In this article Bob Vale – technical sales manager at Eurotech explains how the much vaunted “Internet of Things” is set to revolutionise facilities management, and what you need to know and do to keep up with developments
There is little doubt that the Facilities Management and Maintenance industry is entering a hugely exciting phase in which greater attention is being given to ways in which technology can be applied to improve operations, safety, security and the all-important customer experience. As this trend continues, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the key to major gains lies not simply in the provision of point in time solutions addressing a particular stakeholder need, but in the interconnectivity of a number of these eco-systems and the combination of their data to drive new services, business models and revenue streams; this is The Internet of Things (IoT) in action.
In IoT we think of many different devices talking many different languages, communicating with multiple applications for a wide variety of use cases. To achieve this model we must truly de-couple the publishers of data from the subscribers to the data. By taking this approach we dramatically increase the interoperability of systems: indeed with Eurotech’s Everyware Software Framework on an intelligent gateway we can publish data for any type of sensor to our cloud broker within Everyware Cloud and allow any type of application to subscribe to the data, thus creating a truly versatile platform enabling the IoT.
OPPORTUNITIES IN SMART BUILDINGS
IoT has wide potential applicability within the Facilities Management and Maintenance industry, as it satisfies the requirement to build infrastructures which allows systems and devices to work collaboratively to explore and exploit new relationships between building usage, utilities consumption (water, energy etc.), environmental control and service requirements, whilst also offering a range of pre-qualified, ready to use hardware platforms which can simply be deployed in building edge applications.
ENABLING EVIDENCE BASED DECISIONS
Traditionally monitoring, sensing and metering have been labour intensive and are often carried out in isolation by different departments within an organisation for different purposes: maintenance, operational cost reduction and billing for example. The IoT presents the opportunity to combine all data into one cloud platform and share it between different departments, which have previously not had access to the full range of information available. Coupled with the now ubiquitous two-way communication routes, this opens up a huge range of opportunities for business-wide benefits including preventive maintenance, automation, remote upgrade and service optimisation as well as a raft of additional services and business models that will become possible once these IoT platforms are implemented.
It is obvious that if the condition of an asset can be continuously monitored, then it is possible to spot trends or symptoms which are indicative of an impending failure, in advance of catastrophic failure and to fix the problem without causing a loss of service.
One key challenge to the industry is in the diversity of assets that need to be monitored, such as heating and air conditioning systems, electricity supplies, elevators and appliances, such as refrigerators, to name but a few. This diversity has historically meant that either no monitoring system is available, or a system dedicated to monitoring one particular function is deployed, without any consideration of the wider use of the data it produces.
If the live data from sensors can be analysed, it is possible to make decisions and control systems in real time. These kinds of applications are not new, but the applications have historically been within closed systems, for instance environmental control (heating, cooling and lighting) or access control. Utilising an IoT infrastructure that de-couples data consumers from providers, means that decision making can be based on inputs from multiple systems without the need for complicated and expensive integration to be carried out. For example:
One can imagine a smart building where the elevator is waiting, doors open as you enter the building and the conference room you booked via your smart phone on your commute to work is already lit and at the correct temperature, ready for the start of your meeting. Your conference call is dialled in and the computer has uploaded the correct presentation. When you finish in the meeting room the sensors detect the room is empty and switch off the lights and heating system. As you leave the meeting room, you are sent a text allocating you a hot desk in the area of the office you have set as your preference. When you sit down, the under desk sensor knows this desk is occupied and it is marked as unavailable on the system. The receptionist is informed who is in the office today and which desk they are using so calls and visitors can be directed appropriately.
The benefits of technology adoption are not limited to machine monitoring and control. Taking buildings usage and people flow data also produces benefits both in terms of efficiency savings and enhanced customer experience. For example, monitoring the number of people actually using washrooms allows maintenance and service regimes to be based upon usage rather than time. This in turn produces a better customer experience at times of heavy usage, and avoids unnecessary service visits in times of low demand, producing savings both in manpower and consumable use. Monitoring entry to unmanned buildings is useful not only from a security standpoint, but also in terms of the manpower planning perspective. Environmental monitoring around public or large works sites provides both a useful check for pollution control, and potential revenue streams in terms of wider data reuse.
THE REAL TAKE HOME POINT
Applying solutions to any of the above problems, or the plethora of other challenges in Smart Buildings or Asset Control and Monitoring has potential to produce business benefit, whether in terms of efficiency savings or new revenue streams. In many cases however the economics don’t stack up, due to the cost of the monitoring solution and infrastructure. Leveraging these emerging technologies driving the revolution that will be the Internet of Things offers ways to spread common infrastructure and middleware costs across a range of systems, thereby reducing the average cost of all systems and enabling monitoring of multiple assets that would be uneconomic with a single dedicated system. This cost benefit is multiplied when the ability to share data across systems is also factored in, both because it allows users to investigate new dependencies between processes and start to apply optimisation across the whole ecosystem of customers, suppliers, services, logistics and regulation.