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Over the past decade, smart building technologies have altered the way in which various aspects of facilities management have taken place. From the introduction and development of BIM, through to advancements in AI, facilities managers have more tools at their fingertips than ever before.
The following technologies have all shaped (or are continuing to shape) the facilities management sector. First though, let’s unpack what exactly constitutes a smart building.
Smart Building Definition
Smart buildings can be thought of as those which utilise technology (both hardware and software) as a means of operating more effectively and efficiently. This includes anything that can boost the productivity of the building’s occupants, all the way through to analytics features that help a building run more sustainably, environmentally speaking.
Smart buildings are on the rise across the globe, with a 2019 report by Johnson Controls finding that almost two-thirds of organisations worldwide are planning on increasing their investiture in smart building technologies, moving forward. This commitment to smart building technologies is reflected in the growing market size, which is predicted to increase five-fold by 2028.
A study by Infogrid showed how smart building technology can have tangible effect on occupants, in this case with reference to a building’s air quality and a return to the office, post-pandemic. The study found that, of those employees questioned, almost 60% said they’d feel more comfortable with a return to the workplace if indoor air quality was monitored and tracked.
What is Smart Facilities Management?
Smart facilities management utilises data, automation and new technologies to enable buildings to be run more cost-effectively, with fewer maintenance issues, and all whilst providing its occupants with a better experience overall. Facilities managers are increasingly looking to incorporate smart technologies into their day-to-day work routines, moving forward.
Types of Smart Building Technologies
1. Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality is helping facilities managers in several areas. VR enables walkthroughs within a space, enabling facilities managers to spot potential problems more easily, as well as helping better visualise a space’s assets and layouts. These are helpful tools both pre and post-construction.
In the case of the former, VR helps facilities managers identify potentially problematic areas from an operational perspective – issues the architect mightn’t have thought of, whilst in terms of post-construction, VR enables facilities managers to better associate the data they’re being fed with the asset in question.
Virtual reality software might also be used by facilities managers to perform dynamic quality checks, as well as internal design/accessibility reviews. Companies such as New-York-based IrisVR, for instance, have begun creating software that can be integrated within the construction and FM industries, a prime example being the facilitation of pre-occupancy evaluations.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has extensive applications within facilities management. Using AI software, for instance, a smart building can use historic data to ‘learn’ typical outputs, readings and signals being displayed by various IoT-enabled devices within the building. Using this data as a benchmark, AI software is able to flag abnormalities and anomalies, and either flag them, or in some cases, even rectify the situation itself.
Previously time-consuming, laborious tasks such as planning preventative maintenance, analysing labour spend and approving work orders can all be automated using machine learning and AI software. Such software is also helping facilities managers significantly reduce their energy expenditure. Predictive trend analysis can save energy in real-time, with AI automatically turning off heating in periods of inactivity, for instance, based on the historical data available to it.
Smart Thermostats Getting Even Smarter…
Smart thermostats and air-conditioning are becoming even smarter, and making even greater use of Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning than ever. The popular Nest smart thermostat has been around for over a decade now, but there are those that want to go further, and create even more individualised, and occupant-specific capabilities.
Costs Spanos, a professor at UC Berkeley, recently carried out an office renovation in Singapore, in which he and his team installed myriad smart sensors, which detected oxygen, carbon dioxide, humidity, and more. These sensors, working in tandem with Wi-Fi triangulation designed to provide occupant location, were designed to learn a worker’s specific preferences, and then adjust the air-conditioning accordingly.
Of course, this raises its own ethical concerns, too. Just how far you should track your occupant’s data through Wi-Fi, for instance, remains a quandary to be put down to individual facilities managers. The data in Professor Spanos’ trial was entirely anonymised, but it’s still a step into the future that some still might find too intrusive at this stage.
3. Building Information Modelling (BIM)
BIM is an all-encompassing 3D environment which helps professionals (across all stages of the construction lifecycle, from design through to operation) work more collaboratively, as well as reducing costs. BIM utilises a centralised information structure through which everything can be carried out. This streamlines operations, and reduces the risks of mistakes, duplicate work and unwanted discrepancies.
As a function of facilities management, BIM is being used to: improve safety modelling (establishing fire and crowd safety risk, for instance), expedite fault repairs and general maintenance, improve cost-savings and offer greater overall visibility over a facility, with all the pertinent data housed in one easy-to-access location.
Arup is leading the way when it comes to smart buildings, data unification and smart building sustainability. Their Neuron app is incorporating AI, IoT and BIM to improve everything from building air quality to overall carbon emissions. Arup is granting facilities managers not just predictive control, but accurate predictive control with Neuron.
4. Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) is often put under the general umbrella of ‘virtual reality’, however they’re actually two distinct technologies. Whereas VR refers to the creation of an entirely virtual, simulated environment, AR takes the existing space and overlays it with simulated assets – or augments it.
