule, rather than doing so when they are actually worn or working inefficiently. Any savings can then be used to finance further investment in building optimisation, which, in turn, leads to further savings and creates a ‘virtuous circle’ – generating savings in overall resource use, comfort, wellbeing and helping to meet corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives.

Safe and secure

Every building is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to configuring an intelligent infrastructure. Likewise, there are a number of pitfalls to avoid.

Hackers are usually looking for confidential data that can be used for a variety of purposes, including identity theft and industrial sabotage. The complexity and sophistication of attacks, initiated by increasingly capable and technically well-equipped cyber criminals, is continuing to rise. Therefore, organisations should adopt a strict username, password and PIN policy across their infrastructure/buildings and it is wise to regularly change passwords and make them as strong as possible. Similarly, all relevant equipment should have the latest software and firmware versions applied and all PCs that are connected over the network should run virus protection software with up-to-date virus definitions as a matter of course.

Intelligent building development also requires some long-term thinking. Although the initial purchase price of some technology might be attractive, it pays to check whether it is future proof, is modular and can be expanded as needs dictate, and whether the manufacturer has a policy of backwards compatibility when it comes to the design of new products. On a related issue, beware of systems that are closed protocol and lock the end user into using a particular manufacturer or integrator.

Finally, although there is a lot of analytical software available, it is ineffective without an in-depth understanding of how a building works, how it is occupied, the activities that take place within it and how the building services systems operate together. Similarly, there must be clear set of objectives, so partner with a manufacturer and its Partners that can provide solutions and work closely with them through a collaborative design approach. This means that any key performance indicators (KPIs) can be configured and measured, while dashboards provide all the right information in a way that they can be understood and adapted when required.

Next step

Having truly connected building services delivers tangible commercial and operational benefits to the owner and manager, provides occupants with a more effective working environment, and offers the potential to develop the facility into a truly intelligent facility. In order to take full advantage, system design must be flexible and agile, ready to respond to new applications and changing needs, and make the best use of the data produced.

For further information please visit www.trendcontrols.com.


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