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Smart Building Automation Solution Promises Sustainability and Energy Efficiency

Smart building automation has helped cause a range of workplace objectives, from facility energy efficiency and building safety to worker productivity.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has converged with building operations, creating a chance for building operators and occupants to use smart building automation technologies, creating smart, digitally connected spaces that use less energy, meet sustainability and safety goals, reduce the value of operations, and boost workplace collaboration and worker productivity.

Smart Building Automation Solution Promises Sustainability and Energy Efficiency

More business leaders have an interest in developing strategies to manage buildings to reflect the digital transformation happening throughout their organizations, according to the Deloitte Insights report “Smart Buildings: Four Considerations for Creating People-Centered Smart, Digital Workplaces.”

“Those that do may outpace their competitors in key areas, such as employee attraction and retention, operating cost savings and operational risk mitigation,” the report noted.

The adoption of smart building automation helps them turn advanced buildings from facilitators of energy management to

“dynamic ecosystems of connected assets, energy, environment, processes, services, and occupants,” According to the Gartner Inc. report Evolve Your Smart Building Solutions within the IoT Era.

Table of contents

Energy Savings/Sustainability
Workplace Collaboration/Productivity
The Impact of Smart Building Automation on Privacy and Security

Energy Savings/Sustainability

“Over the past decade, building owners and managers have turned to build automation to reduce the cost of operations”

“Motion sensors were introduced to switch off lighting in unoccupied spaces,”

“And intrusion detection expanded from passive alarms to corporate-wide access controls that minimized manual security work. In each case, cost reduction was the main driver, with a straightforward calculation for return on investment.” according to the McKinsey & Co. report “Laying the Foundation for Success in the Connected-Building Era.”

Building management systems (BMS) are around for a few times, enabling facilities managers to regulate how they operate, said Tony Schmitz, vice president, and sustainability specialist at Hoefer Wysocki, an architecture, planning, and interior design firm based in Leawood, Kansas.

The world market for BMS platforms was approximately $2.4 billion in supplier revenues in 2018 and is projected to hit $3.2 billion in 2023, according to the IHS Markit report “Global Smart Buildings Market: Building, Home & City Technology: Smart Building & Building Automation.”

The global market for equipment connected through BMS platforms was approximately $11.1 billion in manufacturer revenues in 2018 and is projected to grow to $19.6 billion in 2023, according to the IHS Markit report.

Owner-occupied buildings are more likely to speculate in advanced BMS platforms and integrated smart building systems as they benefit directly from operational improvements as occupants, according to the report.

Building management systems have enabled facilities managers to regulate temperatures during the day or shut buildings systems down at the end of the day or start them up in the morning from a central location, Schmitz said.

“There are a lot of strategies regarding sustainability,” he said. “For example, you can have a building start-up, say, an hour before it’s set to open, so by the time occupants get there space has been heated or cooled appropriately, you can have lights . . . come on in [a] scheduled manner. And then at the end of the day, the building can shut itself down.”

More enterprise-level buildings connect data from BMS platforms with space utilization software likewise. Doing so will help building owners identify opportunities to repurpose rooms and zones within their properties, the IHS Markit report noted.

“This software uses occupancy sensors to track which rooms in an office building are occupied or unoccupied, and further data is collected related to the numbers of employees present, employees’ habits during working hours and the times of days these rooms are available,” according to the report.

Since building owners are likely to overestimate their facilities’ occupancy, tracking space usage gives owners and facilities managers insight into quantities of unused space, according to IHS Markit.

“Owners can then recognize spaces that can be reassigned to support new functions, new employees, or new tenants,” the IHS Markit report noted.

The reason for such attention on automating building management is that there’s a discussion about using buildings as strategic assets, said Michele Pelino, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

That requires using the resources of a building more effectively, for instance, reducing energy consumption with cost savings as a key driver, she said.

“If you have smart building capabilities in terms of sensors that help to monitor the temperature in the building or lighting capabilities, you can set parameters to turn off the lights if no one is using a particular office or conference room, for instance,” Pelino said.

Also, sensor capabilities in building automation systems can indicate whether someone is in a part of the building and adjust the temperature accordingly. These decisions, of course, can be made with automation rather than human discretion.

“If nobody is in that part of the building, then you probably don’t need to keep the heat up to the highest level,” Pelino said. “You can turn it down a couple of degrees. That feeds into this idea of reducing energy consumption and reducing your impact on resources, whether it be power or energy, electricity, or lighting.”

Virtually every organization wants to prepare its environmental, health, and safety (EHS) and sustainability efforts to respond to the demands of customers, shareholders, and regulators, according to Deloitte. As such, smart buildings can be the main components of sustainability and EHS programs.

One of the most sources of waste in most business settings today is the use of space, according to the Deloitte report.

“Industry reports have indicated that on average only 56% of work seats are utilized, while the remaining 44% remain vacant,” the Deloitte report noted. “Using analytics to identify office space usage and reducing office footprints to reflect actual occupancy can save considerable costs related to overhead, operations, and resource consumption.”

Workplace Collaboration/Productivity

Experts in workforce management, innovation, and human capital have identified the benefits of improving employee collaboration, including increased productivity, according to Deloitte.

As such, many companies have reconfigured their office layouts, creating a mix of closed and open spaces to generate collaborative encounters.

“The technology available in smart buildings today can take collaboration to entirely new levels,” the Deloitte report noted. “For coworkers that are physically proximate, smartboards, and smart conference rooms can foster collaborations and capture their outcomes. [And] layering in tools such as virtual digital assistants and wireless content sharing makes collaboration effortless.”

