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Building automation: going beyond the holistic approach

Building automation: going beyond the holistic approach
With the increasing popularity of building automation solutions that has brought about the entry of intelligent devices and data-driven facilities management, architecture is now being seen from a holistic perspective. This means devices like HVAC that were seen in separate silos are no longer the independent. They are all part of a centralized management system wherein each function in tandem with the rest.

However, some experts point out that it is time the industry expanded this holistic view of commercial buildings. According to Tom Machinchick, Principal Research Analyst at Navigant Research for intelligent building management solutions, the holistic approach brings in obvious benefits that are easy to understand. But there is more to be considered.

"This seems a simple concept to understand, and most building industry participants subscribe to the holistic view philosophy,” Machinchick said in a recent blog post. "There is, however, an expanded dimension to the holistic view emerging within the realm of intelligent building technologies. This expanded view includes factors other than building operations and energy efficiency and encompasses the strategic use of the building to support the primary business needs of the building operator."

He added that the expanded holistic view takes into consideration the long-term value of the building and property itself relative to the building operator's business needs, which can help the occupant begin to view the building as a business asset rather than a cost center. To properly pursue this expanded view, the user experience of occupants should be considered during the initial stages of new construction or major retrofit projects.

Beyond energy saving

A major attraction of building automation solutions is their ability to optimize energy consumption that could lead to lower costs and reduced carbon footprint. While this in itself is a benefit that will prompt many customers to move to smart buildings, there are other benefits that shouldn't be neglected. Machinchick pointed out that, for instance in a retail business building, the same sensors that are used to decide the optimum temperature to be maintained can also be used to understand customer behavior and improve user experience. 

"Occupancy sensors at a retail store can help to understand, for example, how the building should be heated or cooled—saving energy along the way," he said. "These same sensors can also be used to understand customer behavior and preferences, which enables the retailer to develop new and unique sales and customer interaction strategies, enhancing the business prospects at the same time."

In a health care setting, intelligent sensors and controls can identify when a room is unoccupied so that lights and temperature settings can be adjusted accordingly, Machinchick continued. When the room is occupied, these same sensors allow for individualized control based on patient preferences, giving the patient a measure of control and assisting in the overall healing process. The evolution of this technology has shifted from counting people to locating people and ultimately to meeting people’s needs and wants where they are located.

Change of perspective

Restricting the advantages of building automation solutions to the primary purposes of the devices will be a massive waste of resources and a gross underestimation of the possibilities. Regardless of the primary purpose of the building, smart solutions can add immense value to its functioning. 

"Ignoring the value proposition that intelligent building systems can bring to an expanded view of the building-as-a-business asset severely underestimates the breadth of possibilities that these systems can offer to a business, enterprise, school, or institutional entity," Machinchick explained. "It may be the case that an acceptable ROI exists simply due to the energy use optimization of these systems. It may be difficult to measure the benefits afforded to patients; however, these benefits will appear in financial details or through customer and patient surveys. To extract this information may require defining the variables of how and what to measure because typical or legacy key process indicators may be stale.”

In short, the arrival of building automation solutions is changing the way the purpose of a building is being viewed. Systems Integrators (SI) in this field can make take advantage of these benefits and boost their business by increasing end user awareness.


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