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By Vijay Sankaran
From the February 2024 Issue


Smart buildings use technology to optimize building performance, enhance occupant experience, and reduce environmental impact. Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. By transforming them into efficient, sustainable spaces, we can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the built environment around the world. Optimizing energy usage presents a win-win opportunity by enhancing sustainability and boosting financial performance, without sacrificing productivity or creativity. Some of the technical foundations of the smart building are already in place and available today, and getting to the future driven by innovation won’t happen overnight. Organizations must properly plan their journey today to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

smart building solutions
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Elnur)

Now, here are recommendations for the steps to take and consider when embarking on a smart building journey:

1. Develop a smart building strategy that includes the user experience.

Define and adopt a long-term strategy for how technology and tools will be used to improve their buildings rather than simply adopting the latest technologies. This should include specific goals such as reducing energy or improving occupant experience. Develop a plan, identify systems and technologies that will provide the greatest benefit, and develop a roadmap for implementation. While technology is important, don’t overlook the human side of a smart building, and take the time to understand occupant needs and how technologies can meet them.

2. Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

The ability to track progress against a goal is just as important as your strategy. To justify investments in smart building technologies, KPIs must be established and tracked over time to prove success. For instance, you can follow changes in the total cost of ownership, see improvements in uptime, or report on reduced energy consumption.

3. Conduct a performance assessment.

You’ll need to know where you’ve been before you know where you’re going. Conduct a thorough baseline assessment of your buildings’ performance to identify areas of improvement, such as energy, security, maintenance, and occupant comfort. In addition, conduct an audit of the building’s existing systems and infrastructure.

4. Partner with IT and prioritize cybersecurity.

As buildings become smarter, the lines between facilities managers and IT will blur. Work closely with IT teams to ensure smooth integration and operations of smart buildings. This alliance is also key in addressing cybersecurity concerns. With increasing interconnectivity, cybersecurity becomes even more crucial. Working with your IT team to ensure strong cybersecurity measures are in place and that building systems are secure will be critical to success

5. Establish partnerships.

Given the complexity of smart buildings, and the fact that they generate a massive amount of data that facility managers will need to understand and analyze, facility managers should plan to partner with technology experts. This could include an internal IT department, external consultants, or a technology vendor that can provide guidance and support for implementing and managing smart building technologies

6. Run pilot projects.

Consider starting with smaller pilot projects to get a feel for smart technologies and the benefits they can offer. This can involve setting up a lab or identifying spaces in the building to pilot new smart building technologies before deploying them more broadly.

7. Invest in education and training.

As buildings become smarter, facility managers will spend less time on routine maintenance tasks and more time managing relationships with users and stakeholders. Improving communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills will be beneficial. Invest in continuous learning and developing a culture of innovation. Staying informed about technology and regulatory trends and participating in industry events and forums should also be key areas of focus.

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8. Understand legal and ethical implications.

Smart buildings often involve technologies that track and analyze occupant behavior, raising issues related to privacy and consent. Facility managers must be aware of these issues and ensure they are addressed, establishing core ethics principles to guide daily practices.

9. Invest in infrastructure.

Digital infrastructure is the backbone of any smart building. Begin investing in the infrastructure necessary for smart building technology, such as networking, sensors, devices, and software. Consider investing in modern, scalable, and secure infrastructure that can support the needs a smart building and be easily upgraded. It’s also essential to ensure systems are open and can work together seamlessly. Consider interoperability and support for standards when selecting new technologies, including standards such as ASHRE 223P, Brick, and Haystack.

10. Understand sustainability.

Facility managers must be able to engage stakeholders about sustainability initiatives and be prepared to educate them on these initiatives. Become familiar with sustainability basics and develop an awareness of renewable energy options. In addition, building managers should be aware of several industry sustainability certifications and corporate reporting standards—such as LEED, BREEAM, WELL Building Standard, Green Star, GRESB, Energy Star, GRI, and SASB—and how smart building technology can be used to achieve these sustainability goals.

Smart buildings are not a one-time project, but a continuous journey. Technology is constantly evolving, and so are the needs and expectations of occupants and stakeholders. Be ready to embrace change and innovation, and keep looking for new ways to improve your building’s performance and experience.

Sankaran is the Chief Technology Officer for Johnson Controls.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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Facility Executive Magazine