Why Smart Building Technology Buzz is Living up to the Hype
Such smart building deployments represent a convergence of IT and building facilities management and operation networks. They show how data collected from IoT-connected systems can be analyzed in the cloud and used to optimize operational functions or even predict problems or diagnose points of inefficiency.
“These companies want to get more efficient with how they manage energy costs,” said Richard Nowak, director of smart building Initiatives at Siemens Building Technologies division. “The value of data on our cloud platform is that it can diagnose problems that currently are creating extra energy costs for them. Cloud is very much part of the smart building equation, as it allows you to look into mechanical systems and analyze potential problems before there’s an issue.”
The Power of Data
Energy efficiency and cost savings might represent the initial reasons why building owners, operators and tenants would become interested in creating smart buildings, but the value that can be delivered from an IoT-enabled smart building goes way beyond energy benefits.
Hopping, of Siemens, said building owners and operators migrating to smart buildings architectures are doing so to gain some control over energy efficiency and costs, but they also are trying to create new kinds of workplaces, enabled with more features and applications, that can allow them and their tenants to be more competitive and lure better employee talent.
For example, sensors that detect presence can provide detailed information about when, how often and for how long different offices, rooms and other spaces are used. Usage data can give building operators and individual tenants more control over the environmental conditions of these spaces to a level where conditions are adjusted on a dynamic basis for personalized comfort depending on who is using them and when. However, the same connectivity and data intelligence can allow tenants and their own employees to do much more, such as access the building network to reserve meeting rooms, call up specific content from in-room devices, remotely check the length of the line in the building’s cafeteria or order food to a specific room where a meeting will take place.
The technologies being put in place by companies like Siemens, Bosch and Schneider often can extend to helping the businesses using smart building spaces to deliver on their own specific business goals and initiatives. To take one example, smart lighting management technology from Enlighted, one of three smart building-focused startups Siemens acquired last year, can do more than help customers manage lighting costs, according to Nowak. The system recently was put in place by a national retail chain to help them gain more insight into customer behavior.
In addition, having access to presence and usage data — knowing where the humans are — also can help building owners and tenants better design their spaces for optimal use, converting spaces with hot-desking initiatives or common areas based on their usage patterns, or perhaps allowing unused spaces to be sub-leased.
“In office complexes, the dynamics of buildings are changing,” Bosch’s Topiwala said. “As people become more networked and connected, you also can sensorize these places for presence and temperature detection to get heat mapping to understand use of space. You can see that if some space isn’t getting used, you can repurpose that space.”
Leveraging this data can even extend to how parking garages and lots are used, providing awareness to employees and building visitors about available parking spots. Additionally, it can be used to enable more efficient equipment maintenance in the workplace. For example, instead of keeping to maintenance schedules for equipment like network servers, elevators, common room appliances and vending machines, usage data can help more accurately determine exactly when mechanical equipment is due for maintenance or replacement parts.
“Take elevator monitoring,” Topiwala said. “All of a building’s elevators may be serviced according to an annual schedule, but by sensorizing them, you know the utilization of each one. Maybe one gets used more than another and needs service sooner, but the others don’t.”
Schneider’s Hedayat said it’s wise to think of a smart building as a new platform, which is capable of enabling building owners, tenants, application developers and others to innovate on top of it, creating features and functions that may be tailored to their own needs.
“There is a ton of data in that platform that can be used to create a lot of new value,” he said. “It’s like when the iPhone first came on the market and it inspired all of these new applications. IoT can do the same thing for smart buildings.”
Still, the evolution toward smarter buildings remains in its early phases, and there are still challenges to be overcome. There are very few smart buildings in the world today that exemplify the vision of fully-connected IoT environments enabling a lot of the applications described above.