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Why Using Digital Operations to Manage and Operate Smart Buildings Makes Sense

Shannon Flynn
Shannon Flynn
January 13, 2023
Why Using Digital Operations to Manage and Operate Smart Buildings Makes Sense

It’s becoming more common for facility managers to use smart building solutions. The technologies in this category can control the temperature, improve security, help people stay on top of maintenance needs and more.

Know What Digital Operations Technology Entails

Digital operations for a smart building encompass a broad category that opens numerous possibilities. For example, a facilities manager might:

  • Receive real-time push notifications.
  • Use a project management tool to assign tasks.
  • Upload manuals, contracts and other documents.
  • Get real-time camera feeds and access alerts.
  • Provide opportunities to optimize electric vehicle charging stations at buildings.

Digital operations can also enable maintaining a complete record of the building. When did someone last paint the walls on the second floor?  How many years ago did the foyer get new carpeting? A digitized database can answer all such questions. 

Most digital operations suites for smart buildings work in the cloud. Then, authorized users can retrieve information from anywhere, even across the world from the connected building.

Digital operations platforms also often connect to IoT (Internet of Things) sensors. They continually collect data, providing people with better visibility of building performance. That increased oversight is particularly valuable when facility managers have numerous properties to handle.

Before investing in digitized solutions for a smart building, think about what you need the technology to do. How could it help overcome shortcomings and become more resilient? How could high-tech upgrades target existing inefficiencies? Thinking about the answers to questions like these will make it easier to find technologies that best align with an owner’s expectations and needs.

Choose Which Building Features and Rooms to Monitor

Making the most of digital operations in a smart building requires thinking about which parts of the structure will feed data to the smart building management systems. Something to remember is not all products automatically analyze incoming data. That means the work needed to analyze this data may go up along with the number of rooms or building features that send or receive information.

However, researchers have demonstrated how smart building systems can support decision-making by providing relevant information about things such as energy efficiency. Specialized apps can also help people feel more confident when making choices. For example, Optiwatt is an application that assists in scheduling best times to charge electric cars based on energy price changes. Optiwatt can also apply scheduling to smart thermostats, helping save on electricity bills.

It’s often infeasible to try and connect all of a building’s main rooms or features to digital operations tools at once. Since that’s such a significant undertaking, a better approach is to decide what kind of data would initially be of most value and which parts of the building would best provide that data.

That might mean prioritizing the building’s climate control system and most-used floors before other aspects. Setting a digitization budget also makes it easier for people to decide what to focus on first and get executive buy-in if needed.

Determine How to Make the Integrations Work

People interested in using smart building technology typically must assess the current infrastructure as a starting point. Connected buildings require integrations, which are real-time connections that enable operations and management. Typical integrations consist of both hardware and software.

Going back to the Optiwatt example, the app allows automatic charging of electric cars at times associated with the best prices during low demand. People can also make changes so their vehicles charge to higher levels before upcoming trips requiring more range. Those are software-related features, but they must also integrate with hardware so the charger works as expected.

Speaking to a service provider about the integration options for a smart building will help people have a clearer understanding of what’s available. The integration type also impacts user experiences and the insights a platform can provide.

Suppose the smart building has a mix of older and new technologies. In that case, the people overseeing the integrations must investigate whether the legacy systems will work with the more up-to-date parts of the infrastructure. Getting the best advice and overcoming challenges may require hiring consultants with systems integration expertise.

It’s also ideal to consider integrations-related specifics early in the process rather than getting too far into the upgrades before evaluating them. That’s a practical way to steer clear of preventable expenses and delays.

Study How Others Manage and Operate Smart Buildings

Smart building solutions can pose learning curves for people implementing them for the first time. Even when they feel excited about the possibilities, there’s still uncertainty about how to begin and get the best results.

One of the ways around that common scenario is to look at how other people have used digital operations to improve their oversight of smart buildings. That might mean offering an online platform for apartment building tenants to book electric vehicle charging sessions. If that data feeds into smart building management systems, managers could track trends in utilization, electric vehicle ownership and more.

It’s also advantageous to glimpse some of the extreme possibilities associated with smart building technology. Singapore’s JTC Summit — a 31-story office building — is an excellent example. It houses an incredible 60,000 sensors. The Singaporean government’s development arm created a specialized digital platform to help the hyper-connected structure function correctly.

People can remotely view or operate parts of the building — such as elevators or entry gates — enabling convenience and security. Connected cameras can monitor the parking lot. The camera feeds can also detect higher occupancy levels in rooms, then adjust the climate control system for comfort or suggest that individuals move meetings to different spaces.

How Can Structures Use or Benefit From Smart Building Technology?

Smart buildings are the way of the future, but people are at various stages of making the associated improvements required for data collection and connectivity. Even if owners haven’t taken the first step yet, now is a great time to think about how smart building solutions could make their lives or work easier. Considering what is needed to manage a structure successfully should lead to examining building connectivity options that would be useful in the near future.

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Shannon Flynn
Shannon Flynn

Managing Editor, ReHack

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