We live in the age of the space-age building. From the huge “spaceship” design of Apple’s new HQ in Cupertino to Google’s vast new UK campus at King’s Cross, these constructions are noteworthy not just for their architecture, but for their intelligence.
Modern buildings boast a dazzling array of integrated technologies. They don’t just offer Wi-Fi connectivity for workers and visitors, but feature complex building automation systems woven into the very fabric of their structures. This enables owners, operators and tenants to implement a wide range of controls, covering everything from heating and air conditioning to security and access control.
As these technologies and capabilities are still relatively recent innovations, there’s a tendency to assume that they are only suitable for large, modern buildings. In fact, building management and automation systems are not just compatible with long-standing premises – they can often bring much needed benefits to older buildings, even to the extent of enabling much-loved structures to reinvent themselves for a new range of uses.
In part, this reflects the influence the explosion in connected devices has had over recent years that, in combination with the cloud, has enabled older and smaller buildings to deploy building management systems. This has significant benefits for building owners and occupants – while also providing significant revenue opportunities for a range of service providers.
Humans have always renovated and repurposed their buildings, but when it comes to modern workplaces there are a number of specific challenges for making them fit for today’s employees. This is the case whether they were originally designed as business premises or not. First, there’s the growing acceptance of the importance of health and wellbeing in the workplace, with businesses paying strict attention to issues such as temperature, air and water quality, lighting and other areas that affect employee’s ability to work comfortably and productively.
Older buildings were rarely designed with today’s always-connected workers in mind. This makes controlling factors such as artificial and ambient light, temperature and ventilation even more important than in a new-build structure; one that might employ modern construction and architectural methods for a naturally healthier working environment.
This is just one of the reasons why building control systems are so relevant to smaller and older premises, since they enable owners and operators to monitor, manage, control and operate the building’s environment centrally and automatically, rather than through manual operation as before.
Of course, there are other important benefits to fitting building automation systems. Older buildings are more likely to have more complex maintenance needs, which is why central monitoring capabilities – together with technologies such as predictive maintenance – can bring significant savings and operational improvements.
Such systems do not only benefit the building owners or those who work within them. Cloud-based operation and maintenance tools are also a boon to operations teams whose primary responsibility is to repair various building assets when they go wrong and return them to operation as quickly as possible.
Emerging tools, including those that can be controlled from a simple smart phone app, enable service providers to get instant alerts whenever a problem arises, along with actionable data on the likely cause. Service technicians can then analyse the problem remotely and decide whether they need to go on site, assign a task to a field operative, or whether the issue can wait until the next scheduled maintenance visit.
New opportunities for service providers
Of course, the benefits of modern building management systems aren’t just limited to office buildings: they apply for any premises, commercial or residential.
To take just one example from the real world. One weekend, when no one was in the warehouse of a company that provides meals to schools, a circuit breaker tripped and cut power to the refrigerator room. The problem was not discovered until workers arrived the following Monday, only to find that they had to throw out 18,000 thawed and ruined meals.
Working with Schneider Electric, a repeat of this this costly waste is easily avoided through deployment of a system that automatically alerts the building supervisor or contractors. The same technology can also be used to enhance security and access control, including reducing energy consumption by switching off lighting and heating when the premises are unoccupied, and cancelling false alarms.
Furthermore, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the almost limitless range of applications and services available through the cloud make it possible for third-party providers to expand their own offerings to include preventative maintenance and service level agreements (SLAs).
By building new service offerings based on the capabilities of connected devices and remote monitoring, third party providers can provide better, more responsive services that create new revenue opportunities, thanks to the ability to provide rapid, more intelligent responses that enable them to establish SLAs with customers, and establish the confidence that they can meet them.
Additionally, IoT and cloud-based tools can store vast quantities of data on all building management assets. This can then be used for benchmarking and reporting, as well as moving towards condition-based maintenance rather than less efficient scheduled maintenance practices. More effective maintenance and less downtime presents opportunities for improved services and new revenue streams, since they can lower a customer’s costs while simultaneously improving their business continuity.
To work to its full capacity, these systems need to be tightly integrated. Performance and other diagnostic data from embedded sensors should be connected to an ‘edge control’ layer, and then fed into a series of applications and analytics tools that drive predictive analytics that give a holistic picture of building systems. Doing so enables operators to make better-informed, more timely decisions.
We invest much time and money in our built environment. The money and materials, the carbon used in its construction and the connection with our history means that we should always look for ways to reuse, repurpose and remodel our buildings. With a modern building management system, there is no reason for any structure, no matter how old or small, not to take part in the smart buildings space race.