The commercial building industry has been notoriously slow in its adoption of new smart buildings technologies, struggling with a deep-seated inertia that has seen innovation lag other market verticals. Bound by the shackles of long-established practices and the burden of decades-old infrastructure and systems, it remains highly resistant to disruption.
Complex supply chains, entrenched ecosystems, and convoluted design and procurement processes, seemingly set in stone, further deter market disruptors. With a mindset deeply rooted in the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," breaking free from these shackles presents a significant challenge. As part of our recent research into the Building Internet of Things, we'll explore this resistance and propose ways the industry can start to overcome these traditional barriers.
Capital Investment & Risk Aversion
To start, let's consider the significant role of capital investment. Traditional building systems, such as HVAC, lighting, and security systems, represent a considerable sunk cost for building owners and transitioning to smart systems can involve substantial replacement expenditure. This is particularly true for small to medium-sized businesses that might struggle to justify such an expense.
High capital investment and risk aversion form the core of resistance. The very nature of commercial building projects, with their high requirements for capital investment, tends to make investors particularly risk-averse. As such introducing any new technologies to the process that have the potential to increase initial capital outlay or introduce new uncertainties are naturally treated with caution.
Add to this mix the thorny issue of insurance and liability tied to contracts, and we see a compounded aversion to innovation. Stakeholders are often bound by contracts that fail to incentivize bold, creative steps and may even foster apprehension about potential liability issues, unexpected costs, or project delays.
Traditionally, building planning and design processes have also not been conducive to creating efficient, bespoke, integrated smart buildings. To bridge this gap, encouraging collaboration between architects, engineers, and technology providers is essential.
One viable solution to these challenges is for project owners to make concerted efforts to revise specifications to be more innovation focussed, embedding the requirements for smart capabilities into the design and delivery requirements so they are not costed out or excluded during the design and planning phases of project delivery. An integrated design process can lay a solid foundation for the adoption of new technological innovations and overall building efficiency.
Meanwhile, smart building solution providers will also need to make concerted efforts to effectively demonstrate their cyber credentials to assuage concerns about the cyber risk introduced through the inclusion of their technologies into a project.
Next, we must consider the complex lifecycles of smart buildings. Remember that buildings are long-term assets, with the typical life expectancy of a commercial building lasting 40 years or more. The systems installed in these structures often reflect the technology and understanding of the time of their construction, which can create compatibility issues with new smart building technologies.
A significant stumbling block is the skill and awareness gap. The commercial building industry often lacks professionals skilled in emerging technologies, which hampers the adoption of innovative solutions and perpetuates a preference for familiar practices. Coupled with this is a broad lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits of new technologies among industry stakeholders.
This gap in skills and awareness can be narrowed with concerted efforts to cross-educate young professionals in both engineering and IT fields, thereby driving technology adoption.
Legacy Practices & Processes
The industry also grapples with protectionist attitudes, deeply entrenched legacy systems, and time-honoured working practices. These factors create an environment that's challenging for disruptive technologies to penetrate.
For instance, the business model of legacy controls providers, which often seeks to create a technological 'lock-in' for building owners, is in stark contrast with the open, collaborative approaches that have sparked innovation in many other sectors. Overcoming these barriers calls for a bold move towards adopting open standards and promoting interoperability.
As we explored in a recent article, the intricacies of decision-making in this sector can also pose a considerable challenge. Delivery of smart buildings solutions can involve a hugely diverse range of stakeholders: building owners, managers, tenants, engineers, architects, and more. Each has their unique priorities and concerns, creating a multifaceted and sometimes contentious decision-making process.
Breaking Down Silos
Historically, building automation solutions have been dominated by siloed systems with different purposes and stakeholders, such as HVAC, lighting control, and access control systems. A siloed approach, that leverages a multitude of proprietary protocols and individual interfaces not conducive to the development of the kinds of integrated data solutions and systems performance that building stakeholders are demanding, creating a significant gap.
Smart buildings solutions need to integrate these siloed systems and combine them to knock down the silos, allowing for more efficient and data-driven operations. Investing in integration platforms and promoting interoperability can help address this challenge.
As we step into a new phase where building owners desire applications that share a common infrastructure, creating a horizontal architecture, having the basic infrastructure layers in place is key. This architecture spans the devices in the building, the network layer, the independent data layer, and the application layer. Embracing open standards for horizontal architecture can accelerate this change.
Demonstrating the Smart Buildings Case
To facilitate a faster transition to smarter, more resilient, energy-efficient smart buildings, will certainly require improved education and dialogue. It's crucial to demonstrate the tangible benefits and long-term value that smart building solutions can bring.
We must work to dispel the fear of the unknown, provide robust security measures, illustrate tangible returns and improvements to relatable metrics, simplify complexities, and make the technology more accessible to all of the stakeholders involved. This means creating user-friendly, intuitive interfaces and providing clear, jargon-free explanations about what these systems can achieve.
Vendors must go beyond a focus on the latest and greatest technologies, and look more at the outcomes that matter to critical decision-makers. They also need to provide continued support, aiding the journey of building owners and facilities managers through this transition.
This article was written by Owen Kell, Senior IoT Research Associate at Memoori.