What are Smart Buildings?

Office buildings may not seem like much, but they’re undergoing a radical transformation in the digital age. With the Internet of Things allowing us to monitor and adjust settings in real-time, the buildings of the future are almost living things.

Smart buildings are helping businesses cut down on overhead costs and reduce the environmental impact of business operations in the age of changing climates. Now that we have the power of tech on our side, we may find in a few years that buildings look very different than what we’re used to.

Let’s take a look at what a smart building is, how it operates, and why you may want to invest in smart technology in new buildings or retrofit the tech for your current building. You’re going to love where this takes you.

Smart Buildings – A History

Smart building technology has always been on the agenda. Maintenance costs are expensive, especially when you don’t monitor systems all along. Things like thermostats were simple ways to ensure energy efficiency within your HVAC system or your natural gas system.

Humans are great at innovation, but we aren’t as methodical as we think we are. There’s always some detail that slips through the cracks. Karen forgot to adjust the air conditioner over the weekend, and now the system is frozen. Brian forgot to report a leaky toilet, and now the bathroom is flooded.

Smart buildings took shape as things like edge computing allowed us to connect devices to a network for constant monitoring. Just like your printer system is linked to the cloud, your thermostat can be linked. Even things like the plumbing system or your elevator can be connected, fully secure online, and able to report.

These reports allow companies to do things like schedule predictive maintenance before there’s a huge issue and make sure it happens when it’s the least intrusive. An example of this is how Seoul, South Korea, handles the routine maintenance of its public transportation system.

The smart building technology market could generate as much as $8.5 billion in 2020, and with more and more companies, healthcare facilities, and public spaces getting on board, we’ll soon be more connected than ever.

What is a Smart Building?

Smart buildings are interconnected. They leverage IoT technology to provide remote monitoring and real-time analytics that can adjust conditions within the building in response to a variety of data points.

Smart buildings are built on wireless connectivity. Access to data allows IoT to control and – most importantly – optimize building operations. In many smart building scenarios, a simple mobile device will enable shareholders, employees, and guests to take advantage of that data.

An employee may use an app to find a parking spot as the garage is monitored, cutting down on morning frustration and helping ensure better productivity for beginning the workday.

Office managers can manage energy efficiency by checking to ensure that lights are off, and the temperature is set for the weekend even after heading home for the day. They can also receive notifications when someone enters the building during office hours.

Guests can use smartphones to alert personnel when they arrive onsite. For regular guests, such as repairmen, this streamlines getting work done.

The Benefits of Smart Buildings

Smart buildings hold a lot of potential for business. The cost of maintenance and overhead can cost a considerable chunk of overall business budgets, and the toll on employee health and wellbeing when those buildings aren’t maintained well is high.

Introducing smart buildings can benefit businesses and organizations in two key ways.

Managing Operational Costs

When everything is online and part of the data retrieval process, buildings can “learn” to operate better. Much of smart building maintenance and IoT involves predictive algorithms that can learn when the best times are to lower or raise the temperature for HVAC systems, manage water meters, install and repair public spaces, and many other things.

Environmentally, the impact of office buildings is enormous. Reducing the footprint of the building by lowering environmental impact not only helps with a business’s bottom line but helps ensure that the business is as kind to the environment as possible. And since many people from younger generations strongly connect with businesses and their environmental missions, this could be a good move.

Improving Employee Morale

No one wants to freeze to death in a building. No one wants to circle a parking lot 147 times looking for a parking space. If employees go downstairs to grab a snack and the line is too long, they leave frustrated and hungry.

Smart buildings streamline day to day operations. By making some of your employees biggest complaints frictionless – such as paying for their snacks – you help bring up morale and productivity to boot.

No more freezing buildings because you aren’t sure how to handle this heatwave. No more circling the parking lot or yelling at Janet for forgetting to turn the lights off. You can schedule predictive maintenance for your copy machines and ensure that everyone has access to the work hub.

Smart Buildings and Security

If it gives you cold sweats to think about so many things being online and accessible through the cloud, you aren’t alone. Mistrust of IoT has kept many businesses from taking full advantage of its benefits. While security breaches are always going to be a factor in adopting any technology, there are a few things smart buildings have going for them.

Protecting Building Automation Systems

The very things that make IoT integration so convenient also make it vulnerable to attack. Hackers, for example, managed to steal information through a smart aquarium thermometer one time, so nothing is too small to be off-limits.

The advent of better firewalls and private networks can help reduce hackers’ access to your building automation systems. And now, with things like generative adversarial networks within AI, smart security can notice small deviations from normal behavior to close loopholes before they become a problem.

Monitoring All Devices

Speaking of that aquarium thermometer – all devices connected to your network could provide potential security holes for hackers to break into your system. You may not even know these hackers are there.

Things like edge computing, smart authentication, and advance detection taps help monitor the system while also maintaining a separation from the overall network. Computers can monitor all activity happening and quickly shut off an endpoint if a threat is detected. Setting up smart authentication to account for who has access to specific end points and who needs access – as well as developing logical governance for using devices – also secures IoT.

Reducing Noise

Part of a smart building security strategy is teaching monitoring systems to ignore the noise. Machines are better at analyzing human behavior than we are and can learn to ignore false alarms much better than even human security counterparts.

Reducing the noise contributes to frictionless operations. Employees will often do things that could trigger flags in traditional systems, causing frustration and potentially overloading a system to real security threats.

Reducing noise allows security teams to focus on the real issues, deploying the right security, and maintaining an accurate picture of operations.

How Smart Buildings Keep Us Safe

Smart buildings help reduce things like workplace accidents and protect sensitive data. As buildings age in the physical space and legacy systems age in the digital one, smart buildings help ensure that safety remains first.

For example, smart buildings may detect temperature spikes that indicate a data center has damage. Before that, you’d be lucky to catch the damage before losing or corrupting one of your most valuable assets (your data).

Smart buildings can also ensure physical safety. Everyone, at least once in their lives, has worried about the safety of an elevator, but with predictive maintenance and continual monitoring, businesses can reduce the danger of equipment malfunctions.

The Future Of Smart Buildings

Utilizing IoT and connectivity of wireless devices can allow business and property managers to handle the rigors of building maintenance with fewer obstacles. It can also ensure that employees have a better experience while inside the building and cut down on the noise of false security alarms.

As businesses move to smart buildings, we could see a reduction in costs as buildings are built with the Internet of Things in mind, further reducing the impact on the environment. And as the controlling algorithms learn, we could experience frictionless movement throughout our buildings to the benefit of company morale and the bottom line.