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Digital Transformation

The brain of the building

What began with automation has progressed to cognition, with some buildings now capable of autonomously learning system and user behaviour to reduce energy, optimise space and lower operating costs. What does this mean for the future of real estate development and management?

drs. Eva M. Vennema FRICS, IBM Watson, IoT & Asset Management leader
19 February 2019

What began with automation has progressed to cognition, with some buildings now capable of autonomously learning system and user behaviour to reduce energy, optimise space and lower operating costs. What does this mean for the future of real estate development and management?

The concept of the intelligent building has continued to evolve at pace; as service providers offer more efficient systems that improve the human experience and better meet the needs of their occupants. Through advanced use of IT, analytics and cognitive capabilities, buildings can now intelligently anticipate external factors such as occupancy, temperature, CO2 concentration, and adjust resources such as heating and cooling systems as necessary.

Such high-tech properties include an extensive range of sensors that produce detailed data on usage around heating, lighting, occupancy, security, cleaning, maintenance and more. By connecting devices with software and services, today's buildings – and the people within them - can work smarter. But what does this mean in practice?

Happier, energy-efficient and productive workplaces

Undoubtedly climate, spatial layout, lighting and air quality play an important role in the user experience of the workspace and has been proven to influence efficiency and productivity. It has even been said to impact upon talent retention.

Catch up - Energy efficient renovation

Buildings can also adapt to employee movement. For example, calendar entries and Wi-Fi usage can help determine how many people are present and where they are located. Such data can help identify and resolve any capacity issues and allow efficient re-allocation of space. Employees who normally lunch onsite may receive a menu of the day, or a warning if it is particularly busy in the company cafeteria.

The Internet of Things (IoT) can play a key role in energy efficiency also. When implemented into a building management system, IoT can minimise energy usage and waste, reduce operating costs and environmental footprint. Integration of smart building components such: as smart lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and smart windows (that lighten or darken depending on sunlight intensity) or smart plugs (that can shut off when nonessential equipment has been in standby mode); can all result in substantial energy savings.

Reshaping the role of a facilities manager

If IoT is altering our experience of buildings, it's also transforming the role of the facility manager. The role is evolving from automation of manual assessments to personal interaction with the building, prediction of spatial needs; and responding to enquiries about how building assets can optimise the growth of an organisation.

The key to the new model of facilities management is the integration of unrelated components into a system that drives greater awareness, learning and insight. Work will be increasingly data-driven, with a focus on optimisation and problem solving.

"Today's intelligent buildings can monitor myriad devices, providing insight into such things as typical working patterns, the weather and other factors that influence the way people use a space."

Finding a role for untapped data

In the real estate profession, greater importance will be placed on data gathering, enhancing data quality and understanding and utilising data effectively. Big data sets will enable better performance assessment.

Opportunities also lie in the better use of untapped data sources; data that organisations collect, process, and store during regular business activities but ultimately don't use for any specific purpose. While the amount of data available at present tends to outstrip current requirements, in future we will see advanced cognitive and analytic capabilities enabling the aggregation of data. This has the potential to reveal an astonishing depth of understanding about how a building's system operates.

Digital Twins – the new way forward?

Another innovation with vast potential is digital twinning technology. Digital twins are exact virtual representations of a physical object, created by connecting large amounts of data to a 3D virtual model replica of a physical asset. But this goes far beyond Building Information Modelling (BIM) digital twins can help improve everything from product functionality and design to operational decision making and workflow inefficiencies. Sensors pick up everything the physical experiences. This information is then sent to the digital twin so faults can be diagnosed and problems solved before the real product develops a fault. They represent real opportunities in making operations more efficient, responsive and agile.

Optimise performance by giving buildings a voice

Buildings have the potential to present a wealth of data and information that can be leveraged to enhance workplaces and improve the experience of employees, clients and visitors. IoT, Artificial Intelligence and cognitive analytics can also improve the efficiency and cost profile of buildings. Such technologies also present a significant opportunity to support real estate and facilities managers achieve wider business and departmental objectives.

It's time to allow buildings to have their say.