Smart buildings are where construction meets information technology, so when a leading construction firm join forces with a global IT superpower expectations will run high. The recent agreement between PCL Construction and Microsoft promises to fuel joint innovation and development of smart building implementations. “PCL is an early adopter in the smart buildings space,” states PCL chief information officer Mark Bryant, and using Azure gives them a “software platform for the building itself.”
The partnership combines PCL’s vast engineering and construction industry expertise with the technical acumen of Microsoft’s engineering and R&D teams, PCL is leveraging advanced Azure capabilities to develop the next generation of Smart Building solutions. “Smart Building solutions are important to our clients, enabling building operators to gain valuable insights, and it’s an exciting area to be involved in.”
So what can we expect from this smart building marriage?
Increase construction efficiency and safety - Smart technology can begin to offer benefits long before the structure is built. The dynamic construction site has always been a complex and hazardous environment but PCL hopes the addition of IT powered by Microsoft can address this. By tracking workers, inventory, and environmental conditions during the construction phase they can increase efficiency, improve safety, and provide advanced insight into the construction process.
Improve system efficiencies throughout buildings - Smart technology and IT really comes into its own when operational data begins to flow. Building operations are focused on running the building well at the lowest cost possible and by improving IT systems buildings can reduce management, maintenance, and utility costs. By using data collected and analyzed by Microsoft’s advanced systems to learn how the building operates, PCL hopes to create significant improvements and efficiencies - some as simple as automatically turning off the heat in an unused room.
“Owners want to drive down the costs of operating buildings, period. They can do that through heating, cooling, occupancy, all through smart use of data,” explained PCL advanced technology services manager Chris Palmer. “If a conference room on the eighth floor is only being used two hours a day, you could reduce or shut off ventilation, heating and cooling. It’s about building efficiency,” he added.
Increase occupant satisfaction and productivity - At the end of the day, smart technology is all about improving the occupant experience, that is where the true value lies. By using data to personalize and automate the building’s features, be it lighting, heating and cooling, room utilization, or other elements, building-IT partnerships like this are creating a more healthy, comfortable and productive work environment.
“Progressive workplace design is now riding on the wave of the Internet of Things in smart buildings. For example, smart environmental controls are starting to give power to the individual, allowing them to create their ideal environment for maximum productivity at any given time,” explains our comprehensive research report – The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era.
Gain actionable insights and greater control - Intelligent systems never stop learning, which also means they never stop improving. Building owners and tenants selecting construction companies with strong IT links can expect a continuous and increasing return on their investments, throughout the lifecycle of their property. Comprehensive systems like those PCL will be gaining from Microsoft connect usage information from disparate systems and integrate it into a central view for better visibility of inefficiencies and issues, and to achieve perpetual peak optimization.
Make a positive impact on the planet - Buildings make up 40% of all energy consumption, making them central to the environmental movement. Not only does this slow climate change for the benefit of all, it is also increasingly demanded by occupants, tenants and legislation. PCL hope their alliance with Microsoft will drive environmental efficiencies and achieve higher returns by optimizing the use of resources for heating and cooling systems, electricity, water, and other utilities, to reduce energy consumption, costs and environmental impact.
“There’s a greater level of demand for smart buildings,” said Bryant. “We partnered with Microsoft to help enhance what we can do.” The move towards IoT and smart building technology is another rising industry trend he explained. “There’s been a gradual shift in the last couple of years, as well as more use of IoT.”
Bryant equated the gradual rise of smart buildings as analogous to cloud computing’s growth in the early part of this decade. At first, he said, cloud computing was viewed by the construction industry with skepticism but gradually it became a standard tool for document management and other aspects of the job. Now he thinks smart buildings are just at the beginning of that growth curve. “We’re at the first inning or two of making buildings smarter.”
While PCL has not yet implemented Microsoft’s technology into a current project, the company plans to do so soon, Bryant stated. “In the months down the road we’ll be offering it and building owners will probably solicit our services for it on a project or two, which are to be announced.”
PCL and Microsoft are not the only construction-IT partnership out there by any means but the scale of the two companies make their agreement a significant one. Considering all the reasons discussed here, all stakeholders in the building space and across society should hope for a much closer relationship between the construction and IT industries. It is through that relationship that our buildings can become smarter and greener, while their occupants can become healthier and more productive.