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The digital building: transparent and autonomous

May 29, 2017 by Eike-Oliver Steffen, head of service and solution portfolio, Siemens Building Technologies
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The digital building: transparent and autonomous

More and more companies are boosting employee loyalty and efficiency through a positive design of the workplace. The key is state-of-the-art building technology. What’s more, this accelerates cost savings in completely different domains, for instance in energy consumption. Building technology has turned out to be one of the most active value drivers for companies. Its potential can hardly be overestimated, because digitalization is advancing rapidly and will further accelerate productivity. One major vision is gradually becoming a reality: the self-regulating building.

Real estate prices in cities around the world are exploding. In London, one of the most expensive places in the world, a workplace already costs up to 27,000 euros per employee per year, and the costs are trending upward. Studies show that real estate is the second largest cost item for companies, whereby operating costs make up 71 percent of cost of ownership. In response to the exorbitant costs, businesses are cutting back on the amount of space assigned to each employee. The result is that employees in open-plan offices have on average 11.5 square meters of space compared to 46.5 square meters in conventional workplaces.
The daunting task of balancing between designing long-lasting buildings with an affordable cost structure, and providing the highest level of workplace comfort, lies primarily with Architects. In principle the solution is quite simple: smart, “green” buildings can be automated to a high degree, with the help of modern building technologies, to work with a wide spectrum of management systems. Low cost per square meter and a more attractive work environment are therefore no longer contradictions; quite the contrary, they support the property manager’s efforts to provide suitable workspaces where one can work highly efficiently.
The future belongs to smart buildings that can both reduce operating costs and increase employee efficiency. The market for smart building technology is constantly growing. According to International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts, the worldwide spending will exceed 17 billion euros this year – undoubtedly accelerated by digitalization.

A huge opportunity

Whether termed “intelligent infrastructure” or the “Internet of Things (IoT)” – the countless buzzwords describe the same thing: the new generation of automated buildings. No industry sector remains unaffected by this subject; quite the opposite. Digitalization is not a threat for business, it is a major opportunity. Especially for building owners and operators, the benefits are so vast that the digital transformation will build an enormous momentum in the real estate industry. Digitalization is increasingly seen as the best means of reducing costs in realty portfolios, which for many companies are the third most valuable tangible asset.
Digitalization in building management is here to stay. Siemens estimates that out of Internet of Things, by the year 2030, there will be 50 billion networked devices – a mind-boggling amount. According to further predictions, 65 percent of Siemens customers will require access to their data at all times, 60 percent will expect greater transparency in their business processes, and 52 percent will view digitalization as a way to optimize their systems.
But how exactly can this vast amount of data be used? And how can the numerous different applications be linked with one another so that the data can be optimally used?
Already today data is collected from fire safety and security systems, HVAC equipment (heating, air conditioning, ventilation) and controls, energy efficiency programs, and lighting and energy systems. This extensive portfolio is being expanded to smart meters that measure energy and consumption, a technology that is increasingly being used and integrated around the world. Siemens is convinced that data collected from these non-networked systems can create considerable value for users if combined with the data from different types of meters and structural building data.
Intelligent sensors, actuators and similar devices supply a wealth of data whose potential has thus far been virtually untapped. It is already possible to analyze and convert this data into transparent information, using big data applications, which can in turn be fed into linked performance indicators - and this in real time.
Intelligent algorithms can assess trends and detect patterns in user behavior or consumption, making informed decisions, predictive strategies and continual optimization possible. When combined with sophisticated self-optimization functions, a kind of central nervous system emerges that makes the building “intelligent.”

Transparency increases value

Transparency is an important element in creating added value for the user. Transparency is what delivers a prioritized overview of all potential improvement measures. This added value manifests itself in, for instance, lower operating costs through greater energy efficiency and sustainability, besides meeting legal and regulatory requirements. Transparency is therefore a prerequisite for the realization of optimal building performance.
The first step is to collect and visualize meaningful data, so as to create informative dashboards. The cockpits provide KPIs, classifying the performance of individual equipment components and the entire building management system. There are KPIs for energy consumption, for general costs, for CO2 emissions, for costs per square meter, etc. Therewith building owners can analyze service provider performance while implementing a broad range of measures in real time. This can be done not only per location, but for the company’s entire building portfolio.
Condition monitoring detects and anticipates system errors, and can drive the implementation or optimization of corrective and preventive measures. This ensures the uninterrupted availability of the building, and provides a complete overview of all systems. Companies can measure the energy performance of their buildings, and Siemens technicians can compare this performance with similar systems to identify potential areas for improvement. Siemens can even provide forecast models for optimizing systems for specific climatic conditions or emergency situations.
The building world is changing to an ever greater degree, and new innovative technologies offer increasingly clearer insights into how workplaces are used.
We are poised on the threshold of an exciting future that will revolutionize how we work, control our environment and use energy resources. Heat mapping of offices and occupancy detection give building owners valuable information on how their buildings are being used throughout the day and how usage changes with the seasons.

Proactive and predictive

In the past, companies managed their buildings rather reactively. Thanks to the information they collect through digitization, they are now able to act proactively and take advantage of the benefits of predictive analysis. Service thus gains an entirely new significance, moving away from scheduled to condition-based service. The ultimate goal for companies is that their building management system allows their buildings to run autonomously. Such autonomous buildings enable companies to reduce energy consumption and downtimes and thereby provide services on demand as well as rule-based performance management.
The advantages of digitalization are already evident in the management of building performance – for example the reduction of CO2 emissions, which is a high priority. Businesses are already cutting CO2 emissions by as much as 10 to 15 percent, and achieving energy savings of 30 percent is no longer uncommon.
Siemens is convinced that digital transformation in building technology will trigger a paradigm shift in the entire branch. New business models will emerge in which software will play a central role, where openness and transparency will be crucial. Based on this, services will need to adjust to ever-changing customer goals, and will thus become increasingly important. In contrast, closed and proprietary systems will lose out.
This transformation will lead to improved efficiency and new cost-saving opportunities that can only truly bear fruits in the new digital world. New business models have already changed many rules of the game; they have the potential to turn the market upside-down. Traditional competitive situations will be transformed into a network of partnerships and alliances leading to a manifestly more complex ecosystem.
The vision is a building that manages itself, detects any need for service on its own, communicates with its environment and adjusts to its users and their requirements. The advantages for property managers are obvious: this type of building means less effort for facility management and maintenance, lower energy consumption, and guaranteed performance. At the same time, the building supports the persons working in it, because it supports the optimization of their work processes, increasing not only their productivity, but also their creativity.

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