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How smart is the building you work in?

OPINION
By Carol koech | May 9th 2021

Everything looks smart today including our cities, cars and phones. But how about our buildings? Our homes, offices and factories are the places we spend the most time – up to 90 per cent.

Can we say with certainty that our buildings are smart? Are they energy efficient? Are they making use of data and analytics to understand when to change the building’s temperature and air-conditioning?

If not, then you aren’t living or working in a smart building.

What is a smart building? Buildings have been getting ‘smarter’ ever since the very first building automation solutions were introduced decades ago. However, today’s definition of a smart building goes beyond automated operation, towards the intuitive operation. There are several considerations of what makes a building truly smart.

First, any smart technology has to contribute to a building’s purpose. For example, a smart hospital will aid in the recovery of patients.

A smart office building will improve the productivity of those working there. Smart buildings can contribute significantly to our health, wellbeing and efficiency.

They intuitively adapt to the environment, to help us be better.

Smart buildings are more efficient. The building will analyse data collected from disparate systems such as the lighting, power and management software to improve operations.

You should be able to see every data element on a single screen and manage, either remotely or on-site, every element of the building from that central platform.

Thirdly, smart buildings aren’t just about structures. They will be able to communicate with the devices that we wear or carry, such as phones and fitness devices. These additional data sources will help the building adjust the environment and provide additional services.

We could use additional technologies in buildings, such as augmented or virtual reality, to enhance and transform how we work and live.

The fundamental basis of any smart building is the Internet of Things, which allows every device to be connected to the internet.

The core device is sensors, which provide the basic information to monitor any building. Sensors can be combined with other devices; such as motion detectors to gather richer data sets.

For example, combining a motion detector with a sensor will enable the building to understand people density, and adjust the environment including air quality, temperature and ambient noise, accordingly.

Why should make our buildings smart? There are many reasons. However, the two obvious arguments for investing in smarter buildings is efficiency and sustainability. Energy and service costs can be more than a building’s initial cost, which is only 15 per cent of its total cost of ownership throughout its lifetime. Managing energy costs while driving sustainability and efficiency is one of the biggest power management challenges that professionals face. Technology is one of the enablers of creating more sustainable buildings.

Digitisation helps save on operational costs by enabling facility-wide monitoring of the electrical system and loads, including heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting.

Tracking energy consumption patterns can show where improvements can be made, such as identifying non-critical equipment that can be shut down.

Digitally enabled visibility into equipment can also identify critical maintenance needs, enabling technicians to act efficiently to minimise or avoid disruptions through a proactive approach.

Transforming your building?

Building owners and operators should look for an open, intelligent building platform that can integrate with any type of device or software today and in the future. Buildings are complex ecosystems consisting of many sub-systems.

And there’s the analytics too, with big data and artificial intelligence opening up a range of possibilities to improve on how our buildings operate – whether it is predicting equipment failure, identifying sources of energy efficiency or helping to better understand and plan space utilisation.

These insights have the potential to help buildings become hyper-efficient.

Lastly, is resilience. Smart buildings can do more than simply recover from unanticipated downtime events like power outages.

The best smart buildings will sense and predict issues before they become a crisis, such as a cybersecurity attack.

This ensures minimal disruption to what is happening inside the building.

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