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Making Smart Buildings Simple

At the Smart Buildings Conference hosted by ISE last month, a clear theme was the need for simplification.

All stakeholders need a coherent explanation of the benefits they will derive from optimised, IoT-enabled buildings, and above all, the benefits that are available from integration. A marketplace with so many IoT platforms can seem forbidding: developers are looking for easy, holistic solutions. And since Utopi operates across the design, install, and management of building lifecycles, we are well placed to provide clarity.

First, it is important to understand the whole-lifecycle approach to optimised buildings. Technology solutions are often bolted on as an afterthought but in order to maximise effectiveness they must be adopted as a strategy from the design stage onwards. That way, the needs of residents and owner-operators can be written into the DNA of the development, and the value of the asset can ultimately be increased. It is important to realise that operational costs can be considerably reduced over the lifetime of the building if an effective, integrated technology solution is adopted at the design stage.

That’s the first step towards integration. A lot of technology solutions are siloed from the design stage onwards, with implications that only become obvious later when lack of usability becomes a problem, or when replacements are required. Data analytics is only really effective when data can be extracted across multiple assets and multiple building operation parameters at once. Ideally, live. This means that a holistic view of building performance can be viewed in a digital twin.

smart buildings simple blog image

Of course, once asset data has been extracted it can be used not only to inform building operators but to help them improve energy use, space optimisation, maintenance tasks, and safety compliance among other things. But the observable effect of an optimised building will be most obvious for occupants. As Gensler’s Michael Schneider said at the conference:

Typical tools for smart buildings are sensors and interfaces, but what I would like to suggest is that, if we are really thinking about the performance of the space, then we need to think about the performance of the people in that space.

Today this is a common refrain in commercial office space; many managers realise that an optimised building means optimised staff performance, and that the metrics that are usually grouped under ‘occupant satisfaction’ (i.e. air quality, temperature, light levels) are actually directly related to business performance. Air quality has been linked to cognitive function, for example. So as we outline in our recent study on occupant health and performance, building performance has implications that extend far beyond capital and operational expenses.

Technology moves quickly in this space, and the continual improvements in device capability mean that, for developers, building optimisation is a continual journey rather than a simple fix. We are currently able to provide integrated solutions that optimise building energy use and exceed compliance with carbon legislation. But as regulations change, and as technology changes, the standard of optimisation must also increase.

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