Imagine a scenario where criminals enter into a building forcibly by setting off all alarms and measures; carryout their tasks and get away easily with valuable information and assets before police or other law enforcement agencies could get a clue about it. Thereafter, we have a long list of reactive measures to track down the culprits. The scenario appears typical for the physical security of buildings since CCTV came into existence. With the advancement in technology particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), though, man-hours in analysing video footages have certainly been reduced, however, the process remains reactive in nature. In order for physical security to evolve, we need to shift towards a more proactive and preventative mindset whereby we are able to fully utilize the potential of smart building technology. Today, most buildings, particularly in developing countries, are operating in a reactive mode and there is actually a lot that can be done to enhance safety and security of its inhabitants using advanced technology whereby data can be collected through sensors; activities monitored; costs reduced and efficiencies improved. For this all to happen, buildings have to switch over to smart technologies.
This article will throw some light on intelligent buildings in general, what are they capable of doing and how can an organization implement them into their respective workspaces and will use the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘smart’ interchangeably.
Intelligent Buildings (IBs) Definitions
Following definitions are proposed for ease of user’s understanding: –
Definition-1. Any building able to provide an effective and supportive environment within which the organization can achieve its strategic / tactical business objectives can be termed as an intelligent building.
Definition-2. Facilities that leverage well integrated, multifaceted automated systems to maximize efficiency and the comfort of its occupants. The term has also been alternatively used for buildings built for energy sustainability instead of intelligent technology.
Definition-3. The Intelligent Building Institute (IBI), USA and the European Intelligent Building Group (EIBG) also came up with another definition which is, “one which provides a productive and cost-effective environment through optimization of structures, systems, services and management and the inter relationships between them”.
What can conveniently be discerned out of the three definitions above is that an IB is the one which creates an environment where an efficient and competent management of resources is carried out with least possible costs of hardware and facilities giving full advantage to the building’s occupants/workforce”. In simple words, they become a powerful resource to help enterprises create efficient and sustainable workplaces, enhanced tenant experiences, maintenance, increased productivity and much more.
IBs can predict maintenance, monitor energy consumption, check and direct improvements in making buildings more efficient and reduce operating costs. A number of buildings these days have smart technology features in their air conditionings, fire safety, lighting, security etc. Consumption can also be measured and overall efficiency improved which is difficult otherwise. For instance, if data from sensors indicate that a certain area of the building is unoccupied, the system can adjust the air conditioning, heating, lighting etc. thereby enhancing efficiency.
Building efficiency and predictive maintenance are certainly two major benefits of Internet of Things (IoT), but it is also capable of monitoring air quality inside the buildings catering for health and safety as well. Smart technology is in fact connected to a smart power grid known (IoT) which is actually the master mind behind the organization, storage, and even redirection of information to and from smart technology which is controllable by the user. IBs connected to the cloud, allow the facility managers to interact with them technologically/digitally. The main aim of these IBs is not only to improve the physical space function itself but also to better serve its users. For example, if an intelligent building knows that Mr. X usually enters office at sharp 10 am in the morning, it can very easily adjust the air conditioning system ensuring the temperature to be at a comfortable level. In case he does not arrive at the required time, it can re-adjust the system back to its original temperature/settings. This would save energy to a great extent. Likewise, if this concept can be mapped onto larger systems, from one office to offices to rooms to apartments to buildings to intelligent cities, imagine the efficient usefulness of resources and energy saved. There could be countless possible applications and ways to save resources or use them elsewhere using IBs, however, mostly the focus remained on energy efficiency or employee productivity in different ways.
Characteristics of IBs
Dependable Internet Connection
All IBs require reliable internet availability to get benefitted from the inherent capabilities of IoT devices in their networks. Once you are internet dependent for everything, there’s no time to deal with the hassle of slow connections or Wi-Fi dead zones at your place. Merely increasing the number of routers may not serve the purpose and you may have to place your routers intelligently to enhance its coverage or may have to use wi-fi extenders to get rid of dead zones as these extenders help give signal coverage to every corner of your workplace.
