Smart Buildings: It's not (just) about the tech


26 March 2020

By Steve Perkins | Senior Technical Director - Buildings at Beca

Smart Buildings: a buzzword past its use-by date? From smartwatches to smart fridges and smartboards, ‘smart’ can be cringeworthy or confusing. But like smart cities and smart manufacturing, smart buildings are emerging from the "trough of disillusionment" and projects are being scoped and delivered sensibly and practically.

One of the reasons we believe the froth has settled is this: clients’ attitudes have become more measured as their understanding grows more sophisticated. While the IOT (Internet of Things), data analytics, cloud and machine-learning are powering today’s smart buildings, clients don’t want digital technology for technology’s sake. Rather, we’re helping them to see it as a means to deliver benefits for tenants, visitors and building owners alike.

The benefits of smart buildings range from increasing operational efficiency, site security and service quality, to providing building users with direct control of their personal environment in a reliable, secure, vendor-neutral and cost-efficient way.

Significant reduction in ICT (Information and communications technology) costs are enabling powerful networking and data analytics to be used on most projects. Our ICT specialists in network design, data analytics and software development work hand in hand with our mechanical and electrical engineers to integrate physical and virtual worlds seamlessly. Data security, privacy and redundancy are carefully considered, and networks designed to be flexible and scalable to accommodate the inevitable changes imposed on them over their lifetime.

Is it a problem worth solving?

Features and benefits aside, critical questions to ask are, “is it a problem worth solving”, and “is it worth your while to deploy a digital or technological solution?”

There’s an ever-growing list of solutions that can add “smarts” to a space – no matter the scale - from small tenancy fit-outs, to high-rise commercial towers to sprawling campuses. But do you really need them and will they truly benefit your business or organisation? Decades of experience delivering innovative building projects gives us a deep appreciation of stakeholder needs, with the ability to make sense of the complexity and sheer number of technological options available.

The secret lies in our ability to uncover the pain-points of building owners and tenants, tapping into our institutional knowledge while conducting project-specific consultation workshops. This enables us to tease out these needs and craft a rich customer journey map. We then apply a range of technologies that could potentially meet the defined needs, centered around business priorities, budgets and schedules.

What do we mean by "real value"?

There are many ways to define the value one can derive from technology. Often the most suitable solutions will meet multiple needs, sitting at the centre of overlapping economic, social and environmental perspectives, and some of these examples are highlighted below.

Economic Solutions provide additional revenue, raise productivity and deliver both operational and capital cost savings. Return-on-Investment is a critical litmus test to determine whether the solution provides real value. More progressive clients investing in innovative solutions go by our rule-of-thumb of 1-2% of total construction cost, and the ROI should be of equal magnitude.

With more data and connectedness between systems and the rise of the sharing economy, landlords have an opportunity to provide new or better services to their tenants, beyond just real estate.

Social Solutions enhance users’ access to information, control of their local environment and create a safer community. As we live our lives more online, there is growing expectation that the people-to-building interaction becomes more intuitive.

Environmental Solutions reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources and are especially important in light of global commitments to reduce building carbon emissions across the industry value chain.

We believe the market for Smart Buildings will continue to progress along the "slope of enlightenment". Digital and technology solutions that are cool and shiny, but don’t solve stakeholder problems and bring real value, will find it challenging to excite the sophisticated market we have today.




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