The Smart Building Foundation: Connectivity

Smart building technology can cut maintenance costs, streamline operations, and offer a better experience for residents and workers — but only if decision-makers invest in the network infrastructure necessary to support intelligent systems.

From home security to consumer appliances, individual IoT devices have been transforming the tech landscape for the last several years. But as this technology scales in a meaningful way — experts predict that the number of IoT devices will reach 75.4 billion by 2025 — stakeholders across industries are beginning to think beyond individual devices. The value add of IoT devices can increase exponentially when connecting individual devices to create intelligent systems. 

A prime example of an intelligent system is a smart building. These buildings represent an exciting way forward for integrated IoT devices and networks — up until now, the buildings we live, work, and shop in have been data-poor, even as architects, designers, and engineers have tried to create a better overall experience for building occupants. Without intelligent systems that are capable of data collection and analysis, stakeholders have been in the dark about how people actually use and experience buildings. 

By deploying IoT tech to gather key metrics and linking this tech to self-regulating networks, it’s now possible to gain actionable insights that can improve the way workers, residents, and other occupants use smart buildings. With intelligent systems in place, building management can pass on savings to tenants, create a more productive environment for workers, and design a more comfortable experience for consumers.

As interest in strategic use cases for IoT systems grows, smart buildings will become a more popular — and achievable — option. Navigant Research projects that the global market for smart buildings will grow from $3.7 billion in 2017 to $10.2 billion in 2026. While the full transition to smart buildings will take time, it’s important for decision-makers to understand what they stand to gain from investing in the next generation of IoT tech — and what needs to happen if they want to reap those benefits. 

What Makes a Building Smart?

There’s no hard-and-fast answer for what makes a smart building smart. Stakeholders from one building to the next will inevitably have different goals in place for smart building initiatives depending on their specific needs. For instance, data centers that require careful temperature regulation and efficient energy usage will likely place a premium on cooling infrastructure and utility monitoring. On the other hand, schools or college campuses concerned about the safety of their students will do everything in their power to prioritize smarter security systems. 

Whatever a building’s decision-makers decide to prioritize, smart buildings rely on a connected network of IoT devices. These IoT devices can collect key data points from users and building assets, and can be monitored and controlled via intelligent software systems. Typically, this will involve integrating lighting, utility meters, HVAC, fire alarms, network assets, and other security measures into a central, virtualized environment that unites disparate data streams. 

By doing so, building management and staff can take a more proactive role in the way that residents, workers, and other building occupants use their built environment. Based on information gathered across the user experience, intelligent systems can self-regulate everything from network capacity to heating and air conditioning. The data gathered throughout this process can then be used to design even more effective smart building initiatives going forward. 

What Are The Benefits of Smart Buildings?

While there is an upfront technology investment required to make a building smart, the short- and long-term benefits can be dramatic. A smart building can support cost-savings, sustainability, and quality of life initiatives in the long run. Many of these benefits are linked back to the ways that IoT devices can measure building usage, monitor current operations, and communicate to adjust resources accordingly. 

For example, HVAC systems can be adjusted to accommodate changing conditions and maximize efficiency. If a particular area of a building is only used at specific times of the workday, smart buildings can learn exactly when heating or air conditioning should be brought online. Similarly, WiFi bandwidth can be increased for areas that have become user-dense, ensuring that common areas have the necessary resources for professionals to support key workloads. Lighting can even be automatically turned on and off depending on which rooms are occupied.

These may seem like small victories on their own, but taken together, they can save enterprises hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. Greater energy efficiency can ensure that building management and tenants are paying only for the resources they need, and that those resources — from electricity and HVAC to network capacity and security assets — are being distributed in a way that will best benefit the people using them. 

Additionally, the strategic distribution of these resources can do more than help the bottom line. It can also boost office morale, align organizations with sustainability initiatives, and position companies as tech-savvy and forward-thinking. If workers view their employers as industry leaders and feel like their comfort is a top priority, organizations stand a better chance of retaining top talent.

