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Facility Management: Are Smart Buildings Yay or Nay?

26 Jul 2021

Smart buildings have the potential to generate a raft of advantages and opportunities for facilities managers. Some may even go as far as saying that the smart building could reinvent facilities management altogether.

The smart building revolution has plenty to offer the facilities management professional and those they are charged with serving:

  • optimising energy use and cutting costs
  • enhancing productivity
  • supporting an organisation’s environmental, social and governance practices
  • boosting workplace safety and wellbeing
  • improving staff morale and retention

But are there any downsides to consider? And what are the challenges for the facility manager seeking to adopt smart building technology?

Let’s look at a both-sides view of whether the smart building is a yes or no in facility management.

What is a smart building?

smart building: smart spaces app integrations

Smart buildings are the latest property industry revolution. They use Internet of Things (IoT) devices to monitor various building characteristics. These IoT devices, typically comprising an array of sensors, meters and monitors, output a range of valuable data which can be used to optimise the operational aspects of a building and improve its indoor environment.

A smart building will usually incorporate centrally managed access, lighting, power, HVAC, water, waste, security and fire alarm systems. All of the data outputted from these systems is connected via a single platform. Data can be objectively analysed from this central node to produce a highly detailed understanding of the relationships between the various activities and interfaces within a building and the external factors that influence it.

What are the benefits of smart buildings to the facility manager?

Smart technology makes it possible to look closely at a building and draw out robust data that will furnish the facilities manager with the information they need to drive change, meet targets, make savings and enhance working conditions.

In a smart-enabled building, facilities managers get to see how activities in certain areas influence data in another, and vice versa. Exceptional insight and the power of control are two of the key resulting benefits. But let’s drill down a bit more.

Read: 9 Ways IoT Drives Efficiencies in Facility Management

Why is smart technology essential to the facility manager?

smart technology: the benefits for a facility manager benefits

Predictive planning

Scores of facilities managers will undoubtedly agree that, for the main part, their roles are very much reactive. Rather than preventing issues from occurring in the first place, they spend much of their working day responding to things that have gone wrong, fielding complaints and generally fire-fighting.

Smart technology has the power to turn all of this around, transforming the role of the facility manager into a proactive one.

Access to a 360-degree connected environment, in fact, can present a clear picture of what’s happening in real-time across the building.

Via IoT sensors, data feeds into a control platform, delivering a wealth of information that can empower decisions and allow FMs to refocus their attention on planning ahead.

Occupancy sensors, for example, enable high usage areas to be identified so that additional maintenance can be forward planned. Current sensors make it possible to detect any developing issues within machinery and supply cables, so they can be dealt with before a costly and time-consuming breakdown issue arises.

Smart technology also makes it possible to set goals and use predictive analytics around resource consumption to ensure optimal efficiency levels are maintained.

All in all, predictive planning can:

  • reduce overall maintenance costs
  • prolong the lifespan of fixtures and fittings and
  • enhance productivity and, therefore, occupant morale

Admin reduction

The amount of data captured by smart sensors is vast. The great thing about an efficient, end-to-end smart building platform is that its dashboard can be tailored to suit the individual facility manager needs, preferences, and what matters most to them.

Reports are easily generated, making it straightforward to identify potential trends. Even better, for the facilities manager responsible for multiple assets, the entire systems can be brought under one umbrella, allowing them to stay up to date across the whole portfolio at any given time.

Standards compliance

The raft of industry standards and health and safety legislation is ever-growing. Smart sensors allow the ongoing monitoring of buildings and machinery, streamlining standards compliance.

Being able to identify minor issues in real-time before they escalate into significant problems can help in many ways. For example, indoor air quality monitoring will allow FMs to identify potential hazards and take action, such as evacuating a building or making changes to the ventilation system.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has suggested that offices should reduce energy use by 60 per cent to fall in line with the Paris Agreement and the global framework that aims at reaching the net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050. Environment monitoring and occupancy sensors permit a round-the-clock view of the use of spaces allowing for the effective optimisation of the likes of lighting, energy, ventilation and temperature in a given area, reducing building energy consumption considerably by automatically adjusting the single demise and workspaces systems.

Better buildings

For those who work in and visit a building, a pleasant experience is worth its weight in gold. Smart sensors used to monitor indoor air quality, light, and temperature can deliver an optimal environment. This is especially true when workers have the power to individually control their personal spaces, which is all very much possible and part of the drive to create a healthy building.

What’s more, automated desk and meeting room booking systems, another typical element of the smart building, ensure that double bookings are eliminated and generally smoothes the entire bookings process, providing incredible flexibility and ease of use for all parties involved.

Automatic alerts are sent to cleaning teams once a room is vacated so that it can be prepared for the next sitting, and to catering to replenish refreshments. All of this eliminates the need for facilities management intervention, allowing FMs to focus their time where it’s needed most.

Do smart buildings pose any challenges for the facilities manager?

smart buildings challenges for facility manager

Most new builds these days are designed with smart technology built in.

The issue with existing older buildings is that their current technologies and the building management systems are often disjointed. This makes it something of a challenge for those systems to communicate.

For the likes of lighting, heating and HVAC to work seamlessly with security and audio-visual equipment, it is necessary to connect everything via a single platform, otherwise, there will be no enriched data for FMs to work with. But in defence of smart building technology, this is very much possible, and most times easy and not at all expensive to deploy. Thanks to the wireless nature of the IoT-powered smart system, retrofitting into older buildings rarely proves to be an issue.

However, something that is potentially more of a concern to facilities managers and property managers alike is security.

Whilst device interoperability is a crucial component of the success of a smart building, for facilities management professionals to have complete confidence in the way the systems operate together – and place their decision making faith in them – they will need to be certain that the systems are secure.

One of the major challenges in this respect is that smart technology is powered by an array of IoT devices and sensors, which in theory are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The Smart buildings & smart cities security whitepaper, produced in association with Virtually Informed and Unified Security, underlines the importance of considering and evaluating cyber security throughout the entire supply chain to protect data, maintain privacy and reduce cyber risks. As said in the whitepaper, this should begin by looking at the security of individual devices. Risk assessments designed to identify vulnerabilities are vital, and the smart central control platform itself will have a crucial role in keeping cyber-criminals at bay.

By choosing a platform built around the ‘security by design’ concept and by selecting a master system integrator with in-depth knowledge of security issues, much of these concerns can be alleviated.

In addition, regularly updating individual IoT devices, monitoring them and implementing a replacement plan for when the support lifecycles come to an end will help reduce the cyber security risks associated with smart buildings.

All in all, weighing up both sides, it would seem that, if a suitable platform is selected to seamlessly integrate all the technology and utility-related facets of a building, and sufficient attention is paid to security at every touchpoint, there is a good argument to say that smart buildings are a ‘yay’ rather than a ‘nay’ for facilities managers.

Smart Spaces – empowering facilities managers with intelligent smart building technology

digital twin - facility management

Smart Spaces is an app-based, Internet of Things powered smart building technology.

For the under-pressure facility manager, Smart Spaces has the power to transform so many aspects of the role. Interconnected with the building management system (BMS), networks and third-party solutions, the technology delivers a raft of precious data, providing invaluable insights and reducing admin time. It also brings every aspect of a building together and makes it a breeze to control costs, sustainability, workplace wellbeing and standards compliance.

To learn more about how Smart Spaces can revolutionise your life as a facilities manager, you are welcome to request a free demo or contact us to discover how our cutting edge operating system can help transform your role from reactive to proactive at the touch of a button.

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