Smart buildings are getting smarter, more user-friendly

April 16, 2014  |  Brian Wasag  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article

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Advances in building and information technologies have brought a new Big Data analytics-based approach to facilities management — one that ushers in a new era of operational control, reliability and productivity for businesses and workers.

Smart buildings can increase employee comfort, engagement and productivity, according to Jones Lang LaSalle’s latest report, The Changing Face of Smart Buildings: The Op-Ex Advantage.

“Technological advances have finally converged with long-existing and significant opportunities for improving energy efficiency and the user experience within buildings,” said Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at JLL. “We are seeing tenant satisfaction improve while building operating costs are reduced, especially when tenants are actively engaged with controlling energy usage.”

Elizabeth Machen, the Institute of Real Estate Management’s immediate past president and president of Machen Advisory Group Inc., said major corporate headquarters are looking for a healthy atmosphere for their employees.

“This is a big selling factor in recruiting employees,” she said. “Office buildings that have made adjustments to provide clean air, daylight, water saving fixtures and energy management systems are able to provide what these clients are looking for. They know these features will allow them to attract top employees.  Employees are asking for these features and look for employers that provide them a healthy workplace.”

Today’s computer-controlled “smart” building systems can be programmed to accommodate the needs of building occupants. Lighting and temperature, for instance, can automatically adjust during peak and off-peak occupancy periods. In addition, these automated systems generate reams of data that a smart building management service can transmit to a remote data center for analysis by facilities professionals.

Using predictive analytics, facilities managers can anticipate and address user needs and requests related to heating, ventilation, lighting, way-finding, security and more. Smart building technologies can be used to provide a more customized and energy-efficient experience for building users — better temperature, lighting or security control for offices, and more reliable power for manufacturing facilities.

“The Big Data generated by smart building systems is a major force shaping the human experience within buildings,” Probst said. “Building data analytics provides unprecedented insight into energy use and facilities operations.”

Dustin Gellman, chief executive officer of Green Per Square Foot, said property owners, managers and tenants will have access to a lot of better information about sustainability-related issues in order to make smarter decisions.

“Hopefully that data will be used to drive more efficiency projects forward,” he said.

Gellman added that for new construction, green buildings are already commonplace and will continue to lead the market.

“Class A properties will follow because corporate tenants are starting to demand sustainable features,” he said. “Class A properties have better access to capital and tend to operate at a scale that permits investing in efficiency.”

Affordable new technologies driving smart building progress

Recent significant price reductions in cloud computing-based building management technologies have made these systems affordable. Wireless sensors, for example, are now available for less than $10 per unit. These wireless sensors can transmit data from smart systems in hundreds of buildings to far-flung remote cloud-computing platforms where advanced analytics can turn data into actionable intelligence to improve building performance.  This highly-automated platform is further supplemented by “command centers” staffed around the clock by facilities data analysts who can support the on-site property team.

Gellman said efficiency projects that have a meaningful and measurable impact on the bottom line get the most attention, followed by initiatives that deliver positive marketing and PR benefit.

“’Sexy’ technologies such as solar, EV chargers and LED lighting get more attention than less interesting or visible retrofit projects,” he said. “Above all else, though, proven technologies with quick payback and minimal risk are most desirable.”

Machen said the ability to control lighting, capture daylighting, reduce water usage and control energy costs will reduce operating expenses.

“Property owners are looking for the low hanging fruit and cost-efficient ways to create the healthy workplace,” she said.

Building occupants’ growing expectations

Smart buildings can boost tenant satisfaction and productivity, according to The Changing Face of Smart Buildings. Along with next-generation buildings comes a new generation of building occupants, with new workplace preferences and expectations for their work facilities. Companies increasingly rely on mobile workers, and smart buildings are able to adapt more readily to new flexible workplace models. Clean, green, efficient buildings are gaining a marketing advantage for landlords.

“The trend for employees to connect from anywhere, or to bring their own devices to custom-fitted work settings, will profoundly change the way building owners lease space,” Probst said. “Demand for more network sophistication that can adapt to changing work patterns will play to the advantage of smart building owners.”

Machen said office buildings have been the first property type to tap into sustainability practices.

“Those property owners who have invested in these projects are now seeing the savings in their operating expenses and in some cases higher rental rates,” she said. “More and more corporate headquarters are demanding green/smart buildings as their home.  Not only does it make a statement about their corporate mission, but their employees tend to be happier and healthier in green/smart buildings.”

Smart buildings also can help companies use sustainability as a hook for engaging employees.

IREM has a sustainability program for real estate managers that allows buildings to compete against each other to determine who is doing the best job in conserving energy, recycling, etc.

“Tenants, whether in a multi-tenant or single-tenant occupancy, love competing with each other,” Machen said. “A single-tenant user can compete by departments, while a multi-tenant building can compete by tenant.  Building management can track who is contributing the most to a recycling program, who is using the least amount of energy, who has the most employees carpooling or using mass transit.”

The IREM program offers a free assessment of each building.  Real estate managers input pertinent energy usage information into the system, and an individual assessment is provided.

“This serves as a great template for the manager to refer to in presenting his or her budget incorporating expenses to increase building efficiencies,” Machen said.

The IREM program is free, and a certification is an option at a small fee.  Green Per Square Foot has partnered with IREM to provide the program, which has been used by the City of Chicago.

“The main goal of this program is to provide managers the tools they need to bring their buildings to the highest level of green attainable for that particular building,” Machen said.

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