What happens if the internet is compromised? Would it hamper the physical security of a facility; or allow intruders entry without resistance or alternatively jam the doors and not allow insiders to be able to get out. If the internet goes down, the security manager would be under the illusion that everything is secure unless they get notified by the ISP that the internet connection has been lost. One probable suggestion could be that all IoT enabled devices employed in a facility should have a basic feature of alerting the security manager if it losses internet connectivity so that appropriate counter measures can be incorporated in the Physical Protection System (PPS).
Maintenance has to be extremely speedy in case of IBs and whenever something breaks down, building managers have to be on their toes to get it running ASAP. These IBs generally use preventative maintenance software/tools in order to consistently monitor performance and suggest checking/inspections (if need be) well in time. Moreover, building designs are made in a way that they provide easy maintenance access to hardware and software tools across the entire facility which makes maintenance staff’s life easier. These buildings also use a digital twin (a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system or environment that looks like and behaves identically to its real-world counterpart), which can direct repair teams straight to the troubled areas with minimal assistance from other staff.
Improving Energy Efficiency
Overactive air conditioners, always switched-on lights even when no one is inside the room are generally amongst the common energy wastes daily. IBs can simply automate these processes with a view to reduce expenses and improve energy sustainability. For example, the building might be able to adjust temperature controls depending upon the number of people in a given workspace. Likewise, lighting can also be controlled/adjusted depending on the number of workstations being used or otherwise. These little intelligent efficiencies add up over time and reduce operational costs to minimum.
Automated and Personalized Services
IBs have features that combine IoT devices, online connectivity, and energy efficiency, however, intelligent buildings offer platforms and interfaces to control facility operations and manage them. Sensors are used to detect employee locations and predict where they will be before optimizing the building environment.
Intelligent Building Management Solutions
Generally, most newly constructed commercial buildings have a large number of IoT devices and what sets them apart in terms of connectivity is the way these are organized so that all devices support each other and contribute to an efficient experience. In order to remain organized, we need to have intelligent building solutions. Building management systems (BMS) are platforms that integrate control for systems throughout the building. The facility manager actually operates each process (lighting, security, air conditioning, building access, etc.) manually and the system will not do it itself as it is not intelligent enough to do so. All it can do is that it (BMS) puts all functions into a single platform which helps managers to have full control.
Intelligent building management system (IBMS) is one step ahead which connects building operations to all IoT devices in the building. For instance, whereas a BMS allows the building manager prepare lighting schedule during working hours, an IBMS can rely on available data usage through innumerable sensors and quickly adapt to individual preferences automatically, all by itself. In simple terms, an IBMS is able to integrate dissimilar building processes and tools through machine learning engines to sift through huge data from sensors throughout their building. Predictions or changes in activities are then made using this data through advanced modelling tools. One example in this regard is preventative maintenance which can also simulate foot traffic or even test the ways new furniture can impact IoT, etc.
Predictions from Physical Security Trends in Intelligent Buildings
Technology is changing rapidly and though it is difficult to predict what would come tomorrow, following can easily be predicted: –
• Shift from Physical Access Cards to Smart Phone Credentials.
The shift from physical access cards to intelligent phones (as access cards) is a growing trend. Businesses in different countries have begun to replace standard plastic card with mobile credentialing capabilities, harnessing the versatility that intelligent phones have to offer in a device that many employees already own and use daily. One benefit that can be accrued from this is that they can be issued electronically while the visitors are on their way to the IB, so they do not have to wait. This saves on physical labour, reduce costs, maintains high level of security besides being more environmentally friendly than using physical cards.
• Use of Drones in Intelligent Buildings.
People are expensive and manual activity is not always 100% reliable which is why tech giants are on the hunt to look for technical solutions that can augment manual labour. This is precisely why we can expect drones coming to the scene in near future with a view to keep sites safe/secure. Building managers will be able to deploy them, patrol site perimeters, and also responding to alarm coordinates. Drones can also provide critical information in far less time as compared to humans in case of a disaster/problematic situation. For example, Quadcopter Parking Assistant by Persistent Systems which is actually an intelligent, cheap and very flexible parking technology. This not only identifies free slots but also assists drivers in driving their vehicles to the vacant slots thereby saving time, fuel and ensuring 100% utilization of available parking space.
• Protection of Buildings.
Security and safety of buildings as well as its residents remains the top priority for every facility manager. Using IoT and predictive maintenance improve the safety features of a building through the use of cognitive services, better control systems, predictive analytics, and advanced sensors. Facility managers can run diagnostics which results in better maintenance and management.
