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Joining the march towards smart city connectivity

07 August 2020

With systems providing increased opportunity to interact with other networks, we asked if FMs should be aiming to link their facilities with others in the drive to create smart cities.

Advancements in technology are continuing to both assist and drive changes to all aspects of modern life and these can be seen to be a major factor in all areas of the FM sector.

Regardless of whether companies and individuals are investing in suites of software or using mobile phones and devices, there is a continually expanding number of options for them to consider to improve productivity and service levels.

These are increasingly used in the management of facilities and estates and, as more FMs become aware of the opportunities their systems provide, can be seen to be encouraging considerations for joining with others with the aim of delivering more efficiencies.

When descriptions of the potential of creating smart cities emerged a few years ago, these were widely considered to be conceptual and given minimal attention by many.

However, the growth in both the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and improved connectivity in many areas has provided an ever more convincing case for the potential for the concept to become reality.

Those requiring further evidence of the above are invited to read the recent PFM feature article on the Manchester Triangulum project, as well as reading the comments of industry experts below.

The opening comment on this topic is provided by LMG executive director Mike Hook, who says: “Although there’s no universally accepted definition of what a smart building is, there are a number of competing factions that have developed their own viewpoint.

“Traditionally, FMs have approached smart buildings from an operational technology (OT) perspective and regard smart buildings as an expanded building management system (BMS). Consequently, they often have a largely green- or energy-related agenda when it comes to implementing smart features and initiatives.”

However, smart buildings are increasingly viewed from a more holistic or business perspective, where the OT element is one of many subsystems that sit on the enterprise network along with the other more human and IT interfaces, he continues.

It is this holistic, IT-facilities based approach that will become increasingly common, especially as businesses reassess the role and function of the office following the Covid-19 crisis.

“That said, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. IT & OT will increasingly converge and buildings and businesses will be the better for it. Both elements should at least share a common (IT) network to enable a joined-up approach and to facilitate the capture and analysis of crucial data – this will further fuel the progression of each building’s smart status.

“OT/IT convergence will be a huge step for businesses, as they increasingly look for smart systems to improve health, wellbeing and productivity throughout their estate, whether that be their own buildings or also include co-working spaces.

"Sharing occupancy, well-being and building performance data across cities will undoubtedly have significant business and environmental benefits,” says Mr Hook.

Further thoughts are provided by Comms365 head of IoT and products Nick Sacke, who says that by identifying the right pain points, smart cities have the potential to transition towards a more sustainable, mobile and competitive economy by tackling issues such as congestion, waste management, water usage, power allocation and disaster recovery; all with the aim of promoting efficiency gains and streamlined processes.

Nick Sacke

“Solutions need to offer valuable and actionable insights, and a ‘packaged approach’ to enabling IoT infrastructure and applications quickly,” he continues.

“To be a commercially viable IoT innovation that adds value, organisations will also need expert input and support during the IoT deployment cycle, for example interpreting variances in harvested data from the different city locations.”

This ‘commercial’ approach will encourage both public and private companies to ‘buy-in’ to IoT more meaningfully. For example, a ‘smart’ waste management initiative can deliver commercial benefit to both a council and a retail supermarket chain – both entities can deploy their sensors, rent capacity on the same IoT low power network and take advantage of the opportunity to share key data metrics and ‘learn’ best practices for waste management from each other.

Clearly there needs to be a positive impact to the bottom line and an obvious benefit to both businesses and the city to ensure that projects are investable.

“For smart city initiatives, multiple stakeholders including businesses, governments and individuals must work collaboratively to achieve common goals and benefits.

"This ‘consortium-style’ approach is beneficial for a large scale operation as it will ensure the project is credible, well planned and structured effectively, so that it can deliver the desired outcomes and benefits to citizens,” says Mr Sacke.

Schneider Electric vice president (VP) of Digital Energy Kas Mohammed states that connectivity is fundamental to the creation of smart cities.

Kasim Mohammed

“Connected, digital buildings enable FMs to have a holistic view of operations, providing clear insight into how the building is performing over time and ultimately improving decision making.

