How to Operate a Smart Building Like a Pro

By now you’ve read part one of this three part series on smart buildings. You understand how  to reduce the capital costs, simplify how they connect and share data easily with new services and users. In this article, I will explain how you can drive operating efficiencies and cost savings throughout the life cycle of a smart building.


Photo Credit: Cisco Systems Inc.

Many of us are exposed to the consumer side of something called the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).  A Wi-Fi connected thermostat, a bluetooth-enabled lock, an app to open your garage door – there are countless examples of these technologies available to consumers. They allow us to save money on energy, secure our homes, allow a neighbour access to the garage to borrow a tool (can’t help you get it back though!) even when we’re not home – and other individually-tailored examples of connectivity’s benefits.

How does all this translate into commercial real estate? Let’s think of this in different terms.

If you manage a high-performance office building with a converged network to connect and power thousands of devices, a rough guesstimate of devices on a sample floor plate probably looks like this:

  • 10 CCTV cameras
  • 20 access control readers/strikes/locks
  • 40 occupancy sensors
  • 40 light switches
  • 40 variable air volume boxes plus thermostats
  • 200 LED light fixtures
  • 3 utility-grade multicircuit energy meters
  • 1 plant controller for AHUs
  • Additional tenant connected devices

Overcome Data Overload

All these devices are producing a lot of data, just like your consumer wearables or connected thermostat, but there is too much data for one operator to digest in its entirety. Traditionally this has been handled in silos by trending, alarming, and visualizing tools within each system’s control interface. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to compare data across systems when operated this way.

Photo Credit: Cisco Systems Inc.

So, how does the operations team make sense of this torrent of information? Fault detection diagnostics. They aggregate this data and look for problems that traditionally-designed controls may not catch.  Energy savings are an obvious, easily quantifiable benefit. Lawrence Berkeley National Labs estimates that a few FDD rules can save 10% of annual energy use in commercial HVAC systems.

How Operational Efficiency Saves You Money

Better visibility into system performance allows for condition-based maintenance instead of preventative, schedule-based maintenance. For example, many buildings will replace air filters based on a schedule, whether the filter needs to be changed or not. But if the air handling unit sensors indicate the pressure difference across the filter is low (i.e. it is clean!), why replace it?

Alternatively, traditional alarming may only identify if the filter is plugged, whereas an FDD solution may forecast that the filter will be plugged next week based on the rate the filter is soiling.

This type of data allows the operator to focus on maintenance efforts that save the most money (in energy) or impact customers (comfort, air quality or otherwise). A well-published data point from Microsoft’s Campus deployment of FDD showcases savings of $0.30 per square foot in energy, maintenance and operational efficacy. ASHRAE has covered this topic extensively, with examples on how particular rules can drive savings on individual AC components by reducing energy consumption by 1-2.5% and saving thousands of dollars of wasted energy use caused by detectable faults.

Get the Most Out of Your Data with Visualization

Photo Credit: Cisco Systems Inc.

Facility managers manage lighting, HVAC, access control/security, metering/billing, fire and life safety systems. They do so typically through separate “panes of glass” to sort through individual system alarms, settings, dashboards, etc. This means separate logins and no visibility of the building’s performance as a whole. A single pane of glass, also called a Unified User Interface, will allow an operations team to see the relevant information at a glance:

  • Is remote monitoring connected and is any external vendor connected?
  • Is there a space out of temperature tolerance?
  • How does the air quality compare to outdoor levels?
  • How does space energy consumption compare to the baseline?
  • Is the grid stressed and is a demand-control event underway?

Anything amiss in this at-a-glance approach can then be investigated through the specific system interface. All of this data can enable a building to be continuously recommissioned. Sensor drift can be monitored. System faults are then correlated to customer complaints (too-hot, too-cold calls), and so on.

The key to managing efficiencies and cost savings through the life cycle of a smart building is ubiquitous access to data with the ability to  filter the data into actionable, prioritized information.

Unlock Your Building’s Efficiency Potential

The key to unlocking the next level of efficiency in buildings is to start with cost effective access to data, across all systems, then use tools to dig deeper and deeper into the insight that can be extracted from the data. The final step is to build new experiences – and possibly change business models – based on this newfound connectivity.

Check back next week for the final post in this series, where we explore this final step, for both operations staff and users of the space. The future of buildings is not as far off as you might think.

Written by: Andy Schonberger, Business Development – Smart and Connected Real Estate, Cisco Systems Canada

Interest(s): Property Date: June 15, 2016