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If Buildings Could Talk: Smart Buildings, IoT, Safety, and the Bottom Line

By Joe Hernandez

My colleagues and I often think about the nature of the buildings we spend so much of our time in as we go about our day to day lives. We work in them, are entertained in them, dine in them, and are even healed in them. Some are uncomfortable, unhealthy, poorly lit, and unsafe. Some are just okay. Others are smart, sophisticated, clean, and environmentally-tuned marvels. They sense when lighting is required and what type, they know when it’s getting too warm or too cold. They can see things with cameras. They can sense when someone is inside them. They are becoming more intelligent and seem to be able to think as if they had their own mind.

Interestingly, we will begin to see more of these intelligent buildings. The reason is clear. These buildings are simply more cost effective. But beyond the cost drivers are a set of compelling revenue implications that can’t be ignored. In a recent study by Jones Lang LaSalle, buildings that are considered “intelligent” sell at a premium of up to 17 percent over traditional buildings. They enjoy up to 18 percent higher occupancy and achieve up to a mind-blowing 30 percent higher lease rate than their unintelligent cousins. It’s this kind of data that explains why Frost and Sullivan estimates the smart building market will reach $26 billion by 2019.

Buildings are getting a brain, and we are in a way enabling them to talk via a key driver — the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is all about interconnection. It allows for everyday objects, in our case HVAC, lighting, alarms and sensors, to send and receive data via the Internet.

Now that buildings can talk, what would they tell us? What language would we have to learn to understand them? And, if we could understand, what questions would we ask them?

A facility manager might ask: How are you feeling today? Do you have any aches and pains? Can you tell me what’s bothering you, or better yet, show me where it hurts? Did your HVAC system continue to operate off grid last night? Did today’s storm knock out power to your surveillance cameras?
A first responder would want to know: What’s going on inside? How bad is it? Where is the issue? And what’s the best path to get to the problem? Is there a back stairwell? How many exits are on each floor? Are the elevators currently operational? 

The more we communicate with buildings, the more they will keep us comfortable, healthy, and safe. The sensors, cameras, HVAC, and lighting will enhance the places in which we work, making the building a material strategic element to our businesses. It becomes an enabler for productivity improvements, margin gains, and growth.

More importantly though, smart building technology can offer improvements to public safety. Smart buildings can provide safe environments for hotel guests, students, spectators, travelers at airports and train stations, hospital patients and healthcare providers, as well as first responders.
However, the more sophisticated systems we deploy in our buildings, the more complex they become to manage. Each system requires some degree of expertise to program it, secure it, run it, maintain it, and speak its language.

No one person can master all these systems. Does this mean we need a team of highly trained facilities engineers and cyber security experts to manage these systems? Where do we find these people? Can we afford them? Without them, will we ever realize the proposed cost savings or revenue upside promised with the enablement of smart building technology? With them, will the expense to employ them offset any gains we receive?

Thankfully, there is a solution. Through smart visual mapping, connected building systems and predictive/prescriptive analytics, technology is changing the game for both first responders and facility managers.

Joe Hernandez is CEO of BuildingDNA. He is a 9-1-1 safety services veteran serves as adjunct professor at The University of Denver, Daniels School of Business.

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posted on 9/1/2017