Tom Hopton, associate, smart buildings & controls specialist, Buro Happold, Building Environments Group looks at how smart buildings can be revolutionary

Climate change is the greatest environmental crisis in history. The decimation of the natural world is a problem of our own making, which has already affected millions. This problem will in all likely hood will emerge in the next few decades as a humanitarian crisis, and we must act now.

The UK has enshrined in law a target to become carbon neutral by 2050. Is this enough? Many don’t think so, including a lot of our clients. They are committed to reaching zero carbon on their new projects, estates, districts and cities much sooner.

Ambitious industry commitments are reassuring. However, as engineers, we must take on a far broader role to educate and collaborate with others to drive forward real change. Most of the buildings existing today will still be needed in 30 years’ time, so we must push harder to re-use, refit and optimise existing building stock.

There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and I firmly believe technology is one of those key pieces. Today’s smart buildings optimise our use of people, space, and operations. Reducing energy demand is key, but creating environments which make people more productive, use space more effectively, and support efficient operations is vital in our move towards a low to zero carbon economy.

Figure 1: Placing value before technology

The 360° view of building performance

Building performance is often considered as the effort to conserve energy. Whilst this is vital in addressing the climate emergency, we shouldn’t overlook opportunities to improve other ways of measuring building performance. Technology can and should be used to add value to a building or city. By using tech and data in a proactive way, the business case for a project is significantly improved.

Technology can help us understand how our buildings are used today and facilitate evidence-based adaptation into the future:

1. Space Utilisation

Business can accommodate growth through better space utilisation or agile working, without the need to expand into new accommodation. Often, clients can reduce their net building footprint by an average 20%.

2. Health Wellbeing & Productivity

Fine-tuning building systems creates a healthier, more productive environment for building users, ultimately increasing business revenue

3. Optimising Building Function

How does a building support the work we do? How does it facilitate collaboration, or improve user experience? Technology can provide useful insight and help to create a more seamless interaction with our buildings.

4. Energy Performance

Plenty of evidence exists already to justify the RoI for energy-led control. The question is, are we making the most of the data already collected, to diagnose further efficiency gains?

5. Portfolio/Facility Management

Data-enabled decisions improve the way we maintain and manage our buildings, through automated fault analysis and just-in-time maintenance.

Building Management systems – building the value stack

Building management systems (BMS) are commonplace. However, this technology is often overlooked in terms of its contribution to improving holistic performance. The approach taken in the early stages of strategy definition, through to developed design, specification and later procurement and commissioning has a critical influence on the in-use operations and performance.

Industry suppliers have made some positive steps forward recently. However, more needs to be done to advocate the whole value stack, ensuring this technology is truly open for future integration, is extendable, cyber-secure and future-ready.

Figure 2: Building management system (BMS) promoting the value stack

Making use of smart building technology

What makes a building smart, and why? The term “Smart buildings” has no standard definition and can mean many different things depending on who, where and when you ask! Performance is the one common force accelerating the ‘smart building’ industry growth. And therefore “smart” is technology which optimises space, people, operations, cost and carbon.

Technology is moving fast, so too is the diversity of the marketplace looking to capitalise on this trend. This presents challenges in our industry to upskill, as well expand to a much broader spectrum of services. Not only do we need to be conversant in new and emerging interoperability standards, IoT, data management, we also need to have the skills to help our clients navigate this new landscape.

With all this data, where do we put it? “On prem” (On-premises software) IaaS (infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), or SaaS (Software as a Service), the answer depends on who, where and when. There is undeniably a trend towards Software as a Service (SaaS) and lots of benefits to indicate why, but care should be taken that the full OPEX is understood, including ease of adaptation, and contract flexibility.

This new and emerging technology is exciting, with huge potential for unlocking performance, but what are the barriers? Cyber security and data privacy are often quoted as common concerns.

Taking steps to tighten up cyber security

Cybercrime is now bigger than the world drug trade. According to a report from global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, “37.8% of all control systems showed signs of a cyber-attack in the first half of 2019”.

Top industry players who recognise their liability in providing vulnerable systems have made significant steps forward in recent years to tighten up security around their architecture and firmware. This has been achieved through “Transport Layer Security” (TLS) and other emerging techniques such as “block chain”. However, by tightening up security, are these proprietary solutions in danger of limiting interoperability and cost of future integration? In response, ASHREA BACnet committee developed BACnet/Secure Connect (due for release later this year). It is likely the adoption of this new standard may take some time and will only be accelerated by customer demand.

