Making the grade: how to measure building intelligence

By Kas Mohammed, BMS Business Manager at Schneider Electric

 Emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and intelligent building software, are revolutionising how modern buildings are designed, built and operated. The Smart Working Report, a collaboration between Schneider Electric and Unwork, shows how these technologies are becoming pervasive and embedded in the next generation of buildings to deliver ‘smart’ structures able to optimise their operations, achieve lower running costs and enhance the wellbeing of their occupants.

Many are already looking ahead. Increasing interest in smart buildings from occupiers and developers has seen investment in the smart buildings space propel to $7 billion in 2015. By 2019, IDC forecasts that spending on smart buildings will exceed $17.4 billion.[i]

However, while the enthusiasm surrounding smart buildings excels, we currently lack a single, consistent definition or criteria for actually assessing building intelligence. From the perspective of an investor or employer interested in the potential of smart building technology, this could prove a significant roadblock for greater adoption. Without a baseline or series of dependable metrics to measure against, it is difficult to judge the impact that this technology will have on business.

How ‘smart’ is your building?

In technical parlance, a smart building is one in which different technology systems work together to reduce operational costs and enhance the experience of occupants. However, how ‘smart’ a building is cannot be assessed by looking at its technology alone – a smart building does not simply house the latest technologies, it utilises this technology to create tangible benefits for owners and occupiers.

When evaluating building intelligence, technological capabilities should be assessed only in conjunction with the benefits they can deliver. In any investment, outcomes are the primary concern, and from a commercial point of view occupiers and developers want smart buildings that are:

  1. Insightful: Smart buildings must provide actionable insights into how a building is operating. In a smart building, real time data should be reported and used to inform decisions on building operations. Portfolio managers will be enabled to see their operations across the globe and compare performance, giving them actionable insight on how to drive efficiencies and improvements.
  2. Sustainable:Smart buildings should allow facilities managers to easily monitor and control the performance of the buildings against their sustainability strategies. Combined with appropriate supply and demand energy management strategies, the ‘smartest’ buildings can even be net-positive, creating more energy than they consume.
  3. Flexible: Smart buildings should encourage agile, dynamic models of work, such as activity-based working, by allowing spaces to be easily re-configured. This enables the workplace to adapt to technological advances and changing business requirements more easily.
  4. Experiential: Office users ought to have greater control over their environment in a smart building, allowing them to tailor comfort levels to their personal preference.
  5. Healthy: Smart buildings should contribute to a healthy environment and provide technology that can facilitate and measure wellbeing, helping to reduce the costs of sickness and absenteeism.
  6. Productive: Smart buildings are expected to facilitate better, more efficient use of space and environments that enable companies to get more out of their staff.
  7. Collaborative: Through advanced use of data and analytics, smart buildings should be able to encourage interactions, knowledge sharing and improve business performance.
  8. Effective: Smart buildings must meet the needs of their stakeholders, and transform a company’s real estate into an enabler of business growth.

Taken together, these eight outcomes comprise a useful toolkit that can be used to measure how ‘smart’ a building truly is. The design of technology systems, sensors, building systems and connected devices should be directed towards realising one or more of these outcomes for owners and occupants.

As our homes and workplaces are transformed by the advent of new technologies, those involved with delivering building and workplace projects must not ignore the opportunities presented by smart buildings. A consistent and reliable measure of expected outcomes will allow them to do just that.