VR software will help you visualise an architect’s plans, whilst AR will let you walk through a partially completed build and see how it will look upon completion, or at a more developed stage, by adding virtual, visual representations onto what’s already there. In the context of FM, AR is currently the more useful, practical software application. It already has several applications within the facilities management sector, including:
Tours to Support the Marketing Department
A study by the firm Resonai found that the most common use of AR by FM professionals was to aid their marketing department through the use of tours and walkthroughs, accounting for 20% of usage. Although currently the major use of AR within FM, it’s likely to be taken over by other applications such as smart and predictive maintenance in the near future.
Providing Facilities Managers With a Quicker, Clearer Overview of Faults and Repairs
This facet of AR, known as smart maintenance and repairs, enables managers to walk through a space and have broken electronic appliances, for instance, visually flagged to them. Innovative software applications such as Vera Maintenance Manager even prioritise issues, with ‘hazard signs’ of various colours indicating the urgency with which a problem needs addressing. Whilst this AR application currently only factors for just over 10% of overall AR usage within the sector, it’s thought that that figure might well rise upwards of 45% in the relatively near future.
Internal Wayfinding and Navigation
For large office complexes, AR navigation will prove to be a valuable tool. This enables facilities managers to provide their tenants and occupants greater accessibility, occupancy, and navigation information, which isn’t reliant on strong GPS signals. This technology will also enable technicians and facilities managers, themselves, to more easily locate access points, terminals, and maintenance areas.
The Main Barrier to AR Adoption in FM (Currently)
The greatest barrier to AR adoption is currently thought to be cost. With costs decreasing as AR software increases to become more widespread, however, we’ll see a greater and greater number of FM professionals implementing these technologies within their buildings in the near future.
In fact, Resonai also found that almost three-quarters of facilities managers will look to implement AR technology of some sort within the next two years. The growing prevalence of AR technology within buildings is down, at least partially, to the increased ubiquity of the Internet of Things (IoT).
5. Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to any physical object with smart/internet connectivity. And increasingly, rather than buildings housing a whole series of disparate, isolated components, what you have is a web of interconnected appliances with smart connectivity. This provides facilities managers with more data than previously, meaning devices which might previously have gone on to fail unexpectedly, can be fixed before issues become catastrophic. In short, the IoT is providing facilities managers with a more holistic overview of their facility, and that’s leading to more efficiently-run facilities.
Schneider is a company whose IoT-enabled platform is providing facilities managers with unprecedented levels of control over their building’s individual assets. Their EcoStruxure software is helping facilities managers boost their uptime through real-time reporting, reducing outages and failures in the process. Prevention is better than cure, and Schneider’s software offering delivers arguably the greatest predictive maintenance available to facilities managers, anywhere on the market.
6. Cloud Computing
Cloud computing refers to data stored in ‘the cloud’ as opposed to on a facility’s premises. The benefit of this Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to facilities managers is that they can access building data remotely, rather than having to be on-site. Cloud-based software also offers facilities managers significant cost savings when compared with their legacy FM software.
Azolla, for instance, is a cloud-based FM solution which offers everything from help desk support to risk assessments, and from resource scheduling to self-service IoT, all in one monthly subscription package, with no need for on-premise data storage.
This software – designed, incidentally, by facilities managers – offers functionality to schedule planned maintenance (as well as reactive work), track contractor entry, as well as the ability to access data on the move.
7. Biometric Security Systems
Establishing high-quality security can consume large quantities of a facility manager’s resources. Implementing a biometric-based system, however, can significantly streamline a facility manager’s security costs. Biometrics refer to physical characteristics, such as a person’s face or their fingerprints. Biometric data is harder to be spoofed or imitated than a simple key-card or password, and gives you far greater control in terms of who enters or exits a building.
What are the Four Basic Components of a Smart Building?
There are four basic components which comprise a smart building. These are as follows:
- Connectivity. Undoubtedly, the core of any smart building is its connectivity; that refers to the unhindered connectivity of both its devices and digital components, as well as its connectivity with other facilities, employees, contractors and tenants/occupants. A building’s standard of digital connectivity can now be gauged by using the increasingly popular WiredScore certification, which has certified over 700 million sq ft across the globe.
- User Interface. High-quality UX is an integral feature of any good smart building. What smart buildings are increasingly trying to offer, though, is the idea that less is sometimes more. The ultimate goal of any smart building is to create as smooth, seamless and stress-free environment for its occupants as possible. The fewer apps, terminals, and pieces of hardware your tenants need to do this, therefore, the better.
- IoT Sensors. Sensors across a building can be incorporated into a smart set-up, with information from the building being communicated through a gateway point and onto the cloud. In turn, this data can then be used to inform cost-saving decisions – decisions on HVAC usage, for instance. Equiem is an innovative tenant management company offering an all-in-one software and hardware solution for facilities managers, including IoT sensors, in one singular, easy-to-use modular interface.
- Analytics. Using Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning software, smart buildings extrapolate trends from historical data, and use it to highlight inefficiencies, errors, and areas of improvement.
Smart building technologies are helping facilities managers run their buildings with more control, ease and predictability than they were previously able. For more Facilities Management news and insights, check out our news page here. Or why not register your interest in one of our upcoming london based events, such as IMPACT UK or Space UK.