Pay attention to data privacy

We have all experienced recent changes in law surrounding data privacy, those website pop ups asking you to accept terms of use. Commonly the sharing of personal or corporate data in exchange for a service.

Any organisation that decides what personal data is collected and the purposes for which it is used, is a “data controller” and therefore has to comply with the DP Directive (GDPR). An organization that is processing personal data on behalf of a data controller, such as a subcontractor, is a “data processor” and currently has no direct obligations to comply with the DP Directive.

In a Smart building, the key concept is identifying and then allocating responsibility to the multiple stakeholders involved in the creation, development, operation, maintenance and use of the Smart building technology. All of these stakeholders could potentially be a “data controller” or “data processor”, or both. Whilst smart technology may not directly capture personal data, it’s analytical capabilities and the presentation of it could have the potential to indirectly identify an individual’s working patterns and habits. In this new era of data privacy specialist advise should be sought to uphold the six principles of the GDPR.

Looking to the future needs of buildings and infrastructure

It is clear that buildings need to perform better. This performance target will need to shift further in the future if we are to curb the impact on our climate. Whether driven by future green legislative changes or more a corporate need to optimise business operations, the advancement of technology can support these goals and complete the puzzle of holistic performance.

Operational Technology (OT) is already restructuring every aspect of the built environment, from seamless workplace apps, to building diagnostics to smart cities and optimisation of our energy infrastructure. The corner piece in all this is, of course, data.

We are now firmly in the fourth digital revolution. Data science, automated data management techniques that include machine-aided deep learning, and the potential of artificial intelligence will accelerate a shift in our ability to gain insights, diagnose and action performance in a holistic form.

Data is widely used in many other industries including telecommunications, finance and marketing, but it has been slow to take hold of the AEC industry. Whilst it has huge potential, it is only a tiny fraction of buildings that really put data to good use.

The biggest hurdle in changing this statistic is making the vast amount data available in our buildings of useable quality. Our industry needs to pay greater attention to the specification, commissioning and curation of data sets which our building systems and IoT generate. For some time now we have been using open protocols, and these have been great to open up what used to be a ‘black box’ technology. We now need to leverage this beyond the needs of the core control function, towards the needs of data management.

Open protocols like BACnet are useful for integration but provide little context. We must look to new standards such as haystack to better describe its meaning, or brick, which provides a way to define data’s relationship within a wider context.

Our industry must work to raise awareness of the value of data to our clients. We must prepare the supply chain and upskill those who curate and validate the quality of these data sets. Data is a valuable asset and must be treated in the same way we treat other physical assets. We must also work with IT departments in the client’s domain to make this data accessible, bridging the gap between cyber security and data confidentiality, as well as the priorities of FM around Operational Technology and their priorities for data availability and continuous operation. New emerging standards such as MUD, DAQ and UDMI pave the way towards this convergence.

Taking on “The Grand Digital Challenge” in building performance

Greater data sharing could release an additional £7bn per year of benefits across the UK infrastructure sectors, equivalent to 25% of total spend.

Through collective effort from all parties in the AEC industry, as well as client, infrastructure and government bodies, we can shape and accelerate a new virtual economy in performance.

‘Digitally twins’ at a macro (building) micro (system) and even nano (equipment) level will reveal building performance opportunities for building owners and at national level. And in doing so, fuel the growth of a competitive and diverse marketplace which can respond with data analysis, diagnostics and machine learning tools.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain’s Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG) was launched by HM Treasury in July 2018. The DFTG is setting up a roadmap to create an ecosystem of digital twins, to collectively become a national digital twin for our industry to benefit from.

Access to this data would give existing building owners a unique opportunity to access the growing marketplace with autonomy to secure accurate evidence-based assessments leading to performance-based contracts. New developments could benchmark design solutions at a more granular level using the data from recently completed buildings. Our national infrastructure will also benefit from insight into current and future trends, and for energy aggregators to engage with building owners on demand response initiatives protecting the resilience of a future – more dynamic utility supply.

This is a monumental challenge for our industry, but one with huge potential to set us on the road towards a zero-carbon future.

Figure 3: A virtual marketplace for building performance outcomes