Smart Buildings Set To Revolutionise Facilities Management

Smart buildings can create a wealth of opportunities for FMs – from optimising energy use and reducing costs to improving productivity, environmental performance, operational efficiency, and even enhancing employee health and well-being, James Spires explains.

What is a smart building?

A smart building is one in which energy and operational systems are automatically regulated and controlled, where space utilisation is managed flexibly, and where technology is used to create a comfortable, healthy and productive working environment.

To operate effectively, any smart building system needs data. The more data it can collect and analyse, the greater the benefits it can deliver. All buildings contain systems and assets that produce a vast amount of data. These include building-management systems (BMS), utility meters, security access systems, weather monitoring stations, air-quality sensors, CCTV networks and a whole range of other meters, monitors and sensors. In a typical building, these systems operate discretely from each other, producing data in isolation on a specific aspect of building performance or operation.

To create a smart building, all of this data needs to be connected on a single platform where it can be analysed objectively. Here, software-based analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) based programming can be applied to extract value from that data. This analysis enables you to gain a detailed understanding of the relationships between different activities and systems in your building – and the external factors affecting it. You will be able to see how data in one area is influenced by activities in another, so you can better plan and implement effective building controls, settings and technology.

Multiple benefits of smart building systems

There are so many ways that smart building systems can be used to improve the efficiency of building management and control, as well as enhancing the experience of building users and visitors.

- Improve energy efficiency

Smart building solutions allow you to optimise the performance of energy-consuming systems and eliminate wasted energy. By gathering and analysing data from assets, plant and equipment you can see whether building assets are working in harmony or in conflict. You can easily identify anomalies or wastage and take appropriate action. By enabling you to implement targeted measures, such as improving controls, modifying equipment set-points and adjusting timings, smart buildings help you to significantly improve efficiency, reduce consumption and lower energy costs.

If you combine this with the use of digital control solutions, you can further optimise the performance of systems and improve efficiency. For example, by linking lighting to daylight sensors, electric lights can be dimmed automatically when there is sufficient natural light. In a similar way, blinds can automatically be raised or lowered to regulate temperature.          

- Maintenance and servicing efficiencies 

By monitoring data from key assets such as air-handling units, pumps, chillers and other mechanical and electrical equipment, facilities managers can ensure maintenance and servicing interventions are timed appropriately and efficiently. So, for example, rather than simply changing air filters every month, they can be changed when the data indicates it’s necessary. These insights into the condition and efficiency of your assets help to optimise engineering and maintenance resources, and ensure servicing decisions are based on facts about the condition of your equipment.

As well as enabling such condition-based maintenance, smart buildings offer a more intelligent way to monitor critical assets. For example, vibration and temperature sensors can be used to gather data that indicates how well an asset is operating. If vibration signatures, temperatures, electrical load or other measures show patterns trending away from typical baseline operation, the system can raise an alert for an engineer to investigate. This enables maintenance interventions to be timed to prevent breakdowns before they occur, rather than responding to potentially disruptive breakdowns after the event.

- Enhance health, well-being and productivity   

Smart building systems can be used to improve the working environment in buildings. For example, smart technology can be used to monitor and manage air quality, which has a direct impact on health, well-being and productivity. Working in a hot, stuffy room where CO2 levels are high causes tiredness, reduces concentration and inhibits productivity. By monitoring CO2 levels in real time and connecting this data to air-exchange system controls, smart buildings can ensure rooms are always fresh and comfortable. Furthermore, connecting this data to room booking systems or space utilisation data enables room conditions to be adjusted according to the number of occupants and the nature of the work being carried out.

- Optimise people management 

Data from mobile phones can be integrated into a smart building system too. This offers huge opportunities for improving the efficiency of building management. For example, it can enable employees to use their phones as security passes to access the building, saving time and resources in reception and security functions. Mobile phone data can also provide an efficient way of managing visitors, allowing them to use their devices as a visitor pass, and even alerting their host automatically when they arrive. Access rights can be set to ensure visitors can only enter certain areas, preserving the security of your building.

The same technology can be used to provide wayfinding services for visitors to any large building or facility. Bluetooth beacons can track an individual’s location, so that information can be provided to them on the nearest lifts, toilets or other facilities. In a multi-storey building, data on the location of people inside can be connected to lift-management systems, enabling lifts to be moved to the right floors to more efficiently move people around. Similarly, toilet usage can be monitored to determine the optimum cleaning regime, making the most efficient use of available resources.

- Inform investment decisions

When you want to invest in more energy-efficient plant, equipment or systems, you can use the accurate, integrated data from your smart building system to provide the evidence needed for any investment proposals. Once investments or operational changes are made, the same data can be used to immediately demonstrate the impact of these changes on energy consumption, resource use and other factors. Real-time data can also help you to fine tune and adapt any changes to achieve optimum efficiencies. Over the longer term, the data can also be used to measure and report on the return on your investment.

Combine intelligent technology with people power

Of course, technology alone cannot provide solutions to all of your building and facilities management needs. Reaping the full rewards of smart technology requires human collaboration. Facilities and energy managers need to liaise with the wider organisation to ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives. And the intelligent technology used to analyse your data needs to be combined with the expertise of energy and facilities specialists who know your organisation and its working practices and priorities, so that the most effective actions and solutions for your business can be implemented.  

Ultimately, smart buildings enable you to create workplaces that operate at optimum efficiency, with comfort and environmental controls managed intelligently to meet the needs of occupants – and your business. Smart workspaces also minimise waste and enhance occupant health, well-being and productivity. Across large estates, they can deliver significant energy, cost and emissions savings, while freeing resources to focus on core business priorities.


Find out more about smart buildings.

This article was originally published in PFM magazine's July edition.

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