Technology evolves quickly but buildings live a long time. That is the fundamental issue the smart building sector needs to address today. If we are to turn our bricks-and-mortar structures into digital environments, then we must develop a futureproof approach to upgrading technology at minimal cost and disruption, and within the long lifespan of a building.
That was the focus of our live and interactive webinar last week. Our expert guests, Mike Hook from building transformation specialists, LMG, and building technology consultant, Ray D’Urso, discussed the lifespan of technologies amidst a rapidly changing landscape of user requirements and how technological evolution is impacting how we design and construct the buildings of tomorrow.
According to Hook and D’Urso, this all starts by developing a robust infrastructure that will stand the test of time. 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 our experts agree that no expense should be spared when designing and selecting infrastructural elements.
“If we were designing a building 20 years ago, we would have used Cat 5 across the structure, ensuring there is cabling wherever you might put a desk. And, if we did that, the infrastructure would still be working today, 20 years on, delivering one key performance at each desk without any new investment,” says D’Urso. “The rest of the infrastructure would probably have been 62.5 fiber, which would have been fine until a couple of years ago. So, we could have been operating one GW horizontally today and then just tinkering with the backbone of an infrastructure that was designed 20 years ago. That's a real reason for getting the initial cabling design right.”
“I think the important thing to say that, it’s best to do it once but do it properly. This is because once you’ve installed it, retrofitting at a later date will be hideously expensive. As much as 10 times the price,” Hook added. “So, buy the best you can afford and install it in the correct way. Doing that should give you a very robust and future-proofed infrastructure, that you can then potentially deploy any active equipment onto it for the next 15 to 20 years.”
With a robust cabling infrastructure in place, that could last 20 years or more, we can significantly futureproof buildings against the most costly and disruptive element of later retrofits. Then, rapidly developing IoT devices, user applications, and data analytics have a strong and flexible foundation to evolve upon. By providing that progressive foundation we facilitate the evolution of smart buildings and by using a cloud-first approach, we can allow that evolution to take place in the digital realm, instead of in the physical floors and ceilings of the buildings themselves. Upgrading edge devices and computing are relatively simple when compared to retrofitting that hard infrastructure.
“The key thing here is we might have 1000s of sensors on-site that must be maintained and monitored properly in order to give us the data we're after. Those edge devices are the simple components and we should push all the complex operating analytics into a smart providers platform with a deliberate roadmap for upgrades. In doing so, we effectively offload the responsibility for the next generation of upgrades to that provider, and all that needs to be baked into those smart [BIoTaaS] contracts,” says Hook.
“In order to extend the lifetime of your systems, you basically need to keep all the edge devices as simple as possible and ensure you’re doing all the complex analytics and upgrades in the back, in the cloud, or in the DataCenter,” Hook continued. “So that's the key message, if you can adopt that kind of cloud-first policy, I would strongly advise you to do so.”
While this all sounds relatively straightforward, we have not really seen it take shape in the smart buildings industry yet. According to Hook and D’Urso during the webinar, this points to a fundamental issue in the way that buildings are designed, built, and operated today. Antiquated business models typically keep these three key phases of the building’s lifecycle separate and, in doing so, we keep operational and user insight away from the design process. Buildings are ultimately designed for the user and managed by the operator, so unless we can bring these stakeholders together we will continue to build non-futureproofed buildings, which is not smart at all.
“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 D’Urso. “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.”
“I agree, 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 Hook. “Consequently, the guys picking 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.”
You can find the full webinar recording and presentation at our Smart Building Series channel on YouTube along with our previous webinars covering the key issues facing smart buildings with leading experts from across the sector. Subscribe to The Smart Building Series for notifications on future webinars and other insightful videos designed for the smart buildings community.