Our lives these days are surrounded by ‘smart’ things. At home and at play, we have embraced the smart revolution in one way or another. From doorbells that let us know who’s at the door even when we’re not home, to watches that formulate tailored fitness plans, there’s plenty to love about smart technology. But it’s by no means limited to our personal lives.
‘Smart buildings’ are extending the technology into our working environments, and are delivering multiple benefits in the process. Here we take a closer look at those benefits, as we attempt to answer the question, why do we need smart buildings?
What is smart building technology?
Smart building technology is centred on connected data and automation. It’s a technology powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) that brings together valuable data that would otherwise be disjointed.
Every building produces a raft of data. This data comes from the building management system, utility meters, air quality sensors, external weather monitors, security and access control platforms and emergency systems, amongst other things. Disconnected, this information calls for intense and time-consuming human intervention to make any sense of it, especially if you want to see how one action or factor affects another.
So what is smart building technology? It’s a way of connecting everything through Internet of Things devices and sensors, capturing all the data they produce and channelling it into a central platform for intelligent analysis.
It is this analysis that makes it possible to see, at a glance, how one factor affects another. For example, how larger volumes of visitors impact air quality, or how work activity levels influence demand or preferences for heating or lighting. It also makes day to day life more convenient and puts the control of building functions i.e. temperature, at a click of a button on our phones.
The intelligence produced by smart building technology has the power to inform strategic decisions that can reduce energy consumption, cut costs, improve productivity, and enhance workplace well-being by creating a healthy building.
Why do we need smart buildings?
There are many reasons why the world needs smart buildings, and why they are of benefit on a smaller scale to individual organisations too.
Smart buildings can help fight climate change
Something to have come out of this year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow is mandatory climate disclosures for the UK’s largest businesses.
The UK will become the first G20 country to make it compulsory for its largest businesses to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities, courtesy of new legislation set to come into force in April 2022. This is in line with Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations and follows the publication of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy.
The new requirements have been put in place to “help investors and businesses to better understand the financial impacts of their exposure to climate change, and price climate-related risks more accurately, while supporting the greening of the UK economy.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that buildings account for 36 per cent of global final energy use and 39 per cent of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions. Heating and cooling are the two major contributors to global warming, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of overall building energy consumption, and 42 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Building owners and occupiers therefore need to prioritise energy efficiency measures. Whilst new properties will inevitably have sustainability built into them from the ground up, existing stock, which makes up a considerable proportion of all buildings in use, will need serious retrospective attention.
Smart buildings incorporate an Internet of Things-driven building energy management system (BEMS). This is a platform that makes it possible to monitor and control the entire energy needs of a property. The fact that it also links in with HVAC, security and lighting control makes it even more useful.
“Internet of Things technology and the smart building will be key drivers in the reduction of energy waste, and the fight against climate change.”
BEMS technology has been around for a few decades but has in recent years become far more advanced thanks to its integration with the IoT. Now it is possible to easily interrogate data to see precisely how energy is being used throughout a building or network of buildings, pinpointing inefficient appliances and processes.
IoT sensors present a real-time view of all building energy sources, allowing energy needs to be predicted in line with external factors, such as seasonal changes.
Automations can be set to dim or turn off lights when there is sufficient natural light present, and to reduce indoor temperature when it warms up outside. And IoT sensors can inform the system when a room is unoccupied so that lighting, heating or air conditioning can be automatically switched off. It’s all about reducing wastage, which is a vital anti-climate change strategy.
Smart buildings can streamline facilities management
Why do we need smart buildings? Ask any facilities manager who works in one, and they are certain to provide you with a long list of reasons.
Smart building technology streamlines many processes associated with facilities management. From energy usage to enhancing productivity and creating community engagement, from boosting workplace well-being and safety to improving staff morale and retention, there is much for the FM professional to champion.
The key benefit of smart technology is that it allows a building to be looked at in detail, providing data that can help facilities managers to meet targets, enhance working conditions, and push ahead with change safe in the knowledge that the decisions being made are well-informed and wholly fact-based.
The Internet of Things has made it possible to see building data in an integrated view, allowing facilities managers to observe how one event influences another. This allows for predictive planning, something of a role reversal from the usual reactive approach that FMs have traditionally adopted.
With IoT sensors feeding data into a central platform, it becomes possible to refocus on planning ahead, rather than spending hours sorting out problems that could not previously have been foreseen. Predictive planning can reduce maintenance costs, extend the lifespan of fixtures of fittings and enhance productivity and staff morale.
The smart building also benefits facilities management professionals by reducing their admin time, as well as helping with standards compliance, particularly in terms of health and safety. For example, the indoor air quality monitoring features of smart building technology allow facilities managers to identify potential hazards and take timely action to ensure the health of the building’s occupants.
Smart buildings can improve the working environment
Workplace well-being and a healthy working environment have never been so important. According to a study by Accenture, 79% of millennials rate their working environment more important than their paycheque.
In a smart building, the likes of humidity, temperature and fresh air supply rates are constantly monitored. Employees get to control their own personal working environments for optimum comfort, and smart building technology combines with artificial intelligence to automate many of the variables that can affect building health.
Smart sensors also monitor indoor light conditions so that healthy light levels are always maintained, and again workers are able to control the light in their own surroundings to suit their preferences, and the task in hand. Smart lighting is known to boost work satisfaction levels and enhance employee retention.
Another feature of the smart building is automated meeting room and desk space bookings, something that has become increasingly important now that activity-based working is leading the return to the office following the pandemic.
With double bookings eliminated, and the bookings process streamlined, everyone is so much happier. And with automated alerts sent to cleaning teams once a room is vacated so it can be prepared for the next occupants, and the same sent to facilities to replenish refreshments, nothing is left to chance when it comes to ensuring the workplace is a better place to be.
Smart Spaces: The Power Behind the Smart Building
Smart Spaces is an app-based platform that collates data from Internet of Things connected sensors fitted around a building, channelling it into a central dashboard where it can be analysed, and artificial and machine learning applied to create alerts and automated processes that have the ability to improve working conditions, reduce energy wastage and boost productivity. All very strong arguments in support of the question, why do we need smart buildings?
To discover how Smart Spaces could help you achieve a healthier building, you are welcome to get in touch or request a demo.