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The information age

If you want to make the most of your smart building, you need to make the data it provides work for you, says Karl Broom, FSI Territory Sales Manager

No longer a futuristic concept, smart buildings are gradually becoming interwoven through the fabric of the modern workplace. While building automation is still some way from being a necessity, it will play a significant role in the future – in terms of improving both workplace wellbeing and the long-term efficiency of a building’s lifecycle.

The internet of things (IoT) is a way of giving a building a ‘voice’. It’s the network that connects your building’s devices, helps your assets communicate with one another and shapes how users interact with their environment.

Smart buildings and the data they produce can be highly beneficial for both single and multi-occupier workplaces and their building lifecycles. Of course, while data acts as the fuel for IoT, this fuel is only valuable if you can make it work for you, your people, your places and your processes. You need an effective strategy that outlines how data is analysed and an intelligent way to turn this information into action.

What needs to be thought about prior to and during implementation? What systems do you need in place to effectively interpret the data and inform your decision-making? And what tangible benefits will both FMs and end users see?

First, you need to think about what type of solution your organisation needs. This is usually determined by whether you’re looking for a mainstream ‘strategic’ solution or trying to address a specific set of problems, what might be referred to as a ‘tactical’ solution.

Let’s start with the latter. Imagine you are looking into claims that some areas of your building have temperatures which are unsatisfactory for users. A tactical IoT solution would help you learn about the problem, recording key factors such as temperatures at different times of day and using sensors to determine whether windows or doors were being opened or how the space was being occupied.

A strategic solution has a deeper objective. It helps FMs understand exactly what’s happening with every building asset and component, including how effectively they’re operating, and provides valuable information to make intelligent decisions.

Here are some examples of what your strategic goals could look like:

➤ Become a more environmentally-conscious workplace. Introduce energy and sustainability monitoring to reduce carbon footprint and wasted electricity and water consumption.

➤ Become a more connected workplace. Drive productivity of employees by optimising wellbeing factors such as temperature, space management and booking systems.

➤ Implement automated workflows. Use IoT technology to integrate with a CAFM/IWMS supplier to create effective schedules for both planned and reactive activities.

➤ Increase across-the-board efficiencies. Automate particular workflows to reduce costs and free up resources for other areas of FM.

➤ Manage assets more effectively through data-led insights. Increase operational efficiency across your facilities and help teams better manage asset lifecycles.

The amount of data being produced will grow exponentially as time moves on. If there is no effective management strategy in place, you risk opening the floodgates, leaving your team confused and drowning in data. Data management starts with understanding how you plan to store it, the vastness of the information being produced and your storage requirements, which subsequently feeds into how that data is viewed and interpreted.

Systems such as FSI’s IoT hub enable live data to be pushed and displayed in an easy-to-digest interface. You can access everything via your dashboard and use your snapshot to monitor, maintain and make informed decisions on your assets. FM teams can see what they’re trending against, whether that be historical data compared against the present day, or identifying breaches and putting a plan in place to automate actions in the future.

Ultimately, smart buildings help you work smarter.

A smart building will tell you if and how effectively spaces are being utilised. You will quickly understand what areas cost are relative to their level of use, allowing you to make decisions on how it’s best allocated. What’s more, you will be able to see real-time energy usage and regulate this accordingly. For larger buildings with hectic cleaning and maintenance schedules, spaces will produce data that lets you know which busy areas require a prioritised visit, as well as those that have been untouched since the last one.

Smart building systems help monitor and control the indoor environment, optimising spaces to keep users happy, more productive and looked-after. This could involve anything from temperature and humidity to lighting and air quality. Not only is this beneficial in the retention of employees, but it helps contribute to a positive and comfortable experience for visitors to the building.

Through IoT and the use of beacons and smart tags, you can ensure that anyone working on a task is properly qualified to do so. They can also notify you when an asset needs to be serviced and, if you have an appropriate CAFM/IWMS system in place, automate the renewal. The sensors can also work to identify if there are people in the building in the event of an emergency, assisting authorities where needed to share their location.

This only scratches the surface of what can be done with smart building data. Understandably, many FMs are still sceptical as to how much their working lives can truly be improved through IoT technology. But it’s important to address the new challenges facing the working environment with a new way of thinking.

Above all, the technology needs to work for you, not the other way around. Smart buildings and IoT technology make workplaces more efficient, more productive, and much better places to be.

About Sarah OBeirne

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