Top 5 IoT “Quick Wins” for Smart Buildings

The actions people take to improve the occupant experience is more valuable than the tech used to help them along the way.

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There isn’t one distinct thing a building can change to become “smart.” Each building and its occupants are unique and require a unique approach. However, many times occupants and owners can feel the difference intuitively when working in a smart building.

The benefit of having a smart building is hard to value, and sometimes the best way to understand that value is to make the leap and implement low-capital cost, non-invasive projects that provide small yet potent improvements. Gathering these quick wins can help sell and lead into bigger endeavors. I’ll list my top 5 IoT projects to give your building a higher education.

1. Analytics: Find things you never knew before!

The quickest way to jump into IoT for Smart Buildings is to use data that is already being captured by your building’s automation systems. The systems that control the HVAC and energy-using systems are great places to start. Installing analytics software can identify new insights into the operation of your building which can lead to more informed decision-making and eventually a more efficient and reliable building.

Analytics software can immediately crunch large amounts of existing data and identify things that are typically hard or impossible for a building technician to find, such as:

  • Identifying spaces where the temperature is out of control (large swings over the course of the day)
  • Mechanical/Electrical equipment that is broken, but hard to identify
  • Equipment that is using more energy than typical/ideal

Knowledge is power, and by more quickly and reliably identifying issues where the building operators can take positive corrective action makes for a healthy, smarter building.

2. Engage your occupants: Treat the occupants of your building like the customers they are.

Typically, building managers consult often with their tenant’s management staff. However, usually there is no direct line of feedback from occupants to the building management or operations team. There are several commercially available applications that make it easier to get consistent occupant feedback that can be analyzed in a consistent and statistical way to track occupant satisfaction.

The most important part of operating a Smart Building is not changing technology, it’s changing the operational mindset. By closing the feedback loop between the users of the building and the operators and systems that serve them, the building can be improved in a methodically way.

Each change to a building (i.e. renovations, mechanical upgrades, sustainability projects, etc) can be rigorously tested to determine if they improve the occupant experience or not. By receiving consistent and quantifiable occupant feedback, the true value of building improvement projects can be measured.

3. Upgrade your automation firepower!

Many buildings have outdated systems (think Windows 2000) that control the HVAC, lighting, and other functions of the building. Automation technology is the foundation of a Smart Building, and if this technology is too old to support more modern add-ons, then IoT projects can be dead on arrival.

Sometimes the most important projects are foundational ones that can lead to bigger and better things. Smart Building projects/programs start with an investigation into what exists in the building in the first place. A single line diagram of all the controls systems is created (controllers, communication protocols, rough understanding of connected sensors and data quality and flow) and from there, a plan can be engineered to best suit to goals of the building.

4. View your building through a single pane of glass: Centralize the operation of your buildings functions and integrate them together.

Another foundation to Smart Buildings is to bring previously separate systems together. Most buildings, even today, are built with separate controls systems to operate different functions of the buildings (HVAC, lighting, security, elevators, etc) and they do not communicate with each other. When these systems are run on separate servers, with separate user interfaces, its can be complicated to operate a building, like using a phone with too many apps.

There are many commercially available solutions to integrate separate systems together, which usually requires the help of a specialized contractor, such as a controls systems integrator. However, the effort can be well worth it, and the building operators will forever thank you for providing an easier system to help them run the building.

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5. Batten down the hatches: Make your facility cyber secure

And last but not least, the elephant in the room: Cybersecurity. A building can’t be smart unless its secure. Building systems are too critical (think hospitals, data centers, etc.) and are becoming too interconnected with other functions to not have a cyber security plan in place. This work should be completed alongside other automation upgrades projects, where the first step is a complete investigation and identification of all controls systems interconnection. Usually, the building’s control systems (“OT” – operational technology) are maintained by one group and the building’s IT systems (other networks, servers, switches, routers) are maintained by a separate group.

Bringing these folks together, who typically rarely work with one another, to talk security is an important mindset change and is not easy.

Smart buildings rely equally on smart technology and smart people. Remember, the actions people take to improve the occupant experience is more valuable than the tech used to help them along the way. These 5 projects for Smart Buildings can help building operational and management teams improve occupant satisfaction, comfort, and cyber security.