The global smart building market is growing unabated. Driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and a new breed of technologies, smart buildings are redefining the way humans and technology interact in the built environment, achieving a new level of operational efficiency and tenant experience. But with every new system comes a new slew of pitfalls and troubleshooting. So what are some smart building problems we can try to avoid?
The burning question existing today is no longer about whether smart buildings can deliver value. Instead, it’s about how we could successfully implement a smart building architecture to harness its full potential. A clear definition of the business case and objectives is certainly a prerequisite. However, understanding the role technology plays and accurately anticipating potential risks and complexity is just as important to set a smart building deployment up for success.
Failing To Design And Implement An Open Architecture
Traditional building automation systems have often been implemented in a siloed manner using proprietary tools and protocols. As such, data is encapsulated within disparate systems and can be difficult to acquire. Another inherent downside of these systems is the vendor lock-in issue. This constrains hardware selection, service plans, and the ability to nimbly adapt to future needs.
Avoiding such a closed architecture is highly critical when devising a smart building system. In a fragmented IoT market overflooded with cross-vendor solutions, open communications standards are more important than ever. They infuse flexibility for future innovation and technology enhancements. Concurrently, versatile protocols are key to integrating the edge network with value-deriving applications and systems. An open design further allows owners to aggregate IoT data across multiple buildings. It also allows you to scale deployment beyond a single premise to unleash greater value from improved building performance and innovative digital amenities.
Overlooking Device Lifecycle Management
Wireless sensors in a smart building project often number in the hundreds or even thousands over time. With no strategy for device management at the start, operating such a large-scale network is doomed to fail. What do the authentication, provisioning, and decommissioning processes look like? How can I diagnose and troubleshoot network issues? How often do I replace batteries or recharge devices? More importantly, how can I onboard new smart devices over time? After all, new use cases like consumables or supply management will ultimately gain momentum.
Robust software has a central role to play in streamlining the workflows for monitoring, tracking, and sustaining connected endpoints. It has more use beyond secure device onboarding and offboarding as well. It can help to diagnose bottlenecks such as firmware bugs/errors, low battery levels, or an unusual surge in data traffic that flags a security breach. You can quickly provide maintenance and troubleshooting to resolve issues and minimize device downtime as well.
Multifunctional, Repeatable Infrastructure
Human needs and other driving forces behind smart buildings are constantly evolving. Energy conservation and cost reduction used to be the pivotal paradigm in building management for decades. Nowadays, there’s been a renewed focus on tenants’ well-being and a human-centric built environment. A highly scalable smart building network can grow with emerging applications, and you can avoid a single-functional smart building problem later on.
Repeatability is another aspect to consider in further streamlining costs and accelerating the path to ROI. Commercial real estate firms should consider whether the physical, information, and service infrastructures of one smart building can be replicated. A transferrable architecture can help shorten the planning and rollout phases. It will also ease ongoing management and servicing activities across multiple premises.
The Challenge Of In-Building Connectivity
Wireless communications are poised to expedite the smart building revolution. Yet high-rise buildings with concrete walls, metal fire doors, and complex structures are a hostile environment to many radio solutions. The connection range becomes paramount, as it has a direct impact on the signal strength, reliability, and cost.
Short-range, mesh-based solutions have been implemented in building environments for piecemeal, individual use cases like indoor navigation and lighting control. Nevertheless, integrated smart building architecture scales to accommodate massive, distributed endpoints across numerous other applications. From environmental control and smart parking to facility, water, and waste management. However, mesh technology isn’t a perfect solution. As most of the mesh devices also take responsibility for passing along data of other sensors, the failure of these “repeaters” does have an impact on the whole network. As such, the management overheads between mesh and star topology are vastly different.
The smart building journey is not without problems, and it might be daunting at times. However, in failing to take the plunge, businesses risk losing ground by missing out on tremendous opportunities for unique value creation with highly efficient and responsive building infrastructure. A well-defined business case accompanied by a sober assessment of potential deployment challenges and how to combat them will be the key to success. Likewise, an important consideration is how to scale smart building deployment beyond a single property to reap its full potential.