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The Internet of Facilities Management Things: Smart Buildings and Assets in the cloud

27 February 2015

There is a new industrial revolution happening, called the Internet of Things, that we are hearing about more and more in the news. Along with other sectors, this can be a beneficial and exciting prospect for the FM and Maintenance industry as it seeks to apply new technology to improve a multitude of areas including operations, safety, security and the increasingly important customer experience.

For this wide ranging industry the main route to major gains will be made by moving away from point in time solutions addressing a specific application, and harnessing the interconnectivity of several eco-systems and the combined data this provides to drive new services, business models and revenue streams. This framework is - The Internet of Things (IoT).

The concept of the IoT incorporates diverse devices communicating in many different languages, and with multiple applications in a plethora of use cases. To achieve this model we must truly de-couple the publishers of data from those who subscribe to the data. This approach, which can be compared to the ‘Twitter’ model of publishing and retrieving relevant data, provides the key feature that we need to operate the IoT efficiently - interoperability of systems.

For example, with Eurotech’s Everyware Software Framework on an intelligent gateway we can publish data from any type of sensor, device or actuator to our cloud broker within Everyware Cloud and enable any type of application to subscribe to the data. This model provides a truly versatile platform, that is essentially an operating system for the IoT.

New opportunity for FM

IoT has wide potential applicability within the Facilities Management and Maintenance industry, as it enables us to build infrastructures where systems and devices work collaboratively and to explore and exploit new relationships between building usage, utility consumption (water, energy etc.), environmental control and service requirements, whilst also offering a range of pre-qualified, ready to use hardware platforms which can simply be deployed in building edge applications.

Knowledge based decisions

Within facilities management, functions such as monitoring, sensing and metering have been labour intensive and are traditionally carried out in isolation by different departments within an organisation for different purposes: maintenance, operational cost reduction and billing for example. The IoT presents the industry with the opportunity to combine all data from the different functions into one cloud platform and share it between different departments, which have previously not had access to the full range of information available. The IoT infrastructure, working with existing communication methods provides a new range of opportunities for benefits across the whole organisation such as preventive maintenance, automation, remote upgrade, customer experience and service optimisation as well as of the potential for further services and business models that may only become apparent once these IoT platforms are implemented.

Think for example about smart metering. Once the communication infrastructure and a meter are in place, the meter becomes much more than a billing tool: it is now a platform for other services such as time-of-use tariffs and demand reponse measures and could even be the enabler for smart appliances. In fact, in the USA smart meters mapped out the path of the recent storm for the utility company, when each meter sent a final ‘power off’ message: they could literally watch the lights going out – powerful stuff!

Monitor, Manage, Maintain

Continuous condition monitoring of an asset can provide obvious benefits, such as spotting trends or symptoms which indicate the start of a problem, give advance warning of catastrophic failure and potentially enable the supplier to fix the problem without loss of service. In addition condition-based preventive maintenance allows operators to attend to equipment less frequently and at a convenient time.

However a  major obstacle to this model is in the diversity and volume of assets that need to be monitored, such as heating and air conditioning systems, electricity supplies, elevators and appliances, such as refrigerators, to name but a few. This diversity has historically meant that either no monitoring system is available, or a system dedicated to monitoring a single function is deployed, without any consideration of the wider use of the data it produces.

For example, if data could be compiled about a specific supplier part from multiple operators and a variety of service conditions, it would provide better reliability data which can then be used by operators in the selection of components, service engineers for repair and maintenance and also to manufacturers to enable continuous improvement and even appropriate warranty contracts.

Live data, system automation

If real-time live data from sensors is provided and analysed, it is possible to derive key information, make decisions and control systems in real time. These kinds of applications are not new, but the applications have historically been within closed systems, for instance environmental control (heating, cooling and lighting) or access control. Utilising an IoT infrastructure that de-couples data consumers from providers, means that decision making can be based on inputs from multiple systems without the need for complicated and expensive integration to be carried out.

For example:
What would it feel like to work in a smart office?
As you approach the front door, a sensor reads your ID tag and opens the door for you. As you walk across the reception area you receive a text informing you which meeting room to go to. The lift doors open as you approach and the lift automatically stops at the correct floor.

The conference room is already lit and at the correct temperature, ready for the start of your meeting. Your conference call is dialled in and the computer has uploaded the correct presentation. When your meeting is finished and everyone has left, the sensors detect the room is empty and the lights and heating system switch off automatically. The door is locked behind you. As you leave the meeting room, you receive a text allocating you a hot desk in the area of the office you have set as your preference. The under desk sensor detects the desk is occupied when you sit down and it is marked as unavailable on the reservation system. The receptionist is informed you are in the office today and which desk you are using so calls and visitors can be directed appropriately.

Optimising services
The benefits of technology adoption are not limited to machine monitoring and control. Taking buildings usage and people flow data also produces benefits both in terms of efficiency savings and enhanced customer experience. For example, monitoring the number of people entering washrooms allows maintenance and service regimes to be based upon actual usage and need rather than a fixed timetable.

This enables responsive cleaning and replenishment with more servicing at peak usage times and reduces unnecessary service visits when there is lower usage, producing savings both in manpower and consumable use. This in turn produces a better customer experience.  A picture of peak usage can also be built up to enable facilities managers to predict when to deploy staff and when facilities can be closed for repair without inconveniencing customers.

Monitoring entry to unmanned buildings is useful not only from a security standpoint, but also in terms of the manpower planning perspective, while  environmental monitoring around public or large works sites provides both a useful check for pollution control, and potential revenue streams in terms of wider data reuse.

The Real Take Home Point
Above we have examined some examples of challenges that can be solved using IoT infrastructure and there are many other areas in Premises Management, Smart Buildings, Asset Control and Monitoring which could provide business benefit, either as efficiency savings or new revenue streams. Historically it has been difficult to make a business case because of the volume cost of monitoring solutions and data management infrastructure, and the project based or single department funding.

However, the emerging technologies behind the Internet of Things revolution provides the option to utilise common infrastructure and middleware, sharing the total cost over a range of systems and departments, across the business as a whole. This reduces the average cost of infrastructure and enables monitoring of multiple assets that would be uneconomic with a single usage system. The economic advantage is multiplied when the benefit from sharing data across systems and departments is factored in. Shared data will enable users to investigate new dependencies between different operational areas and optimise the business over the entire ecosystem of customer support, suppliers, maintenance, logistics and regulation.

Eurotech believes the adoption of architectures based upon M2M and IoT integration platforms like its Everyware Cloud, and smart, multiservice gateways such as the ReliaGATE range, is a fundamental precursor to the implementation of the systems that will release the full potential of the Internet of Things vision within the extremely competitive Facilities Management and Maintenance market.

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