Intelligent buildings - be smart about opportunities

9th of November 2016
Intelligent buildings - be smart about opportunities
Intelligent buildings - be smart about opportunities

What is an intelligent/smart building and why is their rise so important to the building services business? An intelligent building combines technologies and interconnected systems to support the use of the accommodation by the building’s users, enables efficient operation and reconfiguration of the space. The implications for cleaning businesses are significant.

This article is from the ECJ supplement Cleaning in the Digital World.

Intelligent building – this is a phrase we hear almost every day when discussing the key trends affecting change in the building services sector. But exactly what is an intelligent building, and why are the implications so significant?

While the precise definitions vary around the world, a common theme is the integration of technologies. An intelligent building is one where the combination of technologies and interconnected systems supports the use of the accommodation by the building’s users, enables the efficient operation of the building and enables reconfiguration of the space in response to changing use. Intelligent buildings may also be referred to as smart buildings.

The convergence of the network infrastructure enables the flexible use of accommodation and operational efficiencies arise from the integration of systems that support or manage the built environment, space and operational systems.

Grosvenor Services is a facilities services provider operating across Ireland, the UK and the USA and it recently set up a dedicated technology division to offer clients end-to-end solutions and use the data generated by smart buildings to develop intelligent solutions to business issues. Technology services director Ian Campbell explains: “The concept of a smart building is meaningless unless you apply Technology, People and Process. It’s nothing without people.

“The creativity and foresight must exist within the team to implement the system, but it’s meaningless without a defined understanding of the requirement – exactly what are you seeking to achieve? There must be the requirement and desire to do things better.”

Some risks

Campbell also points out making a building smarter is not without risks. “If you don’t get it right, the consequences can be dire. And there are many buildings incorporating loads of technology but
they simply don’t achieve the outcomes they require.

“Without getting the technical specification right – and that means defining requirements very clearly – it simply won’t be right.”

The first thing to determine is whether this is a new or existing building. What’s in place already? What do you need and require, what’s your understanding of the legacy if it’s an old building?

“Security, safety and the building’s information equipment can all be integrated, for example,” Campbell explains. “So the validation process is crucial and a risk-mitigated approach must be taken. The key is to integrate and converge where appropriate. Make it specific and applicable.”

To do this successfully, Campbell emphasises, requires capability and synergy across the team.

• Define what you need to achieve.
• Put people and technology together with a process and keep it simple.
• Only give people the information and data that’s relevant and useful to them. If you do too much everyone can become confused and frustrated.

Smart buildings are now widely seen across the world and across the business landscape. “Buildings are definitely becoming smarter, that’s the trend. We are witnessing better management of assets,” Campbell explains.

“The driver is digitisation. This is a key enabler. When digitisation makes more things possible people want to improve and strive to better the overall experience.

“It’s also about managing cost and enhancing the customer (or building occupiers’) experience.”
He emphasises: “Whatever building it is, someone has to pay for the investment. And any building manager wants to get the most from that spend. So it’s crucial to bear in mind that you’re enabling what people want to do.”

ISS, global provider of facility services, has recently signed a commercial agreement with IBM to use Watson IoT to transform its management of over 25,000 buildings around the world. Through the new agreement, ISS will tap IBM’s Watson IoT platform, consulting and advanced facilities management technologies to transform the services it provides to building owners and users with the goal of making buildings more personalised, intuitive and user-friendly.

Service optimisation

Working with IBM, ISS will integrate and analyse data from millions of devices and sensors embedded into buildings including doors, windows, chairs, meeting rooms, dispensers and air conditioning systems. Data will be uploaded onto IBM’s Watson IoT cloud platform and cognitive computing technologies will learn from this data - helping ISS optimise its services as well as furthering its understanding of how people use buildings, thereby creating new opportunities for innovation.

For example, sensors in doors and entrance areas can tell a real estate manager how many people are in a building at any one time and sensors on plate dispensers can inform kitchen staff of how many people are still likely to need to eat – helping staff to prepare the right amount of food and avoid wastage. Sensors in meeting rooms, chairs and tables not only help building managers better manage room occupancy and cancel unwanted room bookings, but also inform service staff when a room needs more refreshments or requires cleaning.

Mark Brown, head of business intelligence at ISS tells ECJ: “ISS is aiming to be automated in service delivery, predictive in service and more proactive - by taking big data and using it to predict our service offering. We are actually getting buildings to tell us what to do.

User experience

“The faster we react and the better service we offer, the customer experience for the building users improves,” continues Brown. “That in turn means our customer can become an employer of choice.
“And for ISS as a service provider we can seek to automate tasks and reduce process steps to a lean process – while also fostering a more innovative approach to customer engagement.”

In developing its new solution ISS says it has a true partner in IBM and the two are working together continuously to explore all the possibilities and opportunities. “IBM is not simply developing software for us,” Brown emphasises. For the time being the focus for the launch is the north and west of Europe – UK, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark for example. Then it will be rolled out in 54 countries across the world where ISS is present.

“The key drivers in developing such smart solutions are customer needs,” Brown explains. “As service providers we must react better and quicker to their needs. And the economic climate is very much driving that need. With many of our customers, who are global companies, margin pressures are high and it’s tougher to find that next margin. We have gone through consolidation and everything else we can possibly do. We must work smarter, and we must be more predictive.”

And what does it mean for the cleaning teams? “This is a clear mandate to give our staff time to communicate with the client,” Brown replies. “We want to change how they engage with the customer. By automating their workflow and changing their training they can offer better service to the customer and to the building employees.”

This could then drive better career prospects, and offer cleaners the opportunity to move into other service aspects. “We will have the ability to analyse data in order to help our people move forward, with the objective of reducing head count turnover.”

What are the opportunities for the cleaners themselves to become involved in the technology? “We envisage the cleaner will have some control of their schedule through mobile devices, etc. This could help them to realise their value to the customer personally.”

“With this agreement we are taking the power of technology and the power of service and putting those together to enable ISS to make buildings better for their users,” adds Harriet Green, general manager, IBM Watson IoT. “The key thing is to find out how people will work in the future and by analysing data from sensors we are helping ISS to uncover new insight that will help to ensure buildings are the kinds of places where people want to be, not just need to be.”

Lack of understanding

Grosvenor Services’ Ian Campbell believes: “The cleaning sector is waking up to the fact this technology is present in buildings where they’re working, whether or not it’s being used properly or to its full benefit. There is often a lack of understanding in the industry, however. And different client sectors vary so greatly in their requirements.

“When implementing smart building systems, it’s not just the ‘techies’ who should be involved, you must bring all the people with you and convince them of the advantages.

“Because if it can’t be used for to the benefit of people, it’s of no use.”

And Mark Brown is certain increased building intelligence has far-reaching implications and opportunities for service providers. “Digitisation is about lifting the perception of the sector. And it’s about ensuring the company functions efficiently and adds value to its customers. The objective is outcome-based service delivery, not input-based,” he concludes.


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