Complexity in building management systems must be addressed before smart cities can be fully realized.

In today’s digitalization drive, smart buildings and connected cities are seen as vital to a sustainable future. The three main benefits of developing and managing smart buildings and facilities are operational efficiency, continual savings, and enhanced returns on investments (ROI).

Operational efficiency creates upfront value, providing time and cost-savings from the outset of the project. Continual savings involve maximizing operational uptime and resultant productivity. Finally, improvements in efficiency, reliability, safety, and sustainability lead to enhanced ROI.

By definition, a building management system (BMS) serves multiple market verticals, but the biggest opportunities and advantages are immediately obvious in four sectors:

  1. Hospitality – for energy management, automation control, and customer experience
  2. Healthcare – for energy management, security, and patient data management
  3. Retail – for customer experience, data-driven decision making, business continuity, and sustainability
  4. Commercial Property/Real Estate – for energy management, automation control, data-driven decision making, security, and IoT

A typical BMS incorporates a wide array of equipment from multiple vendors, all with various protocols—both open and proprietary. Literally thousands of brands and models of devices for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), lighting control, power systems, fire systems, security systems and other unique ambient controls need to be orchestrated 24/7 in staff-intensive operations.

Before the advent of digital transformation, building management was complex and costly, creating inefficiencies and security gaps that actually discouraged serious investment. Yet, as the time-proven business axiom goes: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Complexity in BMS has to be addressed before the big ideas on green and smart connected cities can be fully realized.

Thinking at the edge of the box

Fast forward to today, and we can see that digitalized (“smart”) BMS is obviously the way forward. Advancements in communications protocols such as wi-fi (now into its sixth generation), cellular networking (now into its fifth iteration) and wired networking (now in the 400G era), have accelerated adoption of technologies such as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), its industrial equivalent (IIoT), and all the accompanying benefits of distributed computing.

These communication technologies form the ‘edge’ of a building or facility’s intelligent network, and together, such edge computing solutions can make many business-critical BMS functions smarter. For example, energy management can be enhanced through intelligent sensors, through IoT devices. Energy usage, efficiency and wastage can then be optimized without affecting occupants’ productivity levels.

Similarly, many maintenance tasks can be monitored and controlled automatically (with human oversight) and autonomously (independent of human oversight) through AI and machine learning. For example, sensors can detect flooding, heat build-up, leaks, malfunctions of equipment, or other incidents that require repairs and attention.

Over and above automation and autonomous control, smart BMS requires constant analysis of data over time to derive new insights that can be put to good use.

Such intelligent analytics keeps making the smart aspects of BMS even smarter, more resilient to unanticipated scenarios, and even more reliable when human intervention is not available.

What about the constraints to digitalization mentioned earlier? These constraints to digitalization form the proverbial problem ”box” (i.e., rigid boundaries) that used to delay efforts to adopt smart technologies. In recent years, however, advances in miniaturizing smart devices and in standardizing communication protocols between them are ensuring that disparate devices can interoperate regardless of manufacturer.

This evolution of interoperability in topology/infrastructure is similar to what edge computing is also heading towards. In fact, edge computing is a core component common to all BMS, whether industrial, commercial, or residential.

As the combination of enhanced interoperability, low latency communications, and autonomous smart devices gains momentum through digital transformation, the current BMS marketplace will grow from strength to strength.

What facilities managers need

In view of the constant drive to reduce costs, maximize returns on investments, and remain compliant with sustainability directives (e.g. carbon footprint and national smart nation mandates), facilities managers are turning to digital transformation. With the right digitalization technologies in place, their work can be made simple, autonomous, and protected, on a 24x7x365 basis.

Take the case of Northwestern University, whose renowned Mary and Leigh Block Museum houses priceless art collections that must be kept in stable climatic conditions. Yet, the existing failover and recovery software solution lacked the level of stability and reliability to keep the climate-control system up and running.

Similar mission-critical work at the research labs also required ultra-reliable control of temperature, humidity, air flow, and air quality. Otherwise, both ground-breaking artistic and scientific works could be rendered useless in mere hours.

After conducting due diligence, the University’s facilities management IT department turned to a one-stop cutting-edge BMS solution that provided the exceptional levels of fault tolerant operation, high application availability, and ease of use that was expected of a world-class institution of renown.

Digital transformation at the edge is clearly a key part of the strategy to deliver simple, protected and autonomous BMS. The key is for facilities management to seek a technology partner that possesses a deep edge experience to deliver a seamless and future-proof infrastructure. The resulting solutions will by design and intent be cost-efficient, scalable, and sustainable to grow in tandem with every business and compliance mandate.