To further optimize occupancy and improve employee productivity, some companies have enhanced their space utilization software with hot-desking applications (that is, on-demand seating, according to the IHS Markit report).

“For a seat-on-demand system to be operative, it is necessary to use real-time information to dynamically define which desks are occupied at a given time and which are not,” the report noted. This office organization system relies upon data from space utilization software to assign different workstations to employees.”

Occupancy sensors are used mainly to supply this data, either passive infrared sensors or image-based smart sensors. The latter of which provides accurate and detailed information about where a building’s occupants are, including which desks they use, according to IHS Markit.

“Hot-desking programs can leverage data from an office’s email and calendaring systems to determine what resources an employee may need access to on a given workday,” the report noted. “Hot-desking applications are gaining traction in office buildings, especially in Western Europe, where spaces inside offices are limited by smaller building sizes and higher real estate prices.”

Val Loh, senior practice area director at Syska Hennessy Group, an engineering firm in New York City, pointed to the Edge, Deloitte Netherlands’ Amsterdam location, as an example of one of the smartest buildings in the world that uses hot-desking to boost employee productivity.

Completed in 2015, the Edge uses sensors in the work environment to collect data, including for hot-desking, which means there’s no assigned seating, Loh said.

“The employees check their schedules for the day on their mobile apps before they arrive at the office,” Loh said. “Say I’m a research developer and I have a meeting at 9:30 in the morning, I could, based on my Outlook or Google calendar or whatever platform I use, reserve a conference room, [send out invites to the location of the meeting] and simultaneously find adjacent workstations that are available near the conference room.”

This functionality allows users to collaborate on what they need to do and increases their productivity because they don’t have to worry about how to find a conference room or a workstation once they get to the office, Loh said.

And some organizations enable employees to use applications that tie into the smart building ecosystem to measure sound levels in the building so they can choose conference rooms and workstations in relatively quiet areas, he said.

The Impact of Smart Building Automation on Privacy and Security

However, before widespread adoption of smart building automation systems is possible, core security and privacy challenges must be addressed, McKinsey emphasized.

“Enabling a menu of user-centric use cases requires connecting a wide range of building infrastructure together, installing an array of new sensors and establishing a persistent cloud connection,” the report noted, “The resulting configuration will present significant new security and privacy challenges, which few building operators feel well prepared to combat.”

Security challenges result from combining hardware and software across a range of equipment from many different vendors, according to McKinsey.

“While these connections are critical to enabling value-driving use cases, each additional interface introduces the potential for greater security risk if not managed carefully,” the McKinsey report noted.

For example, in 2012, bad actors accessed the networks of several government buildings through thermostats that were connected to the internet.

“The security piece of the connected devices is partly done through some of the device management solutions that are out there – that’s more from the smartphones and the tablets and that sort of thing,” Pelino said. “But you’re also starting to see the need to manage and monitor and track other kinds of connected assets in the building.”

Infrastructure vendors are becoming more aware of the need to protect all layers of the technology stack, according to McKinsey.

But that is likely to involve collaboration on three fronts, McKinsey noted:

  • Device manufacturers will be responsible for safeguarding equipment via active, systemwide threat protection and monitoring, as well as ensuring that all devices can rapidly receive software updates to patch vulnerabilities.
  • Building operators will have to confirm that they acted on these updates and installed them correctly.
  • The tenant’s corporate IT team must implement precautions to manage the links between the connected infrastructure and proprietary networks.

The proliferation of sensors, data, and personalization at the center of many connected building use cases pose privacy challenges.

“For instance, for personalized temperature, lighting or wayfinding services, user identity and location must be identified and transmitted across the network,” McKinsey noted. “Comfort with this is likely to vary by country, industry, company, and individual, yet it will be important to build confidence in any application.”

Infrastructure vendors will have to alert building occupants what data they’re collecting and how they plan to use it. And occupants should be able to easily opt-out of the collection of personally identifiable information, according to McKinsey.

“As a building becomes transformed into a smart building [facilities managers/owners] will have a better sense as soon as a person enters that building of what they’re doing when they’re doing it, where they’re doing it,” Pelino said. “You will have much more visibility into the daily activities of those workers because you understand where they are. You understand if they’re spending time in that conference room or at that desk or if they’re in the office space at all.”

The positive aspect of that knowledge is letting employees be as productive as they can wherever they need to be productive, she said.

But opt-in policies may not allow many choices, she said. “The challenge is that you’re capturing information in real-time about exactly what that employee is doing and that brings up those issues around who’s looking at this data,” Pelino said. “And as an employee, maybe by downloading an application, you’re [opting in] by default.” Security and privacy issues go hand-in-hand because employees have to worry that somebody can take the data that’s being collected and use it for unauthorized purposes, Loh said.


The adoption of smart building automation is turning smart buildings from facilitators of energy management to “dynamic ecosystems of connected assets, energy, environment, processes, services, and occupants,” according to the Gartner Inc. report “Evolve Your Smart Building Solutions in the IoT Era.”

“The [Internet of Things] is leading the smart building industry toward an optimized state in which a building is managed as an integrated system of systems, like a supercomputer,” according to the report.

Smart building system decision-makers are looking for tools beyond simple building automation, Gartner noted. Rather they’re looking to partially or integrated IoT-enabled building management systems to emphasize the value of a smart building by bringing together valuable insights from different systems, according to the report.

“This transition from individual building management systems to IoT-integrated BMS brings great potential and opportunities for smart building vendors,” the Gartner report noted. “If vendors fail to evolve their products and solutions, they will find it difficult to differentiate and grow.”

Written by Linda Rosencrance

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