How to define the “smart” in smart buildings

How to define the “smart” in smart buildings
With the concept of smart buildings becoming more and more ubiquitous and companies and customers increasingly looking to adopt solutions in this sector, a major topic of debate is how to define “smartness.”In fact, now is a critical point to consider this because even though it might appear like we have come quite a long way in the development and usage of smart devices, the truth is that we are still in the early days.

In a recent blog post, the research firm Memoori addressed this issue, as it brought together opinions of experts in an attempt to explain what “smartness” constituted. Reinhold Wieland, Business Development Manager at Connecting Buildings, had in a recent interview noted that the concept was more about integration.

“There is a lack of definition on what a smart building is,” Wieland was quoted in the post. “I would say ‘smart’ is a combination of smart infrastructure and building automation, real-time data, seamless integration, and the real ‘smart’ comes with workflow engines when the building integrates with people in an intelligent way. Based on the Rogers Innovation Uptake Bell Curve, I feel the industry’s maturity is somewhere below the first 10 percent, but every app or specific technology has its own curve. Perhaps it would be better to grade it on a scale of 1 to 10 or with a star rating. I would say the average of buildings would be on a rating of 3, but many would rank much lower.”

A separate report from Memoori had indicated that one of the factors fueling the growth of smart buildings in the commercial space is demand from the emerging generation of employees who are tech-savvy and need options like remote working and coworking.

“Younger workers are cutting the cords that tied employees to their desks, through flexible and remote working options,” the report said. “Smart design and greater connectivity will be required to ensure spaces and enterprises are equipped for hot desking and remote working, as well as mobile and wearable technology,” the report continued highlighting several emerging trends like coworking and the Workplace-as-a-Service.

Wieland further suggested that such evolving demands will impact how landlords approach space management and could pave way for competition to attract the new generation of employees. Smart technology will allow them to give their space out at premium rates to major companies that are, in turn, in the race to attract the most talented workers.

“Perhaps, there will be a transparent and open smart building enabled rating for all buildings, which would then attract tenants,” says Wieland. “Smart buildings are more energy efficient, cost less to operate, provide a safer and healthier and happier environment for all the occupants and visitors. All this will speed up the conversion of existing buildings into smart spaces and smart buildings in the flexible workspace arena.”

However, there are challenges to the adoption of smart technology in buildings. The most obvious issue is that most buildings out there were built at a time when smart technology was not considered important. Building services were, by their very nature, not meant to be integrated, but to operate in separate silos for a number of reasons, from security to the decisions of the contractors to ensure they continue to remain in charge of the maintenance.

This means that retrofitting is critical if the industry is to expect wider adoption of smart building systems. In other words, devices should be smart enough to work with legacy systems.

Such and other similar concerns bring us back to the original problem of defining smartness. Wieland himself pointed out that smartness could mean different things to different people depending on their requirements.

“Smart may mean the building is equipped with building automation or it is IoT enabled,” he said. “Some say it is smart when IoT data is pushed out in the cloud with some analytics made available. Some use smart apps for space management and, therefore, the building must be smart. What’s not popular is spending a lot on infrastructure because the smart industry has not made a good and verified business case for the potential savings to business. This may explain why energy efficiency projects have a lot of barriers to uptake.”
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