Technology

How digital tools help office building owners to ensure continuity

In the pandemic crisis, facility teams are facing reduced access, lower occupancy and shrinking budgets. Can a digitised building infrastructure help meet the challenges?

During the current coronavirus crisis, the challenges and obstacles that building owners and operators are facing are unprecedented. Facility teams managing all types of buildings, in all sectors, are dealing with stressful challenges which are far from business as usual.

For the facility teams managing sites housing critical operations, keeping everything running is even more crucial for both the safety of occupants and the communities they support. For many other buildings, operators need to adapt, continuing to run operations reliably and comfortably for a reduced staff of essential onsite workers. And all of this must be done with a focus on the operating budget.

To overcome the challenge of maintaining facility continuity under these unique conditions, digital tools can help. Many buildings are already benefiting from the transition made from analogue controls to connected, IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled electrical distribution and HVAC infrastructures. These smarter buildings enable greater visibility, greater control, and the support of remote services.

Owners and operators now have the means to meet facility management and maintenance objectives even in exceptional circumstances. Let’s look at some specific examples.

Digitisation drives building resiliency during a crisis

With critical operations running 24/7, it is vital to stay well ahead of any risks to uptime. Digitised power and HVAC systems automatically provide real-time updates and alerts to the desktops and mobile devices of facility personnel.

Condition-based monitoring is now possible thanks to intelligent, connected devices like smart power meters and building controls, and software-based analytics generated by integrated power management and building management software. These anticipate potential malfunctions in critical electrical and HVAC equipment, using powerful diagnostics to prioritise alarm conditions and recommend immediate actions.

Armed with this guidance, facility teams can ensure electrical networks are operating flawlessly, and airflows are optimized for the comfort of onsite occupants, without compromising on safety.

Controlling costs during lower occupancy periods

Michelle Russo, CEO of hotelAVE, referring to the organisation’s recent hotel industry study, notes that the current situation ‘requires that all hotels…implement urgent and aggressive cost-containment initiatives’. This is good advice for any businesses experiencing periods of low occupancy.

Digitisation helps save on operational costs by enabling facility-wide monitoring of the electrical system and loads, including HVAC, lighting and more. Tracking energy consumption patterns can reveal pockets of opportunity, for example, identifying non-critical equipment that can be shut down. Digitally-enabled visibility into equipment conditions can also identify critical maintenance needs, enabling technicians to act efficiently to minimise or avoid disruptions.

Maintaining operations with limited access or resources

With digital tools, you can manage up to 70 per cent of your building operations remotely. This ability is a necessity to maintain business continuity during a crisis. An Uptime Institute advisory identifies that ‘In situations such as this, mission critical facilities face particular challenges, due to both the risk of unavailability of key staff through illness or quarantine and other long term impacts that might affect the ability of the operator to maintain continuous availability.’

In a crisis situation, access to facilities may be severely restricted, making maintenance or servicing support more challenging. For facility or contracted service personnel that are granted entry, it is important that their work be as organised and efficient as possible. Connected power management and building management solutions help, by delivering the right information, at the right time, to the people that need it.

Deep equipment diagnostics can be done before a service visit. In fact, the maintenance team can remotely analyse onsite conditions following alarms to identify the root cause of a problem and any potential consequences. This can help make an informed decision about whether the situation is critical enough for a service team to enter the facility.

Once inside, the service team will be better prepared with a complete range of diagnostic information, to help them quickly locate the equipment to service and therefore minimise the time to perform the required maintenance.

In times like these, business priorities will be fluctuating and adapting to regularly evolving circumstances. This includes addressing reduced staffing. With the potential for having less engineering technicians onsite, a digitised building infrastructure provides the platform to support remote services. According to the Uptime Institute, ‘the use of automation and remote monitoring can enable facilities to operate more effectively, and for longer, with less need for on-site staff.’

Building owners and operators should consult with their electrical or HVAC service partners, or their power and building management solution vendor, to ensure they are maximising remote capabilities. Contracted expert service teams will leverage the digitised building infrastructure to perform offsite monitoring. Using cloud-based analytic tools, service providers can proactively identify, prioritise, and coordinate urgent repairs and maintenance to ensure each facility continues to run reliably, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

Laurent Bataille is an expert in the field of smart building technology and global leader of the EcoBuilding division at Schneider Electric
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