Infrastructure provides connectivity and connectivity provides the basis of smart buildings, therefore, it is essential to get that infrastructure right from the outset. Upgrading the hard infrastructure of connectivity within a building retrospectively is costly, complex, and highly disruptive so, if the intention is to minimize problems over the entire lifecycle of the facility, then most experts agree that all the key stakeholders must be involved when designing and selecting infrastructural elements.
“The key to planning and installing an efficient intelligent building infrastructure is cooperative design between the end-user, contractor, system designer, and facilities personnel. This means detailed meetings and careful project management between all parties,” says Carol Everett Oliver, principal of CEO Communications. “Planning for a smart building involves more than just connecting the various facilities, systems, and building functions. It involves connecting the systems that need to be integrated.”
Knowing what systems need to be integrated requires us to anticipate how the building will be used, and for that, you must incorporate the users and operators into the design process. Network infrastructure designed for a building with limited or zero influence from the occupants and facilities managers that will actually use the building on a daily basis is far too common and fraught with challenges. According to many experts in the industry, this established divide in the design process of connectivity infrastructure is the single biggest problem with smart buildings.
“There is a significant divide between the design, build, and operate processes. When the buildings are being built there is just not enough engagement, even with BIM that aims to incorporate building lifecycle concepts. There’s just not enough engagement with the user community and the operators in those decision-making processes,” said Mike Hook, Executive Director at LMG, during a recent Memoori webinar. “Consequently, the guys picked up to operate these buildings are forced to manage something they don’t know and they were not involved in creating. That’s the biggest problem with smart buildings.”
Smart buildings may not be that new for those of us in the industry but they are still a relatively unknown entity for most end-users. These occupants understand that smart buildings are rich in technology that is supposed to improve their experience but they all-too-often find themselves struggling to adapt to the way the technology has been set up and without the technical understanding to imagine why it’s like that and how it can be improved. The result is the regular delivery of so-called smart buildings that do not improve the experience of the people who matter most, the people the building was designed for, those that will use it every day.
“Being involved with smart building delivery, the biggest pain-point at the moment is poor end-user understanding of “the art of the possible” and the necessary unification of the MEP world with the technology world at a building’s level, because that’s still not happening enough,” said building technology consultant, Ray D’Urso, during the recent webinar. “I think it is key that the design and operation phases be better joined up. That’s the most important technical gap in my opinion, which must be addressed to trigger the biggest impact on smart buildings.”
Part of the issue is the range of connectivity options available to smart building designers and their desire to select one form of connectivity to fit all user demands. Centralized connectivity architecture benefits from the easier management of active equipment that is all stored in one place but creates huge challenges in adapting that infrastructure for evolving user needs. Decentralized architecture, on the other hand, reduces performance-inhibiting latency issues but creates equipment management challenges for operators, inevitably impacting functionality. More recently, hybrid architectures have emerged to create a flexible middle ground.
“One single connectivity technology cannot meet all of these requirements. Hybrid infrastructures are the latest connectivity trend where smart buildings are developing into digitized environments,” John Corbett, sales director for Northern EU and the Middle East at EnOcean. “These combine media such as fiber or wired Ethernet to transport large amounts of data throughout a whole building or externally. WiFi for exchanging large amounts of data over local areas giving greater flexibility. At the sensor level, with dedicated low power wireless protocols such as EnOcean or Bluetooth to combine very low power consumption with the flexibility of wireless.”
Hybrid connectivity architectures allow designers the flexibility to plan infrastructure for the expected applications within the building, incorporating centralized and decentralized aspects to suit the real use cases. However, without early input from the operators and end-users of the building, designers can add unnecessary complexity, making buildings challenging to operate and frustrating for day-to-day users. Hybrid infrastructure is the answer to connectivity in smart buildings but only when design, build, operate, and use phases are brought together to determine what the building needs and how best to implement it. Only then can we truly achieve the experience-enhancing smart buildings that the technology ecosystem promises.
“Key considerations for network infrastructure planning are the careful selection of the infrastructure components, pathways, spaces, and cable management systems that suit the applications. Pre-planning involves collaborative design, including staying on top of the many resources available and by partnering with industry associations and manufacturers,” says Oliver. “A high-performance cabling system creates an efficient, connected, intelligent building that is able to handle the growing demand for power and data while reducing bandwidth bottlenecks and latency issues, and supports the migration toward future IoT demands.”