5 major challenges hurting the smart building sector in 2019
Source: Prasanth Aby Thomas, Consultant Editor
Smart buildings are all set to be the next big thing in architecture and facilities management. But despite their obvious advantages, there are certain challenges that hurt growth in this sector. We recently spoke to Terrill Laughton, VP and GM of Energy Optimization and Connected Equipment at Johnson Controls
to get his views on this.
“Of the [several] challenges in smart building management, there are, of course, discrete challenges,” Laughton said. “However, they are joined by the common thread of increased understanding of the capabilities of smart building technologies. These capabilities take many forms, from ROI, in terms of energy savings and maintenance costs, space utilization, to higher human satisfaction and performance.”
Naturally, as the workforce learns to take advantage of smart building systems, better operations, increased comfort, and overall higher occupant satisfaction will be obtained. Laughton listed the following challenges that need to be overcome in order to reach this level and drive the market forward.
Every facility wants to implement the newest and most innovative smart building management practices and systems as soon as possible. However, there is a lack of understanding about how to value the investment and the benefits over the lifetime of such transformation. This results in a reluctance to prioritize smart building management that has proven to be a barrier to implementing change.
“For example, being able to monitor energy use by area of the building and time of day results in significant energy savings,” Laughton explained. “Smart building systems can use information from multiple building systems to better manage lighting needs based on the availability of natural light and the presence of a given employee when integrated with access control or occupancy sensors.”
Incorporating artificial intelligence capabilities can help learn and predict the patterns of employees to make the building operations seem almost seamless to the occupants. Allowing employees to control their environment when it comes to things like temperature and lighting will increase employee comfort and, by extension, their productivity.
Proper planning and adequate maintenance
Even when companies decide to implement smart building management technologies and approaches, many do not adequately prepare for the road ahead. Determining goals for success and aligning on technology solutions ahead of starting a project helps ensure that priorities are met.
Without proper planning, enterprises end up falling short of what they set out to do, defeating the purpose of their investment. Those who implement with a solid plan and continued investment experience higher rates of success.
“This can be further demonstrated when a company updates a security or HVAC system that is out of date,” Laughton said. “This new system will provide initial benefits in improved performance, but without intelligent monitoring and alerts, the benefits of a proactive approach to managing a building are lost due to insufficient on-going maintenance or monitoring. It is important to decide your goals for smart building management and create a concrete plan to get there.”
Understanding retrofit capabilities
Many smart building management platforms are agnostic, meaning they can be layered onto existing building technologies. Gaining an understanding of existing technologies and how they can be enhanced by smart solutions with retrofit capabilities can help achieve smart building management results just as effectively as a new building project can.
“Newer technologies like AI and machine learning can work with existing building systems to learn what individual performances need to look like and be able to detect deviations from that baseline,” Laughton noted. “AI can also alert management when something is amiss in real time. This decreases downtime, unplanned maintenance costs and occupant frustrations, and potentially extends the lifespan of older systems.”
Historically, building management operations and services have been siloed. HVAC, security solutions, energy use, and infrastructure solutions, services and maintenance have been separate entities, each with different monitoring, maintenance, and management. The data gathered from these systems similarly has not been used to its fullest potential due to the unavailability of technology capable of synthesizing data from all of these systems in one place.
“The next step in smart building management is being able to synthesize and proactively analyze all building data to yield results in terms of operations streamlining and cost savings,” said Laughton.
For example, knowing what your energy use looks like across the building in terms of lighting, HVAC and security systems and being able to have a baseline for what “normal” is can help operators and managers make informed decisions on how the building is being used. It can also help with proactive maintenance of systems, allowing for more balanced use of budget, more consistent monitoring and avoidance of system downtime and unexpected service costs.
Understanding smart building management systems and their capabilities are beginning to enter the mainstream, but those serious about shifting towards smarter building management must account for the shift away from traditional management practices.
To Laughton, these changes are necessary to capture the interest of the next generation of the building management workforce, who have expectations of technology in the workplace in line with the technologies available in the rest of their areas of life, such as smartphones and tablets. Traditional building management practices aren’t in line with their expectations of a modern workplace.
Active participation in this cultural shift by businesses takes the form of workforce development—investment in additions to management teams, talent recruitment and development at all levels to ensure long-term success. Without adequately prepared human talent, the technologies cannot possibly perform at their best, and vice versa.
Mitigating the challenges
In terms of mitigation of these challenges, it’s clear that increased understanding of capabilities and long-term savings are needed.
“The traditional culture of disparate systems managed manually, resulting in deferred maintenance and stagnant building data is changing,” Laughton concluded. “A cultural shift is partially underway, but part of this change is preparing the human workforce at all levels to effectively interact with these platforms for the benefit of all.”