Smart Spaces Address Facility Managers’ Pain Points
From sustainability to staffing and IoT to cloud, tech is up to the challenge of making buildings smarter.
Having adapted to hybrid work during the pandemic, facilities managers are now tasked with reimagining their facilities for the next iteration of the modern workforce.
FMs face their own staffing challenges, according to FacilitiesNet. Health and safety, which are key to attracting and retaining employees, were important “to a large extent” by 80 percent of respondents to a 2022 study.
At the same time, sustainability is vitally important to many FMs. It’s a subject that has grown to encompass climate change, alternate energy sources, pollution, and more, elevating FMs’ opportunities to address more issues within their spheres of influence.
FMs are scrutinizing ways to address the cost of heating and cooling, building efficiency, and the rising price of commercial insurance. Many also are exploring solutions for predictive and preventative maintenance to reduce expenses, extend equipment life, and enhance sustainability efforts.
Existing methods typically rely on a mix of isolated setups that require frequent, time-consuming, and expensive on-site visits by FM staff or external professionals. Costly and difficult to manage, maintain, and scale, these systems generally do not play well with others. Tracking multiple assets by various vendors and ensuring they’re always up-to-date is onerous, arduous, and prone to errors because of its multifaceted and cumbersome nature.
FMs also want to carefully balance delivering a high level of quality, especially in high-traffic areas like bathrooms and elevators, without over-staffing with expensive, hard-to-find employees.
Cloud of clarity
Increasingly, FMs are addressing this mishmash of insularity by unifying their operations on a cloud-based network infrastructure. By moving to a distributed network, they eliminate many of the overhead costs associated with on-premises networks, they gain flexibility and agility by being able to rapidly scale up or down based on needs, and can access cloud-managed applications remotely—a boon for hybrid workforces.
Overall, more widespread adoption of cloud computing could also cut almost one billion metric tons of CO2 emissions between 2021 and 2024. While cloud adoption alone cannot meet FMs’ sustainability efforts, it’s a start.
Cloud adoption coupled with temperature and humidity sensors inside the data center and outside the building was a bigger step for one global advertising company. It used smart-spaces implementation to help automate its building management system (BMS), looking to determine when its economizer could use free cooling versus mechanical refrigeration. The agency reduced its annual energy cost at one campus to $134,000 from $183,600—a 27 percent savings after deploying the sensors and a free cooling economizer, according to a commissioned Forrester Consulting Total Economic Impact study.
Rise and shine
The same cloud-based network that supports sensors and smart cameras empowers FMs to address multiple challenges and opportunities. They include:
- Automating updates and maintenance tasks and reducing errors, costs, and reliance on staff
- Using built-in analytics to monitor foot traffic and allocate resources accordingly
- Deploying sensors and smart cameras to improve sustainability and cut energy costs
- Enriching the employee and visitor experience with enhanced quality by using sensors to ensure cleanliness
- Improving employee health, safety, and experience by maintaining occupancy standards, meeting safety rules, and providing hot-desking for hybrid employees.
Using the data from sensors and smart cameras provides FMs with insight they can turn into action. Discovering how people move across a campus, parking lot, or meeting room helps FMs allocate resources and staff and plan future allotments.
No pipe dream
There are many examples of the multiple ways organizations discover return on investment. There’s the combination of replacement cost, security, and peace of mind, for example. Damage from climate change or natural disasters can be irreparable—insurance cannot replace the historical collections housed in museums, galleries, and government buildings, FacilitiesNet reported.
For example, moving to a cloud-based network with smart cameras and sensors helped Eagle Public Library protect invaluable historical artifacts and artwork from flooding. The Colorado library used a combination of security and SD-WAN appliances, access points, switches, and water leak detection sensors to help protect the gold rush-era artifacts from damage, and a centralized dashboard gave authorized users visibility into the sensors and network.
Many FMs are protecting modern people, not ancient documents. That was the case at CAMPUS USA Credit Union, which received an alert from its cloud-based temperature sensors only months after installing the devices. Unbeknownst to the team, the air conditioning was shut off in a facility one Saturday. Without that alert, it would have cost the Florida credit union up to $60,000 worth of hardware and a countless amount in its lost ability to provide financial services to members. CAMPUS USA Credit Union plans to add smart cameras to the same cloud-based network and dashboard for occupancy monitoring.
In addition, third-party developers often support these smart spaces with API-based applications and services designed for specific use cases. These include building management, access control, loss management, occupancy, asset management, safety compliance, hot-desking, and analytics.
With smart spaces, FMs have a new capability to bring to the many responsibilities they face. The technologies within smart spaces are proven, but there are many ways for FMs to put the pieces together. FMs can combine sensors, smart cameras, and partner applications in innovative and exciting ways to overcome hurdles and find exciting new opportunities.
Scott Wierstra is senior manager of IoT Product Management, Cisco Meraki.