Siemens takes customer-centric approach to smart buildings

Siemens takes customer-centric approach to smart buildings
The need for smart buildings is on the rise as cities strive to become smarter. We caught up with Eike-Oliver Steffen, Senior VP and Head of Solutions and Services Portfolio for Building Technologies at Siemens at the Light + Building show held in March, to talk about current building trends and how to create more efficient buildings.

a&s: What are the main considerations when deploying a smart building?

Steffen: One is technology, like sensor technology. What sensors can do today was unthinkable in the 1990s. Combined with the strength of the digitalization, the number and the quality of data you can get from buildings has increased dramatically and gives us more insight into what the building needs from as early as the planning stage.

The second is understanding that a building is not just infrastructure. A building is embedded into something more, like an electrical grid for example. This would make it not just an isolated electrical grid anymore but a combination of the centralized electricity generation.

Third, and this might be the most important, is the dramatic change in user behavior and expectations. For example, how the user wants to interact with the building has changed based on the availability of smart devices. They want to know why can’t I get into my office using only these smart devices, why can’t the room adjust according to my favorite settings like temperature?

For the operator, while it’s true technology is delivering more information than ever of the technical infrastructure, he wants to see all the information at his fingertips; he doesn’t want to see 30,000 data points on a screen. He wants to have a rated or prioritized list of topics based on money wasted, energy consumption, space efficiency, etc.

Additionally, I think the younger generations coming into the workforce have different expectations towards technology, and this might also change the way we deal with buildings.

By putting these three elements together the building is turning from a static piece of asset into a living contributor to the whole business process. The core ambition of building management will be to improve our customers' business KPIs.

a&s: How does a more personalized system create a more productive building?

Steffen: In our terms it’s called customer-centricity. I would say there are four dominant users in this area of building owner. There is the corporate real estate or real estate front. There is the operator, who has influence in facility management. Then there are the tenants and the visitors. All four groups have different needs and requirements.

As a provider of building technology solutions, or systems and products, we cannot concentrate only on one user — we must deal with them all. If we want to do it correctly, customer-centricity also means that we are delivering on a use-case basis. So we must ask, what is it really you want? And, I think it’s not sufficient to only look at the static information, like the geometric data.

When you put these elements together we are able to offer an optimized operating solution or service to the end customer — suitable and dedicated to their building, not to general buildings. I think this makes the buildings smart or adaptive.
Eike-Oliver Steffen,
Senior VP and Head,
Solutions and Services Portfolio,
Building Technologies,
Siemens 

a&s: With technology the way it is right now, does it make it easier to deliver better results?

Steffen: Definitely! For example, for an air handler you currently need only 20 to 23 different rules to identify each possible fault situation. In this case, it really shows what technology can do or what technology can deliver as additional value. Now we can know exactly where you should look and we can immediately derive what savings you can get.

With digitalization in play, the way our buildings are designed is changing. There is a necessity to create a kind of a digital trend. However, this begs the question: why are we putting all these nice technologies into place if we are not fully using it? This is also something the digital transformation concept will change; not only for the new constructions but also for the existing building portfolio. The digital trend doesn’t mean you have to do everything at once though, you do it in steps.

Then there is the question where does all this logic reside? In the device, onsite in the management stage or somewhere in the cloud? This is a bit of an unsolved question. But once this is there, the building can call out for certain assistance. I think this is one of the most important developments in the future because it makes sure the building is always safe, is always secure and is comfortable from a tenant perspective.

a&s: Are security and safety the priority in a smart building?

Steffen: Security and safety I would say counts for two-thirds: security, safety and comfort. If you leave one out, say you don’t have a proper fire detection system and something happens, it threatens your life. Your life is obviously no. 1. If you don’t have a security concept, there might be unauthorized access to a critical area. But it’s more complex than that. We have to think about what these three elements look like to different users, such as a building operator, building owner, tenant or visitor.

a&s: What about cybersecurity?

Steffen: There are four things to consider in terms of cybersecurity. It first touches the device itself. How is it designed, what kind of guidelines, rules, security checks do you apply when you are designing the device. Second, when a device is connected to something the connection has to be secure as well. Third, where is this data being stored. The fourth component is the software. It’s really like a puzzle. If your connectivity root is insecure, it won’t help if your application is the best-in-class of cybersecurity. This also impacts the way buildings are designed in a way we have to spend much more time designing the internal network, separated networks or combined networks.

Recently together with further international companies Siemens has launched the Cybersecurity: Charter of Trust. This is to make sure we are creating a greater community to talk about this and making sure that the clients have a chance to understand what it means if a company like Siemens is talking about cybersecurity. It’s really a hot topic.

a&s: The smart building concept right now in Germany is pretty advanced compared to other countries. Are other European countries adopting this trend?

Steffen: A couple of things are helping to create and foster the necessity for smart buildings. To name a couple of them, there is a European directive for building performance or building efficiency. Building efficiency is obviously based on harmonized systems or combined systems, not isolated ones. Second, there is a European directive that says every non-residential building with an overall energy consumption of 290-megawatt powers a year has to be equipped with a building management platform. Using these kinds of directives, talking about efficiency, asset performance and not necessarily for comfort, safety or security, helps to promote the smart building concept. Some organizations are talking about smart readiness indicators. These are things that are strengthening the position of smart buildings. Also, the user is now expecting something from the building. The building is no longer just a static piece of infrastructure they will write off in the next 25 years. This will constantly foster the amount of smart buildings in Europe.
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