Smart building technology is connecting everyday objects, tasks, locations and people in virtual ways that were once thought to be pure science fiction.

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is a conceptual framework that links interconnected technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) in proactive ways,” says Wolf Stinnes, solutions architect responsible for Smart Cities and IoT at Dimension Data Middle East and Africa.

Smart buildings

The first type of smart building tool, Building Management Systems (BMS), offered mainly heating, lighting and equipment control, and closed circuit video monitoring. However, recent technological advancements have changed virtually every component of buildings, with building occupants and managers now having full control of managing a myriad internal and external systems. Smart building technologies “started off as remote controlled and end-user operated, but there is a shift from user-managed to technology-managed as systems become smarter. Without the need for end-user input, smart building technology integrates flawlessly with users’ lives”, says Jono Dangoumou, marketing executive at CarbonTRACK.

“There are more and faster chips as well as more sensors in every element of buildings. Paired with improved wireless networking technology and standardised communication protocols that make it easier to collect data, it’s possible to transmit information, crunch numbers and use data like never before”, says Neil Cameron, Johnson Controls area general manager, building efficiency – Africa.

A smart building can be visualised as consisting of horizontal layers, as illustrated by the IoT World Forum Reference Model below.

Data decisions for improved performance
and experience

BMS for water and energy consumption, audio visual, security, and indoor climate are smart building tools, but introducing the IoT – either through design or retrofitting – offers a dynamic change to how buildings are managed, particularly by the end user.

Described as the ‘third wave of smart buildings’, IoT transforms buildings horizontally by eliminating the conventional silo approach to building management with separate service provider maintenance for each building component.

“Smart buildings have the ability to identify the performance of each of the building service elements, and make data-driven decisions accordingly. By understanding the interaction between building occupancy and building performance, smart technology can drive decisions on lighting and heating levels, while incorporating weather data.” In turn, this drives sustainability, considering that the greatest environmental impact of a building emanates from the operational phase, which can span over 20 or 30 years.

Improved, finely tuned indoor comfort is another benefit. “Smart buildings have improved indoor environmental quality, whether autonomously or occupant-controlled. Research has linked this to improved cognitive function,” says Michelle Ludwig of Ludwig Design Consulting. Smart technology monitoring air quality, detecting gas leaks or responding to noise pollution are home or office benefits.

It is not only operation and management that benefits from smart technology, but also the building design and construction phase. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a smart technology tool. Vaughan Harris, executive director of the BIM Institute, says: “BIM is not just drawings or 3D modelling but essentially a communication tool. It embeds key product and asset data into a 3D computer model but can be used for effective management on a building.”

South Africa’s smart market

Although the residential uptake of IoT is slower than in other regions around the world, the South African Facilities Management Association (SAFMA) says their commercial clients show preference for facilities management incorporating technology.

“The South African market is cost conscious; building owners are moving towards smart buildings because of cost savings on resources such as water and electricity,” says Dangoumou.

Retrofitting South African buildings is possible. “Making IoT work for a building becomes a manageable exercise once existing systems are connected to communicate with one another,” says Stinnes. Smart buildings require technological gateways for data translation, not the installation of new systems. This feeds an intelligence centre that has to be installed. “Eighty percent of what is required to create a smart building is typically available in existing buildings.

An additional benefit is that “most components are wireless and the technology is designed with retrofitting in mind,” says Dangoumou. “BMS such as energy management systems are wireless and only require a hub, current clamps for recording energy consumption and smart relays that communicate the data wirelessly via an IP system.”

Green and smart

Smart building principles are not only aligned to green building principles, but also enable green buildings to function well because they offer a greater understanding of resource consumption and associated efficiency levels. The commonality between green and smart buildings lies in the controllability of systems and the fundamental inclusion of building systems innovation, measurement, monitoring and verification.

Integration and control beyond that of traditional systems is what delivers the green management edge. Smart buildings enable resource consumption measurement and monitoring at detailed levels that were previously not possible, with intelligent and remote performance management all responding to the smarter use of less resources.

Challenges and vulnerabilities

Smart buildings are, however, susceptible to the same risks associated with IoT, AI and smart technology in general. “Hacking, ransomware and the question of truly understanding privacy and data ownership are some risks,” says Stinnes.

Smart buildings generate real-time data linked to occupants’ whereabouts and routines, which could give rise to home and personal security concerns, but “given a time delay linked to personal and sensitive data, some of the privacy risks can be prevented”.

Harris explains that although the demand for technological changes is becoming greater in the building design and construction industry, “there is still a substantial gap between design delivery and operation”. Smart building technology challenges experienced by organisations include workforce education about digital tools, processes and workflows in meeting standards.

Another challenge is the speed of IoT acceleration. “The building industry and its various elements, such as electrical, materials and other systems, are moving slower,” says Stinnes.

Smart technology contributes to monitoring technology for facilities management, but there are data challenges. “The situation where too much data is generated without a specific and intended purpose should be avoided,” says Barry Diedericks, Infor EAM subject matter expert at Softworx.

The South African cost of data and reliability of connections influence the residential sector’s uptake of smart technology, and without these in place, mainstream residential uptake remains a challenge.

Continued advancement

Harris concludes that smart buildings “bring together parties involved who otherwise would be hesitant or distant when trying to work together in one building and share information and data through a common data environment.”

By Francini van Staden

See earthworks magazine issue 39 August-September 2017 for the full feature.