"This leads to improved occupancy comfort and operational efficiency, reducing energy waste and emissions.

“The aim for the buildings industry must be to work as efficiently and collaboratively as possible. Connectivity in buildings, estates, and ultimately cities will be vital to creating a more data-driven sector, empowering facility managers to make more informed decisions in their buildings and enable municipal services in our cities to be super-efficient,” says Mr Mohammed.

EnOcean Alliance chairman and chief executive officer Graham Martin says energy harvesting sensors are the “secret ingredient” in reducing the financial impact of reopening offices, schools and other facilities.

“Collecting occupancy data empowers facilities managers to adapt their spaces to the new situation they find themselves in, by cutting costs spent on unoccupied office space and ensuring staff adhere to strict social distancing measures,” he continues.

“For example, occupancy sensors placed in conference rooms, under desks or on chairs provide valuable analytics, which help businesses determine which square footage of office space is already vacant and which could be cut. A further development of this technology is the ‘people counter,’ an intelligent occupancy sensor that has been reprogrammed to not just examine occupancy levels but, using infrared light, to look at how many people are in a space at any given time.”

An alarm sounds if too many are present to ensure that social distancing is adhered to, Mr Martin continues. Smart restrooms help companies achieve the highest standards of hygiene, with sensors on soap dispensers and hand sanitizers to alert when refilling is needed. Door sensors examine how frequently a restroom is used to direct cleaning as necessary.

Graham Martin

“By accurately monitoring the actual usage of these facilities, cleaning teams can be effectively directed to maintain high standards of hygiene in areas that have seen use, without dissipating time and energy cleaning little or unused areas. This should provide peace of mind to FMs and visitors to their spaces,” says Mr Martin.

Additional thoughts on the use of sensors and associated technology are provided by Spotta chief executive officer and co-founder Robert Fryers says linking facilities through technology offers FMs the chance to respond faster to emerging problems.

“Whether that’s smart utility meters that can help detect water leaks or connecting together smart sensors in pest control to help eradicate pests, combining data from multiple properties helps FMs gain a ‘big picture’ perspective. Connecting to other facilities provides local authorities such as housing associations the ability to track the spread of pests across different locations and identify trends in how pests spread.”

Treating pests from bed bugs to rodents can be tricky when dealing with multi-site and multi-room establishments. In a smart city, sensors can help identify pests in their early stages, removing the need for labour-intensive inspections which inconvenience tenants and cost FMs time and money. By sharing this data with nearby properties, FMs can use the connection to reprioritise their action plans.

Smart, tech-connected cities can provide FMs with the ability to detect challenges in any location, from anywhere in the world. It gives FMs the ability to fix problems before they grow into severe infestations or cause significant damage.

“Sensors are able to detect and identify problems, and sharing this knowledge can help identify trends to help FMs enhance their efficiency. Technology offers FMs the ability to test and refine their treatment regimes and other management strategies,” Mr Fryers concludes.

J2 Innovations VP sales and global marketing Chris Irwin says there are many different software applications installed in larger buildings managing the HVAC, lighting, access control and other systems as well as the FM software.

Chris Irwin

“The technology to achieve real-time data sharing between systems is currently only implemented in the minority of projects, even when the benefits are clear. These include the ability of the BMS to report fault conditions to the works order process or for the BMS to identify the asset register codes for items it is connected to,” he continues.

A major reason for not implementing integration is the extra cost. A standardised way to fully describe each asset (its location and what equipment/system it belongs to) is needed.

Project Haystack is the most widely used open standard that offers semantic tagging and data-modelling and its use simplifies the sharing of data between software applications.

With building data available in a standardised way, the sharing of data across facilities becomes easier. To be meaningful effective contextualisation of the data is essential.

Linking buildings will enable the creation of local micro-grids to share any energy generated on-site from renewables or assist with grid balancing by coordinated behaviour of major loads.

“Sharing data on the movement of occupants in and out of the buildings could be useful in implementing public transport strategies.

"The ability to share data creates previously unthought of opportunities and the same will happen by connecting buildings in the smart city of the future - I am wholly convinced that the effort and investment will be well worthwhile,” says Mr Irwin.

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