Beyond the buzzword: small steps to smart buildings

The world is becoming increasingly connected and people are living smarter and working smarter than ever before. Consequently, both residential and commercial occupants are also expecting their buildings to be smarter. 

To meet these expectations, facilities managers are beginning to take an interest in smart technology systems to provide them with greater asset management flexibility and visibility across all their properties. 

Not only is this enabling facilities managers to respond to maintenance events quickly, minimising downtime and reducing resulting repair costs, but in some cases they’re able to predict breakdowns and faults, and then carry out proactive maintenance. 

Research shows there is a clear appetite for using technology to improve operational efficiency. A study commissioned by Schneider Electric found that 63 per cent of facilities managers and directors are interested in implementing analytics to better monitor their building systems. Nevertheless, barriers exist.

Some 43 per cent of 300 respondents cited the level of investment required as the biggest challenge when deciding whether to adopt digital solutions. Meanwhile, 23 per cent said there was a lack of internal resources to interpret the data and turn it into actionable insights. And 18 per cent were concerned their buildings aren’t suited to the adoption of connected technologies.

To be truly smart, you need not just the digital and physical capability, but also the right mindset

Perhaps one of the main reasons for perceived barriers to adoption is because “smart” as a concept is a buzzword shrouded in mystery. It is still very much rooted in the world of futurology and hype, and as a result there is sometimes a misunderstanding about what smart actually is.

For example, facilities managers may invest in LED lighting that can be turned on and off using smartphones, thinking it will make their buildings smart. But, in fact, LED lights in themselves are not smart unless facilities managers are monitoring the lighting system, collecting data and using insights to make informed decisions on future maintenance events. 

To be truly smart, you need the digital and physical capability, and you also need the right mindset. While there is arguably already demand and a readiness to invest at the board level of many companies, it’s the facilities managers and those who interact and deal with technology on a daily basis who need to be aware of how smart can benefit them.

If facilities managers understand what different smart technologies can offer and see how they can help the company achieve the desired results, they can then communicate this information upwards. They can say to the C-suite executives, “We want this technology because it makes our job easier, and it will improve operational efficiency and the bottom line”.

Facilities managers should demonstrate to the board the business case for investing in smart technologies, showing how it will reduce costs and increase profitability. This will put their company on the path to efficient and sustainable facilities management. 

However, making a building smart needn’t involve a large capital outlay that requires you to replace assets and equipment. Using the same contactless technology that has revolutionised the everyday payment experience, facilities managers can place an Infraspeak near-field communication (NFC) tag on existing equipment, turning these so-called dumb things into smart, connected things. 

The NFC tags are read by smartphones and link with Infraspeak’s cloud-based software, where dynamic information on the assets and equipment is centralised and updated in real time. This gives facilities managers the visibility they need to manage their assets, teams, utilities and associated costs effectively. 

Taking small steps towards creating a smart building is only the start of the journey, but if you don’t take these steps forward, you may find yourself left behind in the smart facilities management revolution.

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