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The journey of smart building development began years, even decades, ago but we still don’t agree on what a smart building exactly is. We can’t say what amount of technology, human-centricity, efficiency, connectivity, or user-friendliness makes a building smart. It feels like buildings can’t be smart without technology but too much technology could possibly make a building less smart. While defining “smartness” on outcomes like health and productivity is positive, this emerging science does not yet offer tangible enough results.

Numerous assessment tools and certification programs have been designed and launched to evaluate the Smart Building credentials of specific properties. These initiatives have been led by independent evaluation bodies, corporate entities, industry associations, or regional and national governments. However, none fully serve the market’s need for a credible smart building assessment method, leaving the dream of a widely-accepted smart building standard uncertain.

“While market acceptance and adoption of these emerging standards tools and certification programs is not guaranteed, if successful, the indicator should help raise awareness amongst building owners and occupants of the value behind building automation and electronic monitoring of technical building systems and should give confidence to occupants about the actual savings of those new enhanced functionalities,” explains our latest report: Future Proofing Smart Commercial Buildings.

The report explores the critical issue of future proofing — anticipating future trends to mitigate potential risks — a topic that has risen to prominence in recent years as smart buildings battle to keep up with the pace of technological change.

Technology development works in months and years, while buildings exist for decades and centuries. If we are to bring technological-sustainability to our smart buildings, then we must develop some kind of common agreement on how to define and measure smartness.

“Many of the existing tools and market-practices in use today are focused solely on the construction phase of a building and there is often a lack of information relating to ongoing building performance. There was a widespread consensus amongst our interviewees that the industry needs better best practice guidelines, standards, tools and frameworks to address the challenges of future proofing their buildings,” reads the standards, tools & frameworks section of the comprehensive report.

Consider Building Information Modelling (BIM), for example, a popular method for the planning and construction of buildings to boost productivity in the construction industry. In order to maintain accuracy of the model beyond the construction phase, stringent compliance policies need to be in place to document and reflect any physical or digital modifications made by tenants or contractors. Using BIM to create digital twins will also demand coordination between manufacturers and metadata tagging authorities to maintain vital accuracy across all systems.

Health and wellness-focused standards and certification programs, such as WELL, Fitwel, or RESET, are developing a body of empirical evidence from the scientific community which demonstrates that various environmental factors in our buildings have a direct impact on human performance. Wellness measures have even made their way into established green building certification schemes such as BREEAM and LEED. These metrics are based on an emerging field of science and still fairly immature in the context of standardization and future proofing.

The WiredScore standard tackles the evaluation of digital connectivity in buildings, accompanied by several assessment tools and certification programs. These are designed to evaluate the smart building credentials of a property that has either been launched or are under active development. The IB Index uses qualitative and quantitative performance measures to rate a building’s relative intelligence, while the Honeywell Smart Building Score seeks to remain relevant throughout the entire life cycle of the building by assessing the active components in the real-time operation of a building.

Other assessment tools assess the smart readiness of a nation’s overall infrastructure to support smart building or smart city development. Some of these initiatives are led by independent evaluation bodies, while others by industry associations or national governments. “National building codes & standards understandably remain focused on building safety and energy efficiency, these also need to be revised and updated to account for the communications and technology requirements that building users demand, and better account for technology innovations & their impacts on the way we live and work,” the new report explains.

While it may seem slow, the complex process of defining, measuring, and standardizing the smart building is happening as standards emerge, concepts mature, and results build trust in stakeholders. A 2016 survey showed that 38% of the investors and lenders will consider offering preferential loan terms to developers for smart building projects in the future.

Energy efficiency and environmental metrics emerged early in the smart building journey, now they light the way forward for other measures to catch-up. It will take all these programs together to reach the ultimate goal of a credible, market-accepted, Smart Building Standard.

“To date, our assessment is that these evaluation programs have yet to gain a significant degree of traction in the market, in part due to a lack of consensus of which metrics can be used to objectively measure the relative ‘smartness’ of a building,” our report continues. “They are far less prominent in the minds of potential customers than equivalent sustainability certification programs, the impact of smart building investments on valuation models is much less pronounced than equivalent energy efficiency or sustainability investments.”