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Taking The First Steps Toward Intelligent Buildings

By Kurt Karnatz, Robert Knight, and Rick Szcodronski - September 2014 - Building Automation


The following six steps are essential on the journey toward designing a context-aware, intelligent building, which is fit-for-purpose and responsibly consumes resources both initially and over time.

Step 1: Make sure the building is fit and functional.

The first step in the journey towards an intelligent building is assessing the existing building to ensure that it has the prerequisite basic infrastructure and is operating properly. Sometimes that involves returning the building to "as intended" operation, while other times it involves satisfying an occupancy that was not originally intended. In either case, building intelligence and smart systems can make a good building great, but cannot do anything to help a bad building. The envelope (walls, windows, doors, and roof) and all mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems should be brought into good repair, and the building should be retro-commissioned to ensure adequate building-wide system performance as a baseline for future improvements.

For new buildings, this process is a little bit different since there is an opportunity to influence the basic building infrastructure with the design. A basis of design or design requirement document needs to be developed to prescribe the fundamental design parameters for each system. Also, there needs to be a governance or operations document assembled to lay out how the building systems will be procured, installed, maintained, and owned. These two documents go hand-in-hand and can often be combined into a single document since the requirements are interdependent.

Step 2: Gather executive sponsorship.

The fastest way to implement an intelligent building initiative is to have executive sponsorship. A high-level sponsor or champion for the initiative is critical since any new project requires capital funding to get off the ground and carry through to completion. It is much easier to launch a new project if the owner/investor can see a clear financial payback or return on investment. This is especially true for initial ventures by an unproven team.

In order to receive executive sponsorship, the project team must be able to articulate what the ROI will be for each of the intelligent building initiatives. The project must then deliver on the promised payback in order to build executive trust for future capital funding. Build each new initiative on the success and payback of previous initiatives.

Calculating payback for most energy-saving initiatives is fairly straightforward: Multiply the reduction in energy consumption by the appropriate utility rates. Payback calculations for other non-energy benefits can become more complex, and require carefully defined assumptions and stipulations since there are many variables that can contribute to ROI. For example, integrating the building management system with the asset management and property management systems should result in primary payback from increased operating efficiency, but could also result in a secondary payback from increased tenant retention due to enhanced comfort and quicker response times. While it may be reasonable to isolate the payback related to operating efficiency, it is much more difficult to attribute increased tenant retention to the one initiative, when viewed against a backdrop of the many other factors at play.

Because smart systems initiatives require a deep understanding of building systems, it is often useful to hire a third party that has a fundamental understanding, not only of the underlying smart systems and of the communication technologies required to enable intelligence by integration, but also the business drivers that are meaningful in the boardroom, including how to quantify ROI and formulate long-range strategies. The third-party consultant should be vendor-neutral.





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