SMART Buildings: What’s the SMART strategy?


This is an exciting time for the built environment with SMART Buildings becoming more common and the IoT (internet of things) developing further! So, what happens after you upgrade your building to a lean, mean, integrated machine? We NOW have the opportunity to embrace the infrastructure and data generated by connected buildings. This means, more informed decisions for building professionals and owners alike.

This opportunity is important now, more than ever, as we are increasingly delivering new and existing buildings with a high level of connectivity and ‘smart’ buildings systems; this may be to meet code or through owner preference.

The following thoughts were prompted after the recent SMART Building discussions at NCS Madison Construction, Design and Building Strategy Meeting.

  1. What is a SMART, connected building?

A connected building allows you to control and monitor its systems in an integrated, centralized platform and provides consolidated data collection, analysis, and reporting. A ‘SMART’ building knows how to respond to different circumstances (sometimes via predictive settings), facilitating real-time optimization.

       2. What are the benefits of smart, connected buildings?

With integration comes automation and (often) energy savings. By monitoring environmental conditions and automatically adjusting heating and cooling accordingly, or shutting down equipment when not in use, facilities can reduce energy bills. This can lead to increased savings, reduced emissions, LEED opportunities, and overall, improved occupant comfort.

With real-time feedback comes operational efficiencies and reduced expenses. Energy and water data traditionally arrives in the hands of facility operators with a 30-60-day delay in the form of utility bills or clunky spreadsheets. Seeing consumption at 15-minute intervals allows facility operators and chief engineers to respond more quickly to issues and make (proactive) decisions before the negative impact snowballs. This, in turn, allows staff to take better care – and extend the life of – equipment.

When facilities staff spend less time being reactive, their productivity and utilization change. They can spend more time being proactive, strategizing, and planning for future changes in demand.

With centralized information comes opportunity for more intelligent strategy. Seeing data for your entire portfolio of facilities in one location or at-a-glance allows for better comparison and prioritization. Facility engineers can more easily focus on the lowest performing buildings and set system targets for EUI (energy use intensity) reduction. This accessible summary of information eliminates the need for manual data collection and comparison, allowing for ease of reporting to stakeholders – something that facilities staff often don’t have time to do. Managing such operational systems brings together teams of IT staff, facility operators, and sustainability leaders – and their collaborative power magnifies the potential for impact.

With transparent data comes opportunity for occupant education, engagement, and behavior change. Including a public-facing display in your connected buildings platform holds your organization accountable to its energy and water reduction goals and invites building occupants to participate.

Staff are more likely to turn off the lights and bring a sweater on chilly days when they can see the progress being made towards conservation goals, recognizing the impact of their combined daily actions. Automatically calculated equivalencies can put consumption into perspective and friendly competitions can inspire further conservation. For instance, if building occupants can see how many Starbucks coffees their combined energy savings could buy, perhaps they wouldn’t be so keen on cranking up the AC during their afternoon meetings.

With this information, you can manage properties as operational assets, making decisions on total building value.

        3. What are the challenges?

As with any new enterprise, challenges exist to overcome. These challenges need to be recognized and addressed accordingly. They may include:

  • Hardware and metering

The meters and controls may need to be replaced or updated to be capable of integration with the connected buildings software. This additional work and cost may be overlooked. Organizations with facilities that are served by various utilities may encounter additional challenges and setbacks with updating their portfolio of meters.

  • People

This is often one of the major challenges in the implementation of smart buildings. The people who have the required skills for installation and integration are high in demand. Allocating adequate time for setup is key for facilities and IT staff. Organizational commitment and ownership of the platform needs to be solidified. Mazzetti Sustainability Project Manager and former Sustainability Champion at University of Wisconsin Health, Shannon Bunsen, validates this perspective…

Aligning team members from IT, finance, facilities, marketing, and sustainability departments EARLY on will help ensure long-term success of the connected buildings approach.

  • Funding

Connected building initiatives are often pursued by facility managers, who may need support in articulating the business case and value. This might require creativity in communicating the benefits and seeking funding options. For example, if your organization’s leadership wants to see validation of energy savings from recent projects, the connected buildings approach can be pitched to do so. To help offset installation costs, rebate options should be investigated and pursued where offered.

       4. Eliminate system fragmentation and enhance real-time decision-making 

Building systems tend to evolve though the lifecycle of the project. By the end of a project, multiple platforms may need to be considered. Connecting these systems via an integrated platform and dashboard helps eliminate the fragmentation, providing a standardized reporting format to drive system modifications.

If this request was triggered and displayed in a standardized way, the socialization of a user generated request via a dashboard can be a method to modify occupant behavior and leverage the most current integration technologies.

An example of using the information from the standardized format is demonstrated by the partnership of Siemens with IBM Watson. In this partnership, Siemens is using the IBM Watson supercomputer which combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software.  This partnership enables analytics from the connected building to integrate and rate a tenant comfort index. but takes the “SMART grid” one step further, with the goal for the buildings to be able to produce, store, and consume energy.  Using automated technical infrastructure and physical and electronic connections to local utility companies, these buildings offer the possibility to buffer excess electricity from shifting renewable sources in thermal and electrical storage units.

  1. The future of connected buildings?

IoT and disruptive technology will continue to increasingly play a role in building management. We are seeing partnerships and solutions that allow for integration of different systems (beyond a controls system) and results that are scalable. This will change the way we manage our buildings, campuses, and in a larger sense, cities. ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ will quickly become ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure in a smart, connected approach’. Facilitating these conversations must start with a team approach and a clear plan for implementing building upgrades in a SMART manner over time. With buildings becoming more empowered than ever, we, as building operators, consultants, and owners need to stay ahead of the information curve to drive toward a most efficient future.



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