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Smart building platforms are being developed in several different ways. “For firms with in-house expertise or experience in building their own software, you can build your own smart building platform,” says DePriest. “Or, hire a third-party developer to execute on your own specs.”
Building a customized platform enables the facility manager to get precisely the internal and external data needed from the services most important to the organization. But the cost to design, develop, maintain and support the platform may make the total cost of ownership too steep for many enterprises.
Plus, the technology is still brand new. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)’s Division 25 for integrated automation systems is still being completed. Some experts feel the existing sections of Division 25 already need serious revision. What’s more, smart building platforms for commercial buildings require the expertise spelled out in multiple CSI Divisions, since building systems covered in those divisions are tied into the platform. And that’s not all: Platforms may also connect business systems like Office 365 or human resources records as well as building systems.
Such complex digital solutions require the mindset of an architect, says Fahim, because there’s not a single approach from every underlying technology. Smart building platforms must provide clean data across multiple solutions. The “architect” may be a consulting engineer or master systems integrator who knows how to set a platform roadmap and then gather individual experts into groups that can provide value to all stakeholders.
The alternative to a custom smart building platform is to buy a commercially available platform. Of course, that means due diligence by the organization from all internal teams to determine the functional, technical and security requirements for platform deployment.
At this point, facility managers may want to hire an independent trusted advisor “to help in selecting what is possible and practical for your organization,” says Fahim.
With detailed platform requirements in place, DePriest suggests making sure all platform solutions are extensible, interoperable, and secure. “To what information security standards and guidelines does the platform adhere?” DePriest asks. “How does the platform protect any personally identifiable information or other data collected?” He advises facility managers to conduct a very stringent evaluation of all options along these critical dimensions.
The upfront cost is pricey, but once a well-designed platform is in place, its digital agility and adaptability allow almost unlimited refinements and improvements. Constructed in layers, the platform can be revised, updated and take on new software, unlike hardware devices that have limited lifetimes.
However, Fahim says that from a facilities management standpoint, it’s crucial to know who is going to manage and operate the newer technologies. “Do you need a building data scientist?” Fahim asks. “Who is operating the software or platform? You need to know how to make the best of it.”
Reel says that benefiting from a smart building platform requires action. “Our global director of integration likes to call smart building platforms ‘Fitbits for buildings,’ and I agree. You don’t get fit just by wearing the tool — you have to use the feedback provided by the tool to inform your actions.”
Rita Tatum, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, has more than 30 years of experience covering facility design and technology.
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