Digitised Buildings: What are they and why adopt?

Nick Robinson, Managing Partner at Beyond ESG, looks at how technological innovations are transforming our buildings, offering tangible commercial benefits that go beyond energy savings. Connected by IoT and supported by data science, the modern digitised building boasts unparalleled levels of control and monitoring.

28% contribution to greenhouse gases - this was the latest figure published by the World Green Building Council who claimed this is the contribution of operational emissions from buildings. That’s not including the construction and material downstream which also adds a significant amount of carbon (11% of global emissions, resulting in 39% total). It’s no surprise then that this issue has received a lot of attention. Thankfully, we’re in the fourth industrial revolution, one of AI and smart technology which opens up new realms of opportunity.

Unparalleled control

Enter digitised buildings. Connected by IoT and supported by data science, this enables unparalleled levels of control and monitoring, allowing for the optimisation of buildings across an array of metrics.

According to the latest figures, the global smart buildings market is projected to reach $328.62 billion by 2029, an annual growth rate of over 20 per cent. This equates to an estimated 250 million smart, digitised buildings by 2029 as demand grows for secure, energy-efficient developments. Currently around 90 per cent of smart building spending goes to non-residential commercial properties. There is of course consumer demand for this technology as well, driven by rising environmental concerns and energy costs, along with increased time spent at home, but the lion’s share of smart infrastructure investment comes from the corporate world.

Reverting to the problem identified (i.e., 28% contribution of GHG), one useful case of connected buildings is improved energy efficiency. With the right infrastructure feeding the right data with the right level of control, we can optimise the use of lighting, heating and even improve air quality to provide the best working or shopping environments for our occupants.

Two simple examples of this are:

1. The optimisation of indoor temperature based on data from the outdoor environment and the occupancy levels of the building. i.e., if it’s 30 degrees outside and people are working from home on a Monday, adjust the HVAC to run low and conserve energy.

2. The monitoring of rooms across an estate to measure occupancy and switch off or dim lighting based on usage, most obviously this helps to switch of lights at night (where you’d be surprised at how much energy is wasted).

These are two examples, but they range in complexity. At the heart of this capability is the building management system (BMS) - with this in place the opportunities are aplenty. Every property and its usage are unique, it’s for experienced engineers and data scientists to assess the data and provide insight into where the best energy saving programs can be had.

Beyond energy saving

While energy saving is important and a timely problem, we shouldn’t forget the wider benefits that connected buildings bring. Using the same level of control, we can optimise lighting to reduce problems like eye strain and air quality improve comfort and productivity. Stuffy humid office environments create frustration and distraction among staff, by taking control centrally this can be avoided. Chris Whitty, our Chief Medical Officer, said "monitoring indoor air quality should become standard practice in public spaces and urgent investment is needed".

Benefits stretch even further, with CAFM (computer aided facilities management), owners can take advantage of improved efficiencies in asset management, reducing optional costs and empowering internal teams to take control. For example, streamlining facilities management, with data from sites on asset performance we can distribute, track and complete work to be done in way that previously required significant internal headcount or external suppliers. In another example, we can use IoT technology such as vibration sensors to feedback data on when an asset is showing unusual signs of operation. Say hello to predictive maintenance. Downtime on major assets can often result in significant costs per day, if operators can get even a 24-hours heads up, this can avoid major costs to the business.

Insights from your infrastructure

Another key benefit, and one which few organisations are currently exploiting, comes from using data more strategically. Ultimately, this means using the data to better understand customers and their behaviour to inform decision making and deliver tangible insights that results in new revenue streams or increased incremental revenue.

For instance, in a retail environment, it is possible for organisations to use their smart infrastructure to:

1)      See how people route around premises

2)      Provide heat maps of the store, where are hot and cold areas

3)      Measure customer engagement with products in-store

4)      Measure detailed engagement in specific areas, such as new product launches

5)      Count overall footfall, or footfall by specific locations

Once decisions are made as to what activities should be monitored, this new physical data is paired with internal data (sales, marketing, demographic, market share etc.) to build models that define relationships between engagement and conversion. Dashboards can then be developed to enable ongoing consumption and implementation of the insight.

In the retail environment, employing your smart infrastructure to drive insight fills a significant gap. Industry is great at understanding customers before and after they enter the premises but knowing what they do on-site has, until now, been more challenging. However, by digitising buildings through the use of smart infrastructure (funded by energy savings) it is now possible to answer questions such as: 

1)      Which products are my customers most engaged with? 

2)      What impact did by recent marketing campaign have on product engagement? 

3)      How effective is our signage?

4)      Where is best to launch a new product? 

5)      How long do customers spend in store? 

6)      What is the best store formatting/layout?

7)      Are we resourcing our stores optimally?

8)      Are sales teams maximising opportunity or do we need to provide training?

Conclusions

Investment in digitised buildings offers several key benefits:

  • A smart, digitised building reduces energy costs by optimising when heating and cooling occurs across the estate. In most cases the costs savings pay for the investment.
  • A smart building enhances the health and well-being of employees by making buildings more comfortable, this in turn boosts productivity also resulting in a financial benefit for the organisation. 
  • And finally, smart infrastructure helps businesses demonstrate their commitment to their Scope 1 emissions, which is important in the supply chain in terms of helping others with their Scope 3 emissions.

In summary, the benefits associated with connected buildings are vast and they will only grow as we see continued innovation in technology and processes. There’s an immediate need to cut energy bills so the commercial benefits are there for the taking, but the long-term requirement of decarbonisation should be equally considered. The SBTi (Science Based Targets Initiative) has their framework for building decarbonisation out in July 2023, so keep a close eye on that. Aside from energy, our people are important assets, their requirements are increasing and the data on the effect of internal environments on their productivity is continuing to reinforce the importance of this focus.

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