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The smart buildings market is booming, but what is a smart building and why does it matter? When looking at the smart building definition, there is a lot of information on this emerging technology. Put simply, a smart building, also known as an intelligent building, is a property that uses automated processes to control operations such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, security, safety and other environmental systems in response to building occupancy levels or external conditions. 

By collecting data from sensors, IoT (Internet of Things) devices and services on the premises, smart building systems, also known as intelligent building systems or IoT smart building systems, can apply the data to adjust resources automatically in line with changing conditions. For example, smart building controls can turn down lighting in bright, sunny conditions or increase air circulation in spaces as occupancy increases. 

The ability of smart building solutions to automatically respond to changes helps facility managers use resources, space and energy more efficiently while maintaining optimum conditions for building occupants. 

This article explains what a smart building is, describes examples of smart buildings’ key components and outlines the benefits of deploying smart building technology systems.

Drivers of smart building adoption

A number of factors are driving the increased adoption of IoT smart building solutions. These include:

  • Rising energy costs — Many small and large businesses are looking to mitigate rising energy costs as budgets continue to feel the strain of rate hikes and supply disruption. Building owners must find ways to use energy more efficiently to manage costs.
  • Changing occupancy levels — The uptake of remote and hybrid working means that commercial building occupancy levels can vary from day to day. Managers are leveraging smart technology with building security in buildings to minimize the use of resources in spaces when they are not occupied. 
  • Demand for healthy building environments — Occupants of commercial buildings and multi-unit residential properties expect a safe, healthy environment. Property managers must ensure factors such as air quality or temperatures are maintained at an optimum level, and IoT building automation is one way to streamline management.
  • Extreme weather conditions — The weather can be unpredictable, no matter where your business is located. Buildings that leverage intelligent building technology to adapt the internal environment to changing temperatures or extreme weather conditions can use energy more efficiently.
  • Availability of smart building products — Smart building systems feature a number of different products and technologies, which are now widely available. Recent advancements in artificial intelligence also make it easier to analyze building sensor data, allowing building technology systems to provide a faster and more accurate response to specific events or triggers.
  • Open systems — A smart infrastructure integrates a large number of intelligent building components. As manufacturers increasingly adopt open standards, this makes it easier for smart building designers to integrate components for a seamless solution that can be managed on a single dashboard.

Elements of smart building infrastructure

Smart building management systems incorporate a number of important elements:

IoT smart building sensors

Sensors collect internal and external data, which a smart building system can use for making informed decisions about the use of space, energy or resources. Sensors can aggregate data on factors such as internal or external temperatures, light levels, room occupancy or air quality. Environmental sensors monitor air-based and sensory changes such as levels of carbon monoxide, humidity or particle pollution within the workplace. This helps maintain a healthy work environment, as well as reduce the risk of absence through illness.

Analytics for intelligent building systems

Analytics enable facility managers to monitor sensor data and provide input to smart building management processors and an IoT building automation system. Artificial intelligence techniques can be used to further improve the speed and accuracy of data analysis. In intelligent buildings, analytics are helpful in identifying abnormal behavior, as well as long-term trends or changes. 

Smart building products and devices

This refers to the physical hardware as well as the software used in smart buildings. Many different products, technologies and systems are used to control elements such as heating, lighting, air quality or ventilation. Smart building management technologies can also be integrated with security and safety systems, such as access control systems or fire alarms to widen the scope of smart management. 

Processors and servers

Smart building controls incorporate processors that automate changes in intelligent building components. Facility managers can program intelligent building technology to respond to any changes triggered by data or to respond to certain rules. For example, processors controlling lighting in a commercial building could be programmed to only respond to changes during business hours. 

Servers that house databases and management software are also a key component of smart infrastructure. Smart building systems can be hosted on servers in the building or in the cloud. A cloud-enabled system offers greater flexibility and potential for IoT building automation, as facility managers can access and manage the system via mobile devices from any location. However, on-site servers may be more customizable to the needs of your business.

Intelligent building networks

Because IoT devices use the Internet to transmit data, having a strong network is key to smart building design and implementation. Reliable, high-speed networks connect all the components of an IoT smart building system, enabling sensors to transmit data and processors to send signals that trigger changes in building spaces without interruption or delay.

