Smart buildings - where's the value?

26 May 2017

By Steve Perkins - Practice Development Manager, Beca

Beca: One of the biggest threats to increased ‘smart buildings’ systems adoption is jaded owners reporting to their peers that they invested in a system and gained little value in return. To continue momentum in smart buildings innovation, we need to ask “where is the value here?”

Property owners are investing heavily in smart buildings strategies – excited by the limitless potential for Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to integrate the disparate systems that make up every built environment project. These devices can yield significant improvements in operational efficiency, functionality, security and environmental sustainability for stakeholders.

At Beca, we’ve seen a significant surge in demand from our clients to help them realise their smart buildings and smart cities visions – and it shows little sign of abating.

Advancements in ICT and IoT capability, paired with falling costs that typically come with maturing technologies are rapidly improving the economics of implementing large scale sensor networks, data storage and analysis.

Five years ago, technical solutions that were unaffordable to most in the buildings industry are now practical and affordable for even modest scale asset owners. Systems such as:

These are clever technologies that can change the way we live and work, but unfortunately, too often, the technology becomes the primary focus of attention – rather than a dispassionate assessment of the real value it brings to that specific project.

It’s easy to be entranced by this almost magical technology, focussing on what it can do for us when we should first be asking ourselves: “Where is the real benefit for the project/business, beyond it looking cool?”

As engineers, we need to be challenging the list of features trumpeted by vendors with the question:

“How does it help us meet our stakeholders’ key project goals, and what are the potential unforeseen consequences?”

Using the above example of building users customising their environment (e.g. lighting and air-conditioning), hard questions include:

With new technologies, there is often insufficient real world information to do an empirical analysis. But it shouldn’t stop us applying our experience and judgment, and asking some hard questions about where the value is and what the potential pitfalls are.  

In many cases, the tangible and intangible benefits sum to a return which makes the investment worthwhile; but this isn’t always true. Sometimes it’s just a poor fit for that project. A critical review of the real benefits a ‘smart’ solution will bring, will lead the team to adopt a selection of strategies that have the greatest chance of long-term success for the owner.

Playing devil’s advocate may not make us popular initially, but it will help strip away solutions that aren’t the right fit, and minimise the risks of ones that do deliver benefit.




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