Smart Buildings: 5 Challenges and their IoT Solutions
July 1, 2021
Smart buildings are taking off in the industry, with the pandemic accelerating technology adoption. However, just as before, challenges remain with smart buildings. These challenges can be mitigated with clear, thoughtful solutions. Smart building projects can seem complicated. With the limitless applications of this technology, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) solutions, many questions can arise throughout the process from ideation to installation. A smart building project involves numerous steps and individuals, creating challenges in a variety of areas. Because of these challenges, it is important to have a detailed plan in place, set strong and realistic timelines, and have open lines of communication. These challenges can be solved with clear solutions to make smart buildings a reality.
Before a smart building project can begin, it must go through the proper channels for approval where questions may come from executives and team members about the benefits and validity of the project. Because a smart building is an investment, there will likely be questions about return on investment and how to justify the cost of the project. These questions can be easily answered with the many benefits that a smart building provides.
The Value of Improved Productivity and Happiness
Smart buildings will be the future of spaces and building owners and companies do not want to be playing catch up. Building owners and operators are looking for ways to decrease costs while also keeping employees happy with their work environments and increasing productivity. With building occupants expecting more than just a simple workspace, businesses need to find a way to meet the needs of their employees: smart buildings are the solution. Studies have found that high carbon dioxide levels and uncomfortable temperatures in an office space can greatly reduce employee productivity and satisfaction, while productivity improved 60 percent in spaces with less carbon dioxide in the air. Using smart building solutions such as carbon dioxide sensors and customizable temperature control systems via PoE-based IoT solutions can better control the air quality in office leading to more productive environments and higher workplace happiness.
The Value of Lower Installation Costs
With cost-saving needs in mind, building owners are turning to smart building solutions to reach their goals and as a result the smart building industry is expected to reach $109 billion in the next five years, and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) smart buildings are quickly becoming the global standard. With lower installation costs, smart building solutions have taken a stronghold in the marketplace and are top of mind for new construction and retrofits. For example, the installation of a PoE based smart building solution in the Sinclair Hotel instead of using traditional line voltage saved the hotel $23,000 on installation costs alone, not to mention the ongoing energy savings that followed from ongoing energy optimization. This return on investment is a driving factor in the push for smart buildings.
The Value of Lower Operational Costs
The building industry is quickly adopting PoE as a market standard due to its impact on operational efficiency. Over the next few years, the market for PoE smart buildings is expected to grow by 15 percent. With companies searching for ways to become more energy efficient and save on costs, PoE has helped them become leaders in the building space. Companies who have implemented IoT built on PoE have realized these significant savings and have seen their energy consumption greatly decrease, all without sacrificing occupant comfort. Spaces, such as Haverkamp Properties immediately realized a 69% energy savings following the installation of a PoE lighting system, while the world’s first all-digital hotel, The Sinclair Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas saved 40% on utility bills due to the low-voltage IoT solutions within the space. This brings a strong return on investment to the decision makers and is a strong argument in favor of a smart building project.
While many believe PoE smart buildings are a relatively new market concept and wonder if they are a reliable solution, in fact, PoE has been a solution in the market for years and is proven effective. PoE is also a more scalable, secure, and flexible solution, compared to traditional line voltage. PoE paired with a strong IoT platform allows for a multitude of integrations whether that be with lighting, sensors, or so much more. From these integrations, the IoT platform, such as Igor’s Nexos platform can track data to help provide insight into building operations. Armed with this information, building owners and businesses can make smarter decisions to greater increase the ROI of the project and streamline building systems.
An IoT and PoE combination provides a level of cybersecurity not available with traditional building systems. With a multitude of data coming from building operations, it is essential this information remains secure and private to not disrupt business. A PoE-based smart building system can protect this data with strong security measures in place to protect company info and provide peace of mind in a way wireless cannot match. Wireless technologies have additional points of weakness when compared to a structured cable solution. And in today’s world, companies are looking for any additional layers of security to protect their businesses. Even data centers, which contain some of the most secure information are turning to PoE and IoT to keep their spaces safe and are leading the way in PoE lighting for its trusted capabilities. A smart building project will help businesses create a future-proof building which protects data and information.
