The digital transformation of buildings is growing as the era of Internet of Things (IoT) ushers in an increasing number of smart buildings. Smart building technology is necessary for economic and environmental change. And for the Public Sector, this leads directly to the rise of smart government. For those operating in the cash-strapped Public Sector, who are under pressure to cut costs and improve services, the benefits of investing in smart buildings include:
- Reduced operating costs
- Increased responsiveness
- Improved sustainability
- Higher efficiency
- Steady ‘feedback’ from big data and AI
- Greater employee and citizen satisfaction
Smart buildings create a connected environment. Bringing together people, data, and infrastructure in a truly unique way. Indeed, this new overlaying of traditional bricks and mortar with modern digital technologies will fundamentally change how we inhabit buildings.
At its heart, a smart building is simply one where people and information are brought together – harnessing smart technology such as IoT and AI to automatically control internal operations such as heating, lighting, ventilation, security, etc. What makes a building truly smart, however, is how it uses the hundreds to sensors embedded in multiple different systems throughout the building to collect, analyse, and act in such a way that essentially creates a conversation between itself and its inhabitants.
A smart building, can, for example, detect the presence of people in a room, manage the temperature and air conditioning let others know that the room is in use, monitor the light from outside to adjust the blinds, etc.
This shift to smart buildings could save around 15%-25% on energy costs according to Smart Start for Smart Buildings. And because commercial buildings account for between 10%-15% of carbon emissions, reducing energy consumption through the use of smart building technologies would make a significant positive impact on the health of our cities.
The consolidation of monitoring, management, security, IT and communication infrastructure is also a key cost-saving when investing in a smart building. A more uniform infrastructure is one that is easier to scale, has significantly less equipment and lower inter-connect costs. Moreover, the integration of these systems also allows for a more efficient use of energy, leading to lower energy bills and an improved carbon footprint. Indeed, consolidation and integration of the buildings network infrastructure is the first step toward capitalising on a smart building’s potential.
With the ability to analyse vast amounts of data, a clear picture can be built up over time to create a better view of how a building is actually being used. In some building, it has been reported that space utilisation can be as low as 48%. Through the advent of smart building technology utilisation rates of more than 80% can be achieved, liberating significant amounts of floor space that can either be repurposed for internal use or rented or sold on.
But understanding the benefits of smart buildings is one thing – finding an affordable way to build or convert existing buildings in these times of tight finances is another thing. Smart building technologies might pay for themselves in future cost-savings and efficiencies but building the case to begin the process isn’t always straightforward for developers.
However, the UK Government is being supportive to the construction industry in their efforts to embrace today’s new building technologies and the move toward digital transformation. For example, they have pledged £15m for the development of the Centre for Digital Built Britain, a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge to understand how the construction and infrastructure sectors could use a digital approach to better design, build, operate, and integrate the built environment.
For Mark Brew, Chairman of PCSG and a strategic consultant for the centre, “It’s about digitising the entire lifecycle of built assets to boost capacity, reduce costs, improve whole-life performance and cut carbon emissions.”
In addition, IoTUK, a national programme designed to promote the UK’s IoT capabilities, has been launched as part of the government’s £40m investment into IoT. The government is also urging local authorities to bid for their share of a £95m full-fibre broadband fund to enable key public buildings and businesses to improve their digital infrastructure.
Margot James, UK Minister for Digital, said: “We recently set out our ambition for a nationwide full-fibre broadband network by 2033, and initiatives like this will be instrumental in achieving that. We want to hear from any local authority interested in taking part, so we can work closely with them on their plans to help them secure funding.”
Despite the huge promises and upside of investing in smart buildings, there are also some key challenges that need to be taken under consideration.
Pressures on public sector buildings means that Finance Managers are struggling to prioritise capital investment for any building conversions. The costs of upgrading and consolidating an existing network, coupled with the need to install new smart technologies can run into the millions of pounds, depending upon the age and condition of a building.
The proliferation of sensors and cameras throughout the buildings means that a highly reliable network infrastructure is needed to ensure that all the smart building technologies work flawlessly together. This also means that that governments must invest in highly reliable network devices along with sufficient broadband to support the increase in data traffic. To operate smoothly, there can be no bottlenecks from either the wired or wireless network. No gaps in service can exist from WiFi access points through the wired switches and all the way to the broadband internet connection and the data centre. These connections must be highly available, fault tolerant, and secure to insure an uninterrupted service. This is the digital overlay on traditional bricks and mortar that will truly deliver the digital transformation that governments today are looking to implement.
Moreover, in the midst of the diversity of devices now supporting smart buildings, data security and protection of privacy must be fully maintained. Smart buildings will contain sensitive data, for example, medical and patient information held within strictly controlled environments. Authorised devices to the network must be seamlessly and effortlessly ‘on-boarded’ while unauthorised devices must be prevented from gaining access to the smart building network. Security is paramount.
And it’s not about 1 single building – government buildings and their networks need to be open and connected to many others in order to fully integrate and communicate to others. Only then will we move toward a truly smart city environment.
Smart buildings are on the rise with the proliferation of low-cost internet connected devices and the convergence of formally disparate network infrastructures, consolidating data, voice, and video traffic down a single fibre cable. Insightful and actionable data from any number of government buildings and agencies can now be delivered in real time, optimising both work space and energy consumption.
Intelligent buildings integrate many advanced technologies and, combined coherently, these technologies greatly improve the efficiency, comfort and security of a building. The foundation of this system is a solid data network infrastructure, providing the highest possible reliability, bandwidth and security.
Connectivity through smart building technology enables and ensures a healthy and comfortable living and working environment for the occupants; smart buildings are better aligned with occupants’ preferences, this can be through connected, interactive and self-learning control systems. Additionally, they are more suited to ensure higher indoor comfort, through monitoring and verification which can be done at a lower cost for the occupant and by optimising energy usages.
Smart building technology should encompass additional functions in terms of flexibility, automation, renewable energy production and user-friendly control. Leading on from this, using technology within the infrastructure of a building can benefit the environment through lower energy consumption and a greater capacity for more renewable energy usage. It can benefit the greater society, with better health, comfort and well-being whilst encouraging a thriving economy.
Written by Darren Bindert, Head of Marketing for Syscomm.
He can be contacted at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org
With over 35 years of experience, Syscomm consults, designs, implements and supports the network infrastructures that drives smart building innovation in both the public and private sectors.