“BIoT technology penetration for small and medium-sized commercial buildings is well behind the curve in terms of adoption. This situation is largely a consequence of the business models and economic imperatives that have historically driven the building controls market,” our report on the IoT in smart commercial buildings stated. “Although the cost of building controls solutions is steadily declining thanks to the proliferation and falling cost of sensor technology, deployment costs of even the most basic BAS system remain beyond the means of most small businesses.”
The vast majority of buildings are small and dumb, and it is their size that limits their access to smart technology. Smart building is a costly and disruptive long-term strategy, neither an affordable nor a safe investment for a lower-budget office market that’s dominated by shorter leases and a more transient tenant culture. Instead, the smart buildings industry has focused on large commercial real estate projects with the funds and foresight to develop complex smart tech ecosystems to achieve the lofty promises of the “smart buildings vision”. Our approach to large buildings will never translate to small buildings, so we need a simpler and cheaper approach to smart technology even if it doesn’t perfectly fit that utopian smart vision.
“These buildings require a non-traditional approach to BAS, much like we’re seeing in the residential market with smart homes,” says Chris Irwin, J2 Innovations' VP of Sales EMEA and Project Haystack Executive Envoy for Europe. “The development of plug-and-play intelligent devices and software applications that “just works” out-of-the-box to reduce installed cost of controls upgrades will be essential if we are to achieve significant carbon reductions across the vast number of smaller commercial buildings.”
While the smart home market is typically seen as less developed than the smart buildings market, that does not really account for the under-served small commercial buildings segment. While larger commercial buildings take a bespoke approach to comprehensive design and installation of numerous interconnected smart buildings systems, the smart home sells its products on the shelves of stores or online, direct to the consumer to plug-and-play. While there are still interoperability issues between the leading smart home manufacturers, the fact that the devices can be installed by the homeowner opens up the market, and this could create the basis for a better approach to smart tech in small commercial buildings.
“As smart devices continue to proliferate in our personal lives, we can now easily add thermostats, sensors, cameras, and other controls to our homes. This is raising our expectations for the way workplace environments operate,” continues Irwin in an article for MBS. “Innovative products like those being developed for the smart home market are needed to create cost-effective solutions for the segment, except that a more systems-oriented approach is needed since the smart home device market is currently far too fragmented and siloed.”
This mid-market, between the smart home and big commercial buildings, is epitomized by local government buildings, small offices, leisure, retail, and entertainment facilities, as well as gyms, bars, and restaurant premises. Some of these facilities may even be smaller than some larger homes and many will have already adopted smart home devices over smart commercial building equivalents that have been designed and priced for larger scale spaces. However, like larger commercial buildings, small buildings typically require multiple sub-systems for environmental control, lighting, access control, security, and energy management, and other systems in line with regulations, activities, and preferences that we don’t see in the home.
“Managing costs is a significant factor for these businesses yet they currently lack the right resource to easily and centrally manage multiple building sites. A centralized, cloud-based system can drive smarter building operations to meet compliance requirements, energy savings, and market demands,” says Peter Fehl, president of Building Technologies at Honeywell. “Businesses that operate a portfolio of small- and medium-sized locations are facing greater challenges than ever and want to create a comfortable, safer, and healthier environment for their employees and guests.”
One solution to this mid-market conundrum is semantic tagging, a standardized system of metadata that allows smart devices to self-describe the information they generate. This not only makes sense of the data, to bring more value to applications, but also enables configuration wizards to rapidly integrate multiple subsystems into a complete smart building solution. Initiatives like Project Haystack, Brick Schema, and Real Estate Core have the potential to enable this kind of plug-and-play for small commercial buildings but only when manufacturers begin integrating support for these standards into their products.
“Various companies providing IT infrastructure services for larger buildings are already proposing that specifications require that all services equipment to be connected must comply with an open standard for semantic tagging and data-modelling like Project Haystack, so as to simplify the integration process,” concludes Irwin. “Adoption of Haystack by equipment manufacturers would massively help in the mid-market segment, even if only at the level of documenting the data tags required for their specific equipment item since this would make template creation in the management software much easier. This new approach helps software applications to dynamically “learn” smart devices and utilize their data.”
The market for smart technology in small commercial buildings is large, untapped, and under increasing pressure to improve their building efficiency, operational performance, and occupant experience. An entirely new set of products and services built on a plug-and-play semantic tagging approach could emerge to fill the mid-market with small-scale commercial building systems and smart home-style devices for the various mid-market verticals. The long-established market appears ripe for an evolution that will bring green, intelligent, and human-centric benefits to the average building — a.k.a. the vast majority of building stock.