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By Kas Mohammed, BMS Business Manager at Schneider Electric
Investment in smart building systems has grown considerably over the last few years. Global spending on smart building systems reached £5.8 billion in 2015. By 2019, this figure is projected to reach £14.4 billion.
The smart building trend has led to companies reassessing their use of office space. In the past, firms tended to look at their real estate as an unavoidable cost of doing business. The Smart Working Report, a collaboration between Schneider Electric and Unwork, shows there’s now a widespread recognition that investments in the workplace can support business aims and help companies attract and retain the best talent.
Consequently, firms are now increasingly interested in how they can optimise the design of their spaces, more discerning about the kinds of locations they select, and more mindful of the benefits that buildings offer. This is challenging landlords and developers of commercial real estate to provide spaces that offer an excellent user experience, support talent attraction and which are simple and efficient to run.
These expectations have paved the way for the emergence of the smart building. A smart building is a structure in which different technology systems work together to reduce the costs of operations and enhance the experience of building users, making them more attractive and desirable places to work.
Smart buildings provide numerous benefits to landlords and developers. Firstly, intelligent energy management solutions can be deployed in a smart building to optimise the performance of building systems and carefully manage energy consumption, enabling them to achieve high levels of energy efficiency.
Effective information exchange between different building technologies enables the building to identify and correct inefficient practices. For example, damper systems in buildings are designed to provide cool outside air, rather than relying on chillers or compressors. In many buildings, however, it is common for chillers and compressors to continue to operate even on cool days when outside air could be used, despite this being highly inefficient. These examples of inefficiencies can be eliminated in a smart building due to the unification of different systems onto a single communication network, allowing the building to detect and resolve any wasteful performance practices.
The devil is in the data
Building systems and sensors generate hordes of data which can be analysed by smart building software to provide actionable intelligence on building performance. Building managers are then better placed to make informed decisions on the operations of a building, or schedule pre-configured outcomes based on their desired model of operation.
The continual monitoring of data produced by building systems also enables advanced detection and diagnostics of faults. It allows building managers to understand why a building is or isn’t operating efficiently so permanent solutions can be introduced, rather than temporary fixes.
For instance, with data analytics, building managers can proactively identify operational problems such as equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced. Moreover, it can do this before critical failure and before it has an impact on the building occupants. Repairs can be scheduled before an emergency arises, eliminating costly short-notice or out-of-hours replacement and avoiding failure and downtime. With this proactive approach, equipment becomes more reliable, the cost of replacement and repair can be much lower, and occupants are assured of optimal comfort.
Case in point, lift-maker ThyssenKrupp Elevators has partnered with CGI and Microsoft to deploy a smart solution which monitors the performance of the company’s lifts. Embedded sensors measuring everything from motor temperature to shaft alignment, cable speed and door function have now been installed. This data is then used to predict when maintenance will be required.
Smart means secure
Smart buildings also allow the integration of advanced security technologies, like facial recognition and video analytics, to ensure the safety of building occupants and users. These technologies can then work alongside other building systems to deliver a more holistic concept of security.
For example, upon identifying an intruder, a smart building can redirect security cameras, engage control systems to prevent building access and direct security personnel to the threat.
As companies become more selective over which buildings they occupy, it is essential for developers and landlords to understanding the benefits that smart building technologies offer, and how they can incorporate these technologies into their sites.