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Establishing the Building Internet of Things, One Technology at a Time

By Chad Hollingsworth

Digitalization is quickly becoming the new normal across industries, and now facilities management is joining the revolution. More than 76 percent of facilities management departments now receive facility-related notifications and alerts on their smart devices (as reported in the March 2016 cover story of Building Operating Management). While this is only one step toward connectivity, it’s a sign that times are changing.

Smart devices are just the tip of the iceberg. The Building Internet of Things (IoT) is where the future lies. Connected devices and sensor technologies offer exciting possibilities for gathering and sharing building and facilities data so facility managers can make better, more informed decisions. You can see the value that this offers when you consider that most facilities engineers and technicians spend 20 percent of their time looking for the latest blueprints, as-builts, warranties, and other critical maintenance and repair information. In addition to being inefficient, it is costly.  A study a few years ago in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management estimated the annual median cost of rework in the U.S. due to poor document control was about $4.2 billion per year, and that figure could well be higher now.

The good news is that technology is available today to automate building and system management, maintenance, repair, and reporting. Smart buildings and facilities now use connectivity solutions for real-time, automatic building data and response, and rely on software platforms to create a single, digital stream of information. Technicians deployed to repair an HVAC system can log their service call from their smart devices. Similarly, an electrician working on a generator install can access blueprints, punch list items, or specs from the field, all in real-time.

Sensor technologies are also adding value. For example, environmental sensors used during the building phase can monitor temperature, pressure, and smoke to try to predict and prevent damage, and are increasingly being deployed during the operations phase to monitor for mold growth, fire outbreaks, and water leaks. Similarly, wearable sensors used to monitor workers’ activity during construction — when they arrive on a site, when they leave, and where they are located — can be used by facilities managers after buildings have been completed to monitor worker activity and location to optimize manpower, site control, and security.

Emerging technologies have the potential to enable facilities to be run better, safer, and faster than ever before.  But how do you choose a technology that’s most effective for a given application? There are several issues to consider when conducting due diligence, including the following key questions:

1. Will it work and be supported for the long term?

Before investing in digital, it’s critical to see how the solution works in a “live” setting. Beyond a demonstration, inquire about potential site visits or limited pilots, and at the very least, speak with existing users.  Along those lines, if the vendor is promoting a product that isn’t readily available today, keep looking. Consider the company’s on-boarding and support services.  Best-in-class companies offer on-site training, online resources and dedicated customer support. Also, find out how long the company has been in business and its track record. Since your purchase should be the start of a relationship, not a one-time transaction, make sure you are confident the company will be around for the next several years.

2. How is the Technology Deployed and Maintained?

To ensure the success of the technology, consider what would be involved in deployment, training, and implementation. In the case of connected systems, find out how much hardware and accessory components are required — which is particularly important for large buildings — as well as how the technologies stay powered and what happens in the event of power loss. In the case of information management software on smart phones or tablets, for example, what are the policies about device ownership and care? 

For truly successful implementations, involve subject matter experts from facilities, operations, upper management, safety, security, human resources, and communications from the beginning.  Engage them in evaluating IoT technology and establishing processes through deployment and beyond.

3. Does It Play Nice?

Finally, technology must be developed with the Building Internet of Things ecosystem in mind. Since managers, operators, and field technicians don’t have the time or budget to rework a system or toggle between multiple hardware and software platforms, legacy technology must be able to communicate with your newest solutions. Make sure the platform is developed to integrate with third-party systems, and offers an option to push or pull the data into your preferred system of analysis or record.  Advances will be ineffective if your solutions don’t work together.

The Building Internet of Things is giving building operators and facilities managers the power to view and leverage total facility information at their fingertips. It’s an exciting time for the industry, and will not only enable smarter buildings, but also smarter building management.

Chad Hollingsworth is co-founder and president of Triax Technologies, a leading provider of technology for construction site connectivity. Its spot-r wearable technology provides real-time visibility into the worksite to improve safety and increase productivity. He can be reached at chad@triaxtec.com.

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posted on 9/6/2017