What are the Risks of Smart Buildings: 4 Myths Debunked

Smart buildings are transforming the facilities landscape, but too many people fall prey to simple misconceptions about them. To help clear the fog and dispel some of these myths, the Workplace Technology Theatre at Facilities Show 2019  played host to a panel of smart buildings experts. They were:

Sarah Allaoui, Digital Consultant, Cundall
Trevor Miles, Smarter Buildings Consulting Lead, UKI
Chris Proctor, Chief Executive, OneServe
Lewis Richards, Chief Digital Officer, Atalian Servest
Shaun Taylor, Business Development Manager, Accruent

 Should I have a smart building?

One thing they were keen to dispel was the idea that smart buildings are prohibitively expensive, requiring significant retrofitting, or even an entirely new, purpose-built smart office building.

In fact, Lewis Richards explained, creating a smart building can often simply be about doing more with the technology a building already has. “A smart building,” added Shaun Taylor, “has to have the ability to adapt and change for the people who will work in it in the future.” The trick is leveraging the technology in an existing building to fit the needs of the people using the building today – and in the future.

Making a building smart can require something as simple as a sensor delivering information to a facilities manager – and with the growing choice in technologies, brands and vendors, it’s easy to find a good-value product that meets the needs of each building.

Sarah Allaoui stressed the importance of including people in the smart buildings conversation, saying “We keep leaving behind people, so how can we can we get them into the conversation and build on that?”

Are smart buildings expensive?

Any fear that smart technology is too expensive can be allayed by the huge potential cost savings. Allaoui advised that facilities managers should focus on the things that can be quantified: the benefits of smart buildings are tangibly felt in decreased breakages and the significant resultant savings, rather than the nebulous, unquantifiable measurements such as productivity and environment.

Taylor reiterated this, noting that the benefits are different to each stakeholder. A conversation with one of his clients started by extolling the energy-saving implications of smart buildings, but ended with the potential revenue increase – $1 billion – of a mere one per cent increase in staff performance brought on by smart technology.

Richards, however, warned that “buildings are only as smart as the people inside them,” pointing out that humans need to adapt their skillsets to smart technologies, otherwise it’s merely “digital lipstick on an analogue pig” that produces few tangible savings..

Are smart buildings risky business?

While Chris Proctor admitted there are risks associated with the internet of things (IoT), he was keen to emphasise the enormous strides technology has made towards cybersecurity in the last few years, saying “I don’t think we’re in a world where we need to be constantly worried and use that as a barrier not to use [the technology].”

There are risks from the clients themselves, however. Allaoui once again stressed the importance of transparency and including stakeholders in the conversation – as an example, she highlighted one company that put sensors on desks to track occupancy, which had the adverse effect of making employees feel under constant surveillance.

For Taylor, the biggest mistake clients make is to not think about how to use the technology they procure. Many clients deploy technologies such as sensors, but don’t do anything with the data they gather, delivering no value to their company. Others sign up to too much, installing multiple overlapping systems without considering how they interact with each other.

Where are all the smart buildings showcased?

With so much technology on offer, it is often difficult for facilities professionals to find reliable case studies of smart buildings, and a limited budget for small-scale testing. Few buildings, lamented Proctor, are “holistically smart”, instead of bringing in four or five different systems without integrated them. “The industry,” he said, “is its own worst enemy.”

But Taylor was more positive. Although the United Kingdom is lagging behind other markets, there are already a number of case studies – from fifty-storey office blocks to small-scale smart buildings – that facilities professionals can learn from.

 First published 18/07/2019