Common smart building technology and products

There are many smart building solutions available for businesses today, but not all of them are necessary, depending on the goals of your building and organization. IoT smart building designs for commercial properties should incorporate products that have the most impact in terms of improving efficiency, encouraging collaboration and ensuring a safe, secure workplace. The most common smart building technology that can help managers achieve this include: 

  • Smart lighting solutions that use sensors to turn lights on or off in line with occupancy. Lighting controls can be integrated with automated blinds or daylight sensors to maximize levels of natural light and reduce lighting costs. In a commercial smart building, the intelligent lighting solution would be programmed to minimize non-safety lighting outside normal business hours. In a multi-unit residential smart building, lighting would only be adjusted in public or common areas in line with ambient light conditions or safety and security requirements. Some multi-unit buildings might also provide smart building IoT solutions for individual units.
  • Smart HVAC systems automate the control of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, adjusting temperatures in line with occupancy levels, prevailing temperatures and weather forecasts to manage energy consumption and ensure a comfortable environment.
  • Smart windows lighten or darken in response to the intensity of sunlight intensity can help reduce the load on lighting and HVAC systems and reduce glare. 
  • Meeting room booking systems synchronize room management systems with employees’ calendars, internal meeting schedules and planned customer visits to give facility managers full visibility of space availability. Integrating booking systems with smart environmental controls and access control ensures that light, air conditioning and heating systems are only active when a room is occupied, and that only those who have booked a space are able to access the building. 
  • Desk management software is essential for hybrid offices where demand for workspaces varies from day to day. Employees can book workspaces in advance for planned visits or search for vacant desks if they have to make an unexpected visit. Integrated with intelligent access control, this IoT building automation only allows entry on the days and times of an approved reservation.
  • Preventative maintenance systems use powerful analytics and artificial intelligence on system data to detect abnormal patterns in system performance and issue maintenance alerts. Facility management staff can remediate problems before they can cause outages or downtime, supported by smart building software and smart building apps which can help provide additional information on system performance

Security and safety in a smart building

While intelligent building systems improve the environment of the property, smart processes can also be used to strengthen safety and security. 

Smart building automation with access control

Managing access to a smart building reduces the risk of unauthorized entry. Users and authorized visitors can present different types of credentials, including mobile and biometric solutions through IoT smart building apps, to access building entrances or security doors to restricted areas. When integrated with intelligent building apps for desk and room reservation, only employees with an approved booking on file will be able to access the property at the date and times they’ve reserved.

Data from access systems provides valuable information on current and historical occupancy levels as input to the environmental control systems. This enables facility managers to program environmental controls in spaces with variable occupancy levels, such as meeting rooms, to operate in line with occupancy data. 

Improving visibility with smart cameras

Intelligent commercial security video cameras can be integrated with access control and other security products such as sensors and alarms to provide a 360-degree view of security throughout a building. Security cameras that are AI-enabled can be programmed to respond to unusual activity by capturing video images when they detect abnormal motion or behavior. 

Smart sensors can also be integrated with security cameras, including sensors for intrusion detection, broken glass or noise detection. If a window is broken or a door is left open, the sensor will activate the camera and alert security staff to the potential incident so they can investigate. 

Making buildings safer with automated technology

Safety systems also benefit from IoT building automation, which can be used to improve the performance of fire alarms, smoke detectors or air quality sensors. By integrating them with access control systems, these sensors can activate lockdown systems or open secured doors in areas at risk of fire or air pollution. 

The safety sensors can also be programmed to automatically activate other emergency measures, such as notifying fire services and local law enforcement. 

Strengthening cybersecurity measures

Strong security convergence is essential for smart buildings. While physical security is a priority, the use of intelligent IoT building automation solutions and connecting more devices to building networks opens new attack surfaces for hackers to exploit. Because physical and cybersecurity measures are both important to smart building solutions, it’s essential to develop a converged security strategy so that both physical and cybersecurity teams can share information, recognize threats to smart building systems and respond effectively.

The importance of data for smart building design

Data is one of the most important components of smart infrastructure. Data identifies events within smart building technology systems, such as when a space is occupied, when a person accesses a building or when a sensor is activated by changing conditions. The smart building data is analyzed and may trigger a response, such as turning on lights or air conditioning, activating a security camera or notifying facilities management. 

As well as activating IoT smart building controls, the data can be used to analyze usage of facilities or other trends as a basis for accurate capacity or resource planning. Data from intelligent technology in buildings also provides an essential record for evidence in the event of an incident.

Developing a smart building solution and system

Smart building technologies can be incorporated as part of a new build, or a smart infrastructure can be retro-fitted into existing properties. Use this guide to help you put together a comprehensive smart building plan for your building.

Planning and budgeting

At the planning stage, it’s important to share proposals with all stakeholders, including owners, property and building managers and occupants to identify needs and priorities. While there are many smart building products that can make a difference to energy efficiency and the building environment, it’s essential to identify and prioritize the smart building IoT solutions that can add the greatest value.

It’s also useful to consult technology and security professionals with experience of intelligent building design, which can help to avoid expensive mistakes. 

Your basic smart building plan should cover:

  • Number and location of sensors and IoT devices
  • Number and location of access control components and security cameras
  • Network and power supply infrastructure 
  • Management and control software 

In addition to the costs for smart devices, budgets for smart building IoT solutions should include the costs of installation, integration and long-term maintenance and upgrade fees as a basis for calculating through-life costs. It’s important to set metrics for the planned installation to help assess the benefits of the solution and calculate return on investment. 

