Connecting building systems and equipment through the Internet is not a new phenomenon. It is a capability that has been around for years. But, to reap the true benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) concept in commercial buildings, you must go beyond connectivity.
The more challenging, and important, aspect is identifying and delivering real value to building owners and managers from that connectivity. This is also where the most opportunity lies. The ability to get data from many different types of devices and systems must be followed by the promise of helping building owners and managers use that information to positively impact efficiency, occupant comfort, productivity, and ultimately, their bottom line.
Connectivity is the Beginning
The IoT is a phrase that can mean many different things to many different people. On a basic level, it refers to connecting products and systems in a building that can be integrated and connected to the internet to enable the collection of system-wide data.
With the technology available today, it doesn’t make sense to have disparate management and user interfaces for each building subsystem. Start by formally thinking about the best way to integrate separate building systems—from security, to lighting, to irrigation, to heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
As more devices are connected and appear on networks, more value can be delivered. In many buildings, existing systems can be easily integrated with open protocols, such as BACnet or Modbus. This includes the building automation system (BAS), which is a key component in the ability to bring more value to building owners and managers through integration. A web-enabled BAS is the aggregator of connected devices in a building, offering cloud-based, device-level connectivity.
Consider the example of a commercial building with card reader access. In this type of building, systems can be integrated so that when the first card is swiped in the morning, it activates office lights, security, and HVAC. The space essentially goes from unoccupied to occupied with that one action. This can help save energy and makes the space more responsive when it is occupied.
Because gathering data for the sake of gathering data may not yield particularly intelligent or useful results, it’s also critical to connect building systems to solutions that provide added value to the data being collected.
These intelligent services not only extract the operating data from building equipment and systems, they also use the connection into a building to run advanced analytics in the cloud and access data and systems remotely for advisory services. These solutions help improve occupant comfort and building control, and provide opportunities to save energy and money.
Finding Value in Integration
To uncover the value in integration and connectivity, it’s important to connect building performance with business results. Whatever the chosen key performance indicators may be—from reduced occupant complaints, to improved energy efficiency, to better student test scores—consider how building data can be used to help improve these benchmarks.
In this effort, there is no substitute for having a deep understanding of a customer’s business practices and priorities. The key consideration is how the technology and solutions can be used to benefit a customer’s priorities.
A movie theater chain uses a BAS and IoT to integrate its HVAC system with the system that tracks ticket sales. Based upon the volume of tickets sold for specific showtimes, the system can precondition specific theater spaces to meet certain needs. For example, tickets sales of 20 have vastly different cooling needs than ticket sales of 400 for a showing.
Integrating these systems produces useful information that helps both systems operate based on business needs, which brings value to the bottom line.
A Real-World Example
Consider another real-world example where intelligent services and connectivity helped save energy and meet key goals. The River Trails School District, in Mt. Prospect, IL, had a commitment to become a green school district focused on its environmental impact.
Working in partnership with Trane, the district transformed an existing classroom into a modern science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) lab, which not only provided a dynamic environment for students to explore new technologies, but also turned the school building itself into an instrument for learning.
A custom-built interface in the lab allows students to interact with data obtained from the BAS, including set points, temperature levels, and carbon dioxide parameters. Using the web-based interface, students share information on the lab’s Smart Board, LCD screen, or their computer tablet. Students also use data from rooftop solar panels, a weather station, and the HVAC system, tied in through the BAS, to perform experiments and watch trends in energy consumption.
The upgrades implemented by the district helped increase energy efficiency, provide comfort to enhance learning conditions, and improve environmental literacy. As a result, energy and maintenance costs have been reduced, nearly 20 hours of weekly staff labor have been eliminated, and the district has qualified for nearly $64,000 in rebates. District officials expect to save $500,000 over the course of the project, which was one of their strategic plan objectives.
The district was recognized for its energy conservation efforts with a Green Ribbon Award, the only one awarded in the state that year.
Keys to Success
Following a few best practices can help maximize the value that building owners and managers can get from using the IoT.
- Make it a priority. Even with connected systems and all the data they provide, it can be easy for a building to lose efficiency when it’s not a focus. Consider what is most important in the building: Is it comfort, productivity, efficiency, energy savings, or something else? Make sure there is a clear and unambiguous priority list that is broadly communicated within the organization. This helps align goals and metrics to ensure that IoT efforts aren’t just a fad.
- Look for flexible solutions. Facilities and spaces change often. Look for technologies that allow building owners and managers to be nimble and make changes as necessary. Wireless communication technology in a building is one example of this. Using wireless technology between building systems and devices allows for more flexibility during the life of the building compared to traditional wired systems.
- Partner wisely. Connectivity of building systems can result in a tremendous amount of data and it can be overwhelming to consider how best to use it. A third-party service provider with the expertise to act as a trusted partner in this effort can help drive results; building owners and managers should hold their partners to a high standard of delivering that value.
Capitalize on IoT Opportunities
Continually advancing technologies and building solutions make the IoT an exciting arena. It is opening up new ways for contractors, engineers, and service providers to differentiate themselves and is helping drive improvement and results for building owners.
Buildings produce a lot of data. It’s critical that any IoT actions go beyond simple connectivity to use the data in ways that help drive improvement and positively impact business goals.
As this type of interconnectedness becomes a way of life in everything we do, there is value in this integration for all of us—contractors, manufacturers, and end-users. The true promise is how it will help customers be more productive and how it will make buildings last longer and be more reliable.