An essential part of any smart building project are the integration capabilities; however, some smart building solutions do not offer the right integration capabilities to meet the needs of building operations. Many IoT platforms require certain proprietary lighting fixtures or sensors which leaves smart building projects with limited options for design. No one building controls company can do it all, so proprietary systems reduce the ability to have a truly smart building. What is needed is an open IoT software platform to bring together all devices and technology in a building, regardless of brand or manufacturer. The best chance of finding a truly open IoT software platform is to look at companies who specialize in software, not in hardware. Otherwise, building managers and owners may not have the ability to control their facilities from one platform. Since many IoT companies only allow for use of their software and products without outside materials or innovation, smart building projects may not reach their full potential. By selecting an open IoT platform, this challenge can be avoided.
Igor’s IoT platform Nexos is a solution to the integration challenge. Nexos has an open API platform with the ability to connect multiple devices and systems from a variety of manufactures and hardware providers. Igor has created an extensive network of ecosystem partners whose products and solutions can be integrated with Nexos; however, the integrations are not limited to just these partners due to the open nature of the IoT platform. Potential integrations with Nexos include HVAC, shades, sensors, lighting and Intelligent Disinfection.
Having the ability for integrations with a wide network of partners, smart building projects can connect multiple building systems under one singular IoT platform. This allows for ease of control and monitoring of these systems leading to better building outcomes. In spaces such as Southwire’s Spark Studio, Somfy shading was integrated with the Igor system to provide a more comfortable and sustainable space. This project and other case studies are strong examples of the positive outcomes that can be achieved from an open IoT platform.
Historically the building industry had to integrate and coordinate with multiple vendors to make their smart buildings a reality. It still holds that no one company can do it all in the smart building technology space. Smart building projects require several individuals with various backgrounds to collaborate, which can make communication difficult at times. When many parties are involved, all with different communication methods and styles, there is a strong possibility for miscommunication. Since projects require consistent, clear communication, the organizational side of creating a smart building may seem overwhelming, sometimes resulting in confusion on roles and responsibilities. Fortunately, this can be solved with a strong communications plan.
First, it is important to have a lead point of contact for the IoT implementation. This individual will be the point person for all questions regarding the implementation and be the face of communication between companies during the project. This person should help set clear expectations for each of the parties involved in the project. With these expectations set, there will be a clear delegation of tasks and the roles of each company and individual will be outlined so there is no confusion later. This will minimize oversights, simplify the jobs of everyone involved, and build strong business relationships.
With a single point of contact, it is also important to ask questions and share information earlier in the project, rather than later. Often, when a smart building project seems complicated, it is because things were added along the way and required changes to established plans. To maintain open and clear communication between companies and those involved in the project, setting regular check in meetings can ensure the communication is continuous. These meetings can serve as a time to answer questions, have status updates on the project, cover logistics or technology concerns, and increase collaboration. Issues that arise can be addressed early in the process, rather than under the pressure of deadline. Setting regular meetings encourages accountability from all parties involved and the provides multiple opportunities for clear, project specific communication.
The implementation process for a smart building project can be extensive, and therefore certain challenges may arise. If a project involves multiple partners there is the risk of conflicting schedules and differing styles of installation. Often, timelines may not match up and the schedule may not stay on track. Therefore, it is important to schedule far in advance installation dates and consistently communicate expectations. By having a set schedule, it ensures deadlines are met and dates can be adjusted accordingly in the future to accommodate any timeline issues. When building the schedule, blocking out extra time in case of installation errors or supply chain disruptions will help to ensure the project will be completed by the set date.
Finally, it is important to be flexible. It is important to not rush the process, as implementing smart building technology is the foundation for how your facilities run in the future. If vendors make the process seem complex, consider an integration specialist to make the project run smoothly. Choosing the right IoT software is key to minimizing the complexity of installations at a project site.
And remember, although all parts of the project may not go exactly according to plan, it is important to remain patient and be flexible with all parties involved. Everyone involved in the project brings a unique and valuable perspective to help project goals be met.
Although challenges may arise during a smart building project, making use of the solution strategies above can help ensure the project is a success. The benefits of smart buildings including their energy efficiency, cost savings, and contributions to sustainability are growing and as a result, the intelligent building space is quickly expanding. As more and more companies choose to create their buildings with this technology, having actionable plans will only serve to benefit all parties involved in the project. Smart buildings are the new reality and will continue to help companies across the world create superior experiences for building occupants.