Finally, smart building technology can help with predictive maintenance. IoT devices can provide facilities personnel with more accurate information about building infrastructure, allowing them to prioritize repairs before they cause more widespread issues. Plus, by streamlining otherwise time-consuming processes such as monitoring HVAC control, lighting, and more, building staff can devote their attention to big-picture projects rather than having to put out small fires.

Where Are Smart Buildings Today?

Smart buildings are no longer a futuristic technology only predicted in industry journals. Thanks to advances in IoT technology and the increasing affordability of individual sensors, smart buildings are possible today for stakeholders who are willing to invest in them. From schools and colleges to office buildings and factories, IoT-enabled platforms are already helping facilities cut expenses and provide better experiences. 

The hospitality industry is already taking advantage of smart building technologies with rave results. For example, MGM Resorts has invested in analytics platforms and monitoring devices that have enabled greater energy and resource efficiency across its 50 million square feet of building space. The company’s smart building initiatives have resulted in savings of over 2.5 billion gallons of water and 420 million kWh of energy in the past five years. MGM has even been able to increase its recycling rate by 355%.

Smart building technology is also being deployed in the workplace. Known as the Edge, Deloitte’s Amsterdam office has been called the “smartest office space ever constructed.” Using intelligent systems accessible by a smartphone app, the Edge directs Deloitte employees to parking spaces, work areas, and desks depending on their schedules and the types of tasks on their calendar. Users can even control their micro-climate with the app, allowing the Edge to constantly learn about how occupants are interacting with the space. 

Urban developers and city leaders are looking even further ahead by grappling with the eventual possibility of achieving smart cities. While they deal with questions surrounding what defines a smart city and what combination of sensors and beacons will improve urban quality of life, one thing is clear — smart buildings will provide a scalable foundation on which to build the smart cities of the future. 

The strategic deployment of smart building capabilities will allow stakeholders to effect meaningful savings, reduce costs across their facilities, and contribute to a wide range of objectives. Over time, the insights gleaned from smart building initiatives will enable smart city planning to understand what works, what can be improved, and how to create the best possible experiences for end users. 

How Do Smart Buildings Operate?

Smart building initiatives merge information technology with operational technology. This means that while IoT devices are connected to organizational networks, and managed by IT professionals, much of what these devices monitor and control — HVAC, lighting, access controls, etc. — is traditionally part of the operational side of things. 

Accordingly, smart buildings work at the intersection of IT and OT. IoT devices tap into network resources in order to communicate with one another and interface with the intelligent systems that coordinate smart building operations. In this way, this trend requires greater collaboration between IT professionals who manage network resources and facilities personnel who handle responsibilities ranging from maintenance to security. 

While smart building technology is relatively new, it’s already clear that the success of such initiatives depends in part on teamwork between previously siloed departments. For instance, facilities staff likely have comprehensive knowledge about building structures that will be essential for smart building planning. At the same time, IT professionals can help operations personnel prepare for scalability requirements for future initiatives.

Designing Intelligent Buildings

Whether you’re designing a smart building from the ground up or you’re considering how you can equip an existing building with smart technology, it’s crucial that you and your team consider all the steps needed to achieve your goal. The intelligent systems that make smart buildings possible are technologically demanding. They require an abundance of network capacity and digital resources if the benefits are to be passed on to building owners, tenants, and other occupants. 

To adequately support large IoT networks and manage complex software platforms, stakeholders must ensure that they have a strong foundation of wired and wireless connectivity. IoT devices distributed across smart buildings need steady power and network connectivity in order to function properly, deliver strategic data, and communicate with one another. Similarly, platforms that enable facilities staff and individual workers to interact with smart building systems from mobile devices call for reliable network performance. 

With nearly three decades of experience in the networking space, Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) has the expertise you need to lay the foundation for smart building technology. From access point installation to the latest in wired network cabling, our team understands what infrastructure improvements are necessary to make the most of IoT capabilities. If you’re ready to launch your smart building initiative, consider how TTI can help.