Selecting intelligent building technology products

The smart building system components must be interoperable and easy to integrate so that they operate as a single system. Therefore, it’s essential to select products and systems designed and built to open standards. The smart building products should also be reliable so that they cause minimal disruption to daily business.

When choosing which smart building technology systems to invest in, look for solutions that offer long-term flexibility with opportunities to scale up or down. Based on the data that your smart building systems provide, you can easily alter your plans further down the line. Intelligent building technology is becoming more advanced all the time, so building some flexibility into your plans from the outset can help future-proof your investment. 

Software selection

Smart building software to manage and operate the system can be housed on the premises or hosted in the cloud. Cloud-based software offers greater flexibility — it’s scalable and can be managed remotely on Internet-connected mobile devices. Cloud hosting also incorporates automatic software updates and maintenance, which leaves the facility management team free to focus on operating the system and minimizes downtime for in-person maintenance. 

Installation and integration

New and existing system components, such as lighting, HVAC, access control and security products should be installed and integrated with their relevant sensors. Where possible, complementary smart building technologies, such as security cameras and motion sensors, should also be integrated to improve overall system performance.

Connectivity and power

System components can be connected to the smart building management controls and supplied with power by dedicated cabling, data networks or wireless networks. Direct cabling is the most expensive of the options and does not have the scalability of network connections, but is usually the most reliable. 

Data networks support effective two-way communication between components and controllers and can supply power using Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology. Wireless networks provide connectivity, but the network must provide good signal strength throughout the building to support consistent, reliable operation. 

Analytics and artificial intelligence

Analytics software should be integrated with smart building control systems to interpret data from sensors and initiate appropriate responses automatically. Administrators should set rules that control the response, for example, setting time of day rules for lighting or HVAC controls in a commercial building. Incorporating artificial intelligence in individual components or in the central management system can further improve accuracy and response by identifying unusual patterns or events that require investigation or action. 

Integrated system security

Smart infrastructures rely on the secure flow of data to manage and operate technology in buildings effectively. That makes it essential to protect the infrastructure and the data against physical or cyber attacks that could compromise the system. An integrated security strategy ensures that both physical and cyber security teams are aware of potential threats by sharing security data and harmonizing cover so that there are no gaps in the security profile.

Benefits of smart building management and automation

  • Improved use of resources — Information from sensors and IoT devices ensures that building resources are only used when needed. For example, data from smart devices like access control readers and occupancy sensors can help businesses better understand peak hours and traffic patterns in the building, helping optimize schedules for better resource management. Some IoT building technology and analytics can also help property managers streamline day-to-day operations like automatically ordering supplies or scheduling maintenance based on event triggers or custom rules. 
  • Greater energy efficiency — Smart building technology systems can also improve energy efficiency. Smart environmental controls that respond to occupancy levels and changing weather conditions enable businesses to optimize their energy use by matching usage to demand. This helps control costs despite increasing energy prices, and also improves the building’s green credentials. Examples of smart buildings who are seeing greater energy efficiency include Powerhouse Telemark, a carbon-negative building in Norway which reports to use 70% less energy than a conventional building of similar size. Named one of the world’s ten most important buildings, this smart building example also utilizes streamlined cloud management and mobile-first smart building apps for efficient, secure access.
  • Healthy, safe environment — The high level of environmental control and smart IoT building automation creates an environment that is comfortable and healthy, regardless of external conditions. Air monitoring also ensures that the environment is safe, reducing health risks. Smart safety sensors that automatically notify security teams and emergency services, as well as initiate emergency lockdown plans or automatically unlock doors for egress can improve safety in the building. 
  • Stronger security — Smart access control systems and remote security monitoring help prevent unauthorized access to the building and protect occupants and their property against external threats. Integrating access control systems and security cameras with smart sensors and alarms provides security teams with greater visibility and awareness of events and unusual activity so that they can respond effectively. Choosing security cameras equipped with artificial intelligence improves performance and effectiveness, strengthening security further. 
  • Greater visibility — Intelligent building systems provide vast amounts of data on space and resource usage. This information can help property managers assess system performance and make informed decisions about future changes to building capacity or resource allocation. 
  • Reduced property costs — Smart building management can provide significant long-term cost savings. Increased energy efficiency reduces direct energy costs, while system data on occupancy and usage can help property managers identify opportunities to reduce overall space requirements. Data on system performance provides the basis for automated preventative maintenance programs, reducing long-term component maintenance and replacement costs. Increased IoT building automation reduces the burden on facility management teams, helping to minimize support costs.

Choosing an intelligent building solution for your business

Building owners and property managers should take many different factors into consideration when planning a smart building IoT solution or smart building application in conjunction with a smart building company. The smart building solution should provide a safe, healthy environment for occupants, while reducing costs, improving energy efficiency and maximizing security.

To ensure you select a solution that meets your current and future requirements, it’s essential to take expert advice on the smart building technologies that are right for your business.

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