5 Steps on the Road to Smart Buildings
A single smart device can’t make a building intelligent. Instead, internet of things devices are intended to serve as components that can be linked together to form a truly smart building.
A common misconception is that using smart devices or Building Internet of Things (IoT) technologies within a facility is enough to position that space as a smart building. In reality, an intelligent building is a set of dynamically connected smart systems made interoperable through a platform that accumulates, shares, detects, analyzes, anticipates, and acts upon the collective smart building data.
A single smart device or piece of equipment can’t make a building intelligent. Instead, IoT devices are intended to serve as components that can be linked together to form a truly intelligent building. The intelligent building connects cutting-edge IoT components to a core, creating a common building platform, with the components working as an orchestra. When enabled to share their specialized data through an open-source data platform, smart building systems become collectively intelligent and their effectiveness increases exponentially.
While the benefits of an intelligent building have been well-documented, the roadmap to achieve building intelligence isn’t as clear. Both existing buildings and new construction can be made “intelligent” by following the roadmap below. And a building’s “intelligence” can be increased with each building system that is integrated, allowing for a continuous improvement strategy.
1. Building technology systems assessment
The first step is a building technology systems assessment that considers the following features: computing power, technology infrastructure, facility age, compatibility with IoT and intelligent building technologies, location, and ability to integrate to another platform. This assessment could be virtual, conceptual, or both for a new building.
For existing facilities, as-built documentation will be critical to understanding what needs to — and what can – be done to improve intelligence. MEP infrastructure, lighting, elevators, critical electrical components, electrical infrastructure, and HVAC controls are all critical to the success of an intelligent building. A detailed survey of the building will reveal how these items are connected, as well as potential or existing data points. This assessment will capture the state, age, and capacity of the existing building.
The question is, can these systems or infrastructure points be connected to an upgraded system to source more granular data? The answer can often be found on a building walk-through. But before the intelligent building consultant comes to the site for a walk-through, they should have already reviewed and thoroughly examined the building’s as-built documentation, creating a targeted walk-through agenda. This agenda should be provided to the facility manager ahead of the event to ensure an efficient and productive assessment.
Infusing intelligence into a new facility, while arguably easier than with an existing facility, carries its own challenges. As architects vie to minimize back-of-house spaces and infrastructure needs, the intelligent building master planner must use virtual basis-of-design documents to call out systems, components, and any modifications to the initial design that may be necessary to create a truly integrated intelligent building platform. Intelligent building design often combines systems that are part of the initial infrastructure construction and the interior fit-out, creating funding streams and stakeholders for each phase to be involved in the intelligent building design visioning.
In a new building, timing is key to IoT equipment integration. For example, since the elevator system is a significant building power consumer, and it is traditionally the first system to be built out, upfront coordination is required to ensure it can be integrated.
On one recent project — a financial services headquarters in the Midwest — the plan was to connect the elevator power consumption on the intelligent building system. Unfortunately, the elevators were specified and installed before it was determined that the power consumption data could not be shared with the intelligent building platform. While other elements of the facility are currently integrated and collecting usage data, one of the building’s most significant power consumers is not.
2. Visioning and master planning
During the master planning phase, the goal is to look beyond what’s inside the building to realize its true potential for integration. The biggest question at this step is to determine future plans. This often includes a conversation about ownership. Is the building an enterprise facility which the company plans to occupy for years to come? Is the business renting? Leasing? A solid understanding of the business’ goals allows for tailored experiences and outcomes to be generated from integrated intelligent systems.
3. Set priorities
The third step on the road to intelligent building integration is to take the assessment and master plan and create a rating scale for those making the intelligent building decisions. For example, each piece of equipment or system graded for priority on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being absolutely foundational to the intelligent building upgrade. Once the grades are assigned, go back and review each item, considering any potential roadblocks to implementation. These could include budget issues or determining if the technology is mature enough for the investment to be worthwhile.
A Midwest agriculture manufacturing company had 60 items to rank. As many as 50 of the equipment or systems scores came back as 10s. The team iteratively discussed varied timelines, budgetary restrictions, and future phasing. Subsequently, the list of items was reduced significantly so that the most important systems for the intelligent building program were slated for adoption first, and others were identified for future implementation phases.
4. Apply the plan
Now, it’s time to apply the plan, unique to each facility’s intelligent building upgrade/integration strategies.
With existing facilities, three issues typically take priority: budget, facility interruptions, and time of year. Consider creating a five-year intelligent building upgrade plan, in which budget issues are resolved, facility interruptions are scheduled, and projected upgrades are considered. Existing buildings should remember, though, that upgrading systems and infrastructure will be less costly today. Integrating the intelligent building upgrade plan with existing infrastructure upgrade plans is critical and can reduce implementation costs and business impacts.
5. Design phase
In this stage, theoretical discussions become reality. It is time to conceptualize the intelligent building. During design, manufacturers may be called upon to present their technologies and demonstrate the intelligent building configuration that will be created and shared.
Technologies will be researched in-depth and reviewed for their compatibility with the master plan, and most importantly, their ability to provide the intelligent integration they claim. As with any industry breakthrough, there are products that claim to be intelligent-building-ready but in reality are not.
With a five-year intelligent building upgrade plan, set the expectation that new technologies will arise and need to be evaluated. These new technologies can reduce implementation costs or increase value generation.
Proper application of IoT technology today will enable easy integration of emerging technologies down the road. Consider not only “doing it right,” but also building out additional power, capacity, cabling infrastructure, and space for the future.
Steve Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org), CAP, is operations director, automation, for Environmental Systems Design, Inc., Chicago.