Few Challenges Ahead
• Cybersecurity Concerns
Intelligent buildings rely a lot on detecting and collecting data through sensors, however, the presence of data itself raises cybersecurity concerns. Each and every single device connected to the IoT is a potential gateway for cyber-attacks. Luckily, cloud cybersecurity is also improving and it is getting easier to secure data.
• Expensive Venture
Newer technology never comes cheap in any field. For smart/intelligent buildings, it’s not only just the cost of the devices needed to establish the IoT, but also installation and training costs. There would be initial one-time cost as well as recurring cost and the larger the organization, the difficult it gets. Finding room in the budget is not easy, and it becomes more difficult for larger facilities or robust integrations.
• Getting Stakeholder buy-in
Making a strong case for an intelligent building is of paramount importance as not many investors would be willing to see the real value of an intelligent building. In fact, many primary stakeholders may see it negatively – a burden or even an unnecessary expense with more cons than pros. It is then the job of the facility manager to make a strong case for intelligent buildings highlighting the likely positives and show improvements statistically through graphs and whatever means they can possibly use. One probable solution could be to reflect on the growing body of data, case studies, and practical examples showing how the IoT produces cost-savings and improvements.
• Understanding Integrations
IoT is like a complex puzzle where there are a number of pieces to be connected together in order to have a clearer picture. This is a slow process and you cannot get a clear picture unless you have placed a fairly large number of pieces correctly. There is a lot of integration and organizations at times may have to understand this in a practical sense along with the nature of integrations gradually.
• Who takes the Responsibility?
If an organization has the financial capacity as well as the forward-looking mindset (understanding discussed above) to embrace change (intelligent facilities), the bigger challenge is who will take the responsibility, establish reporting mechanism and manage these complex integrations and who will optimize the IoT around specific business objectives? It definitely requires formal training and detailed gradual familiarization with intelligent building technologies which is time and cost prohibitive too. A trained facility manager needs to be hired who can put the things in right perspective.
Few Intelligent Buildings around the World
• The Edge (The Netherlands)
Edge is smart enough to know where its occupants live, which vehicle/car do they drive and even know their preferences through a dashboard and utilizes roughly around 28,000 sensors. It is able to track almost everything; from energy use to when supplies need replenishing. Its occupants or employees use an app on their mobiles which checks their schedules, locates their friends/family members, books a desk for work (as no one has a designated space to work from and the system decides which place to be allocated to whom), and even directs them to a parking spot once they arrive at the building. Few key aspects to Edge’s sustainability are smart airflow designs, numerous solar panels, reclaimed rainwater, electric vehicles charging spots, etc. Advanced technology with gigabytes of data make this building smart enough to shut down areas that are not being used—reducing energy costs
• Bee’ah Headquarters (United Arab Emirates)
Simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems is termed as Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Bee’ah Headquarters makes the best use of AI for facial recognition, predictive maintenance, security, digital twin technology, and even for contactless interactions. The building assists employees and visitors book appointments, locate available meeting spaces, cruise through the entire building besides optimizing its temperature, humidity and optimal use of available space. Like the Edge, its users also use an app to have preassigned parking areas, traffic updates. The building is trying to achieve net-zero energy consumption.
• Cisco Canada Headquarters, Canada
When employees reach at this intelligent building in Toronto, a user-friendly mobile app takes over and routes them to any available space/workstation as there are no permanent workspaces for them. The app also caters for employees’ as regards temperature, humidity, or lighting etc to IoT sensors so when they arrive at their work areas, they’re immediately comfortable and ready to get to work. Smart meeting places can be adjusted automatically and even the conference rooms have retractable walls which can contract and expand to adapt to the number of meeting participants. Elevators in this building can reduce the number of empty rides i.e., an employee presses their desired floor button and the system selects the closest car/cabin.
In order to accrue maximum benefits of intelligent buildings, organizations have to understand the challenges mentioned above. From seeking stakeholders buy-in, to tasking someone to set up and manage integrations, to learning how to make best use of intelligent buildings, require explicit attention and commitment. With a network of integrated sensors and building automation systems, you can save money, reduce environmental impact, and even increase the comfort of building occupants.