EXCLUSIVE: Key considerations for intelligent building design

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As intelligent systems gather personal information, it is important to establish appropriate governance, argues Chris Hugman, CEO of System Surveyor.

In the worlds of architecture and engineering, ‘intelligent buildings’ have remained a hot topic for decades. Stoked early on by innovations in heating, ventilation and airflow (HVAC) in the 1980s and hurtled forwards by the introduction of the IoT and AI in the early 21st century, intelligent buildings have assumed many forms over the years.

A brief history of intelligent buildings

Following a disastrous oil spill off the coast of California in 1969, which many credit as the beginning of the modern environmental movement, the US Government introduced legislation that launched the adjacent “Green Building Movement.” Fueled by a desire for more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building practices, this movement inspired everything from office spaces to industrial structures that boasted minimal energy consumption and better building efficiency.

In 1981, United Technology Building Systems coined the phrase “intelligent buildings” to categorize projects that prioritized optimal relationships between structures, systems and services to save money and make better use of available resources at the same time. By paying closer attention to energy management and central control systems, these projects set a new standard in the function of shared spaces.

As soon as the World Wide Web went public in 1991, ideas about designing more intuitive and interconnected workspaces spread like wildfire. When AI-powered IoT sensors, video cameras and other identification devices hit the market in the early 2000s, integrators began to realize that sharing data gathered between disparate systems could improve intelligent building designs to meet goals far beyond sustainability and aesthetics. As these devices could evaluate everything from a person’s body temperature to their authorization to access sensitive areas, the ability to view entire systems on a ‘single pane of glass’ became a compelling proposition.

How intelligent buildings work

At their core, intelligent buildings use automation to optimize processes that occur inside a building, from heating and cooling, water usage and lighting to touchless access control along with other public safety and security measures. An intelligent building is dependent on three general functions supplied by these underlying systems:

  • Data gathering by means of sensors, access control, video surveillance or other methods
  • Data processing where diverse sets of data are correlated and analyzed against a set of rules that may trigger a response
  • Triggered responses, such as notifications and activation or deactivation of devices or services, controlled by the systems

Integrating these systems together leverages available data to not only improve energy efficiency, but also create safer and more comfortable environments for the individuals inhabiting them. With this in mind, it’s no surprise the global smart building market is expected to swell from $67.60 billion in 2021 to $328.62 billion by 2029, according to Fortune Business Insights.

Common challenges for intelligent building implementation

Whether starting a new project or transforming an existing building into a smarter one, intelligent building projects require the collaboration of several different stakeholders. From the operators of a building’s sensors, actuators and smart control devices (i.e., security, facility and IT directors) to HVAC and networking and communication technicians – the most difficult step in implementing an intelligent building design often involves aligning the goals and interests of each of these teams. Put simply: before these disparate systems can talk with each other, stakeholders must communicate and collaborate.

This article will discuss recommendations building owners and integrators alike can put into practice to ensure the implementation of an intelligent building design goes as smoothly as possible.

Recommendations when beginning an intelligent building design

Take inventory

For existing buildings looking to consolidate their disparate systems under a single, unified intelligent building solution, an important first step is to take inventory of the devices that have already been deployed across all technologies, to get a holistic view. Whereas smart commercial buildings bring together touchless access control, alarm systems, thermostats and voice assistants to optimize a customer’s experience, smart industrial buildings might integrate electric meters, flow gauges, pipeline monitors and wireless routers to ensure a consistently safe and operationally efficient environment for their workers. Each of these devices represent the building blocks of an intelligent building.

Set specific goals

Before implementing an intelligent design project, all the stakeholders involved must agree on what functionalities they want their building to perform. What specific outcome or benefit is each stakeholder looking for an intelligent building to perform? Whether the goal is to reduce energy costs, provide better tenant experience or improve public safety, these goals should follow the SMART principle: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound.   

Start talking

The planning process must provide answers on how to achieve these goals. To do this, project planners must engage with the individuals or companies who possess the necessary domain expertise for each system represented. Depending on the level of sophistication, this could include individuals from various vertical markets and require collaboration and co-operation to achieve an actionable plan. In some cases, the project planner has the unenviable task of convincing competitors to collaborate and gaining consensus among competitors, to achieve the established goals. In all cases, however, this collaboration is absolutely necessary.

Leverage technology to improve collaboration

The most efficient way to expedite design, implementation and lifecycle management is to utilize an open, user-friendly software tool. The ideal platform will allow users from different companies to gather and access site information, update and share floor plans as well as enable secure collaboration so all stakeholders are kept up to date. By introducing these tools early in the process, teams will learn to collaborate from the beginning stages of the project, yielding better project outcomes and saving both time and money for everyone involved.

Prepare for the future

The fact is, in the world of technology, change is a given. That makes flexibility essential. By embracing a collaborative system design platform, stakeholders can lean on the same go-to reference from the system’s design stage to lifecycle management years down the road, enabling a high degree of flexibility and scalability. To accommodate and support each new innovation, you will need to go back to step one above. With a digital system design platform, however, you will already have a “living as built” of your intelligent building to help jumpstart the process.

A final thought

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.Intelligent building technologies hold tremendous promise for many of our societal goals. However, as with many other technologies, this technology can also be abused and misused. As these intelligent systems gather and store a wide variety of personal information that could be exploited, to stay ahead of these issues, it is important to establish appropriate governance for how intelligent building sensor data will be collected, stored and used.

Eliminating the possibility of violating privacy rights or other ethical standards before implementing an intelligent building design not only protects all stakeholders involved but also expands these projects’ core commitment to safety and security.

This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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