Smart Buildings: the critical questions answered

With Smart being the order of the day on every workplace-related project discussion, Cordless Consultants has answered four key questions which will help drive smarter Smart Building strategies

Smart Buildings have become a critical component when future gazing about the workplace. However, the term ‘smart’ has been used so liberally in the context of the future workplace that it’s meaning has been somewhat diluted and distorted. What’s smart for one company may be prehistoric to another. This can leave developers, tenants and building management teams into a confusing conversation in which no one is aligned. Cordless Consultants have answered some of the key questions that need to be answered in the Smart Building dialogue.

1. What is a Smart Building?

The expectation for a connected and intelligent building is now a given, yet everyone has a different understanding of what this looks like. Integrating and automating building management, services and occupants through smart technology is the ultimate smart solution, combining Smart Workplace with the iBMS. The evolution of the Intelligent Building to the Smart Building can be realised through the analytical, on demand and predictive use of intelligence and big data. Take this concept further and we reach the Cognitive Building – the pinnacle of the future workplace – where the building automatically thinks for itself, anticipating users’ needs.

It’s important for companies to map out the different needs of employees, with the basic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy and sophisticated needs at the top, Cordless Consultants propose using the Smart Building Maturity Model to help shape priorities. Every organisation will be at a different phase along this maturity model and depending on strategic priorities, may often settle on a hybrid of these layers to deliver the right level of ‘Smart’ to the business.

2. What are the challenges in deploying a smart building?

It has long been said that there is no one size fits all solution, in any workplace. As of yet, there are no global Smart Building Standards available, only certifications. With a lack of benchmarking in this growing sector, quantifying ROI on smart infrastructure for the occupier workspace is currently difficult as it is hard to measure productivity of systems and people in advance.

‘This is the way we’ve always done things’ won’t cut it anymore

Smart is challenging the strategic approach to the standard delivery of new systems in buildings. Smart requires a new way of thinking and of resource allocation in the build process. So ‘this is the way we’ve always done things’ won’t cut it anymore.

Bringing all influential parties together to a final smart delivery sounds simple in theory but in reality there are many parties that influence creation of a smart environment. Unifying FM / IT / C-Suite / Consultants and the Professional Team is not a small feat!

In addition, sourcing the correct Master Systems Integrator requires a great amount of due diligence. The selected partner must understand the focus of the smart building and be able to deliver against the client’s strategic objectives, which must be defined and fully aligned with the fitout programme.

Finally, managing the smart expectations of the client should not be underestimated. Delivery of a smart building is a lengthy and complex process. What is the right ‘level’ of smart? What do we really need now versus the future? Care must be taken to ensure the best systems are supplied to budget, specification and timescale.

3. What are the benefits of Smart Buildings?

Get it right and a smart building creates an attractive place to work with reduced operating costs and an improved experience for occupants. In the background, the smart building makes us comfortable and safe; whilst in the foreground it gives us access to services and facilities to help us be more productive.

There are five key areas of values delivered to those that work within and have responsibility for managing the workplace.

  • Healthy workplace:IoT Sensors allow data analytics combining real time and predicted information. Sensors monitor the quality of air and light and smart tech will help manage the systems, communicating with the BMS Systems to increase fresh air or report faults. Provision of facilities like coffee and toilet servicing can be made based on the current utilisation and occupation density.
  • Appealing workplace: Building/user interaction creates human connection. Things like facial recognition and voice assistance allow secure access, lift call and wayfinding. Apps keep users engaged, allowing booking of services, colleague arrival notifications, wayfinding and even helpdesk services. Personalised alerts can be delivered to the users, for example, ‘there is a fire test at 11:00. You have a meeting at St Paul’s at 12:00 and there are currently delays on the Central Line.’
  • Self-learning:The building remembers user preferences and makes predictions. For example, if you are booking a meeting area, the building will remember from a previous occasion your location and setting preferences, such as the lighting, heating, beverage preferences and what presentation/AV facilities you may need.
  • Social/professional networking and collaboration:Smart buildings build the social functionality in the workplace that we have in our personal lives through apps and social platforms. This is especially applicable in shared/tenanted spaces to find people with similar preferences.
  • Combined personal and professional experience:The building provides access to facilities for living, such as smart lockers, bike racks, car parking, delivery lockers and even discounts in local shops and restaurants.

For the Developer and / or Landlord of the smart building, build costs will be immediately reduced through more effective build management, optimised human resource and ease of commissioning. Furthermore, the ongoing benefits derived from a smart environment can be used to significantly raise the brand value of the workplace.

The resulting building will have green credentials through energy efficiency and improved environment management. Infrastructure and systems will be future-proof, saving money on future step upgrades. Both onsite and remote building management can be improved via control through Single Pane of Glass (SPoG) technology. On a day-to-day basis, automation reduces risk in decision making.

A report from Morgan Stanley claims that buildings optimised for occupants can command 3 per cent more rent and gain a 10 per cent increase in equity value.

Productivity for most clients is the single most important variable in their strategic decision making. Increasing staff productivity by 10 per cent in most cases would outstrip any efficiency savings on power or space. Raising productivity is a mixture of optimum working environment, seamless tech and communications, but also reduced attrition and sick leave, and attracting talent. The smart workplace therefore has a massive role to play here.

4. What core smart building technologies are required from the outset?

Infrastructure is key. All buildings will have default systems deployed as part of a base-build or fit-out, including BMS, power and security. Systems can be procured, upgraded or replaced to meet defined requirements, but if the infrastructure is not in place to allow for smart use cases the smart technologies become isolated and cannot be utilised to their full potential. A converged network architecture is key to delivering the Smart Building in any new build.

A smart-ready infrastructure such as, a physical network, 4/5G data network, IoT network, will allow for smart tech and systems to be implemented and upgraded as necessary over the lifetime of the building.

There are multi-faceted complexities involved in designing and deploying a Smart Building. Some of the key considerations include:

  • Provision for incoming services and base build servers including comms/MER/SER Rooms. It is important to factor in requirements such as the appropriate amount of space and cooling.
  • Provision for external services such as cloud and remote building management. Remember, the workplace does not stop at four walls.
  • Provision for base-build systems to fully utilise the infrastructure. This eliminates the need for legacy or proprietary system architectures.
  • Provision for base build infrastructure to be migrated into fit-out. This often out-of-sight infrastructure should never be out of mind!
  • IT Security. Having put so much investment into your Smart Building, don’t cut corners on protection for your data, your systems and your occupants.

From Smart Buildings building certifications through to use cases and checklists of the workplace infrastructure and tech required, tenants, landlords and developers can often feel overwhelmed when it comes to developing a vision and design for smart future workplaces. These four key questions aim to demystify the uncertainty on what Smart Buildings are, how to overcome the challenges of them and how to leverage them to gain the most benefit for an organisation.

Beverley Eggleton is marketing manager of workplace technology specialist Cordless Consultants
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