Smart building integration

Historically, the facility management challenge has been to do more with less. System integration provides a solution, and offers an opportunity to lower costs and achieve greater efficiencies.


Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify what a smart building is, and the solutions it can provide.
  2. Learn how a BAS can integrate engineered systems within a building.
  3. Understand the role data can play in increasing operational and energy efficiency.

This article has been peer-reviewed.Typical facility management challenges associated with energy consumption, operational costs, and occupant comfort have been compounded by the growing complexity of the engineered systems designed to manage them. Operational budgets, staffing levels, and staff skill sets often fall short of need. Implementation of smart building solutions that can remedy these problems has been underexplored due to perceived lack of return on investment. Reinforcing this perception, the capabilities of smart building technologies, when employed, are commonly under-exploited for lack of capacity to do so.

Costs associated with system integration (data storage and communications interfaces) have been falling. The concept of the Internet of Things is gaining traction. McKinsey Quarterly defines Internet of Things as “objects becoming embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate.” This trend is generating free-use analytical tools and processes for integration optimization, prompting building owners to increasingly concur with McKinsey’s opinion that “the resulting information networks promise to create new business models, improve business processes, and reduce costs and risks.” The two-part challenge is to better use technology and more fully leverage data.

Figure 1: Building and business systems integration offers an opportunity to enhance and automate business process. A process-oriented approach is required to fully exploit system interdependencies. All graphics courtesy: Affiliated Engineers Inc. What is a smart building?

The promise of smart buildings is to overcome facility management challenges and realize the potential of improved operational and energy efficiencies by leveraging interdependencies between building and business systems, leading to optimization or automation of facility management work processes and providing a wealth of data for analysis. Visualization and analytics tools reveal trends, patterns, and anomalies that can lead to better operational and energy management strategies, ultimately integrating facility management with the organization’s business objectives.

Of course, the ability to integrate building systems will be impacted by the building systems being employed and the extent to which they lend themselves to integration. Knowledge of the sheer variety of systems in the field, and the expertise to understand what can be accomplished by engineering design, software, or the boots on the ground, is fundamental to the optimal success of any smart building initiative.

Systems integration and data analytics are the fundamentals of smart buildings, but the industry lacks standards and guides to define a smart building, much less measure its relative smartness. Certain attributes are typically associated with smart buildings—systems integration, data analytics, open protocols, flexibility of use, adaptability to changing requirements, enhanced user experience, fault detection, diagnostics, energy efficiency, sustainable operations—but none of these constitutes building “smartness” in and of itself.

Remote monitoring, often erroneously equated to smart buildings, can also be one attribute; having the ability to remotely monitor a building does not solely make a building smart. Nor does simply acquiring a BAS make the building smart. How the BAS is configured and used is essential to making the building smarter. Furthermore, integrating disparate systems, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t render a building smart without leveraging the synergetic interdependencies of its systems. A smart building integrates disparate systems from a business case perspective, serving business case needs.

The technological state of existing buildings

Technologically, the building automation industry has progressed from pneumatic systems to direct digital control (DDC) systems to today’s open protocol controls loaded with functionality. Many existing buildings and campuses have been subject to the full spectrum. Yet building management improvements have not kept pace with technological advances for several reasons:

Multiple BASs: It is common to find multiple, disparate BASs in existing facilities. A low-bid approach to new construction projects is the primary cause of this. One university in the Carolinas had, until recently, eight disparate BASs. Any time building operators needed to make a common scheduling change, they had to do it eight times.

BAS functionality is not configured: Despite the degree of functionality with which new BASs are equipped, they are seldom specified and rarely configured properly. One health care provider with a 2-million-sq-ft campus in Florida averaged more than 900 alarms per day. Use of functionality such as alarm suppression resulted in a reduction of alarms from around 900 to around 90 per day—a 90% reduction. For the health care provider, this was equivalent to reduction of one full-time position. Because alarm suppression associates secondary or tertiary alarms with its primary source, a chilled water temperature in high temperature limit alarm will trigger secondary (air handling unit discharge air temperature) and tertiary (room temperature) alarms. With an alarm suppression scheme in place, the operator gets only the primary alarm while the others are suppressed.

Building systems in silos: It’s common to find a multitude of systems in existing campuses and major portfolios. Building systems typically include disparate building automation, security, fire alarm, power management, elevators, and lighting systems. Meanwhile, facility management business systems typically include work order management, preventive maintenance, scheduling, human resources, and utility analysis. Most of these systems have their own proprietary communications interface and operate in a stand-alone mode. The challenge for operational staff is to learn each system. Dedicated teams are formed to develop expertise in operating each system. Buildings within the same campus or portfolio are operated individually instead of as a group, leading to inefficient operational resource management.

Lack of standardization: Similar buildings on the same campus or even on different floors in the same building may end up with different systems, different operational sequences, or both. The same technician who configures a BAS on one building with a certain sequencing, software, and point naming scheme may have done the next building on that same campus completely differently.

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