Too many modern buildings are born old. Planned with the smartest intentions but arrive obsolete on completion. This reality points to a problem-of-process that gives many buildings a handicap from birth, condemning them to a short life where they can never reach their potential value. If we are ever to realize our broad smart building ambitions, we must recognize the issues caused by legacy practices in our rapidly evolving technology landscape.
“Most smart building projects lose sight of their value because both priority and emphasis is being placed on the building’s utility (fit for use) and have not necessarily weighed the importance of its warranty (fit for purpose),” says Remo Di Fronzo is Director of Smart Buildings at ThoughtWire (or as we've said at Memoori for years, too much focus on 'Output not Outcomes'). “In other words, significant energy is being spent on functional features much too early in the project asking the customer to define value long before utility of the space can be recognized, or perhaps without engaging the voice of the customer.”
That “utility” is important, of course, but we have moved passed that basic building era and on to a new era that derives value from focusing directly on the occupant experience. Fit-for-use is an obvious minimum standard but there is so much more the building can do if it is designed with the current and future technology landscape in mind, as well as with the input of all stakeholders. Only with those diverse inputs during the design phase can a building hope to be fit-for-purpose.
“A smart building is designed around its occupants. It uses technology to deliver useful and consistent experiences as well as space and energy efficiencies,” said Mike Brooman, CEO at Vanti, who describes the common procurement process as a series of silos with little involvement from the people who will actually use and operate the building. ”We must begin with the end in mind,” Brooman continued during a Memoori webinar in July.
The reality today is that a large and diverse range of different stakeholders must play their part in specifying and procuring smart building systems in order to create real value that lasts, but legacy market processes for building design and construction make this a challenge. The solution vendors who understand and represent the new generation of technology have limited opportunities to demonstrate the business case and influence the procurement decision. Meaning most projects are unlikely to have the insight, expertise, or time required to significantly influence the specification or overall plan for effective smart systems delivery.
“Cutting-edge technology selected during the design and planning phase of a new building could already be on its 3rd or 4th generation by the time the building approaches practical completion, and budget cycles for the deployment of smart building technologies also rarely align with the major procurement activities associated with wider systems refurbishments,” explains our late-2019 report. “The commonly adopted iterative approach to technology solution development so prevalent in the IT industry also poorly aligns with the long-term planning and fixed design required for other building components.”
Smart buildings can only become mainstream when they consistently deliver their full benefits, but this can only happen when they are specified, procured, and commissioned properly. Sometimes, generic specification criteria can present the opportunity for innovation through a wider range of tender proposals, where tighter specifications tend to lead to more guaranteed results. Each building is different, however, so these specifications are usually too vague, ambiguous and lacking the measurable performance goals to achieve and recognize success.
“Ultimately, whether the project is new build or retrofit, understanding the priorities of key decision-makers, and developing a business case that aligns with their most pressing priorities is fundamental to the effective delivery of smart building systems,” continues our Future Proofing Smart Commercial Buildings. “The business case should “speak the language” of these stakeholders, and include agreed assumptions and tangible shared metrics and KPIs to measure outcomes across the business.”
Those that overlook these critical systems design requirements risk being left with buildings that do not perform as intended, systems that are unable to interconnect and more costly to maintain and can even expose the organization to increased risk of cyber-attack. Where projects fail to account for the delivery of a converged network and standardized communications protocols the client may be left with a mish-mash of multiple overlaid networks, each operating based on different communications standards and protocols, making them extremely challenging to manage, maintain and integrate.
“There is good news. The industry is learning and adapting from previous experiences as more emphasis is being placed upon on a smart building solution’s warranty. Warranty delivers non-functional requirements where the solution must contain all attributes which include security, availability, and capacity,” continues Di Fronzo.
“Warranty emphasizes that all relevant data being generated within the built environment must have the capacity to be connected, can be made continually available, and shares information securely. It demands all data from assets, equipment in IT, OT, and IoT systems are open protocols, always available, secure, and most importantly actionable to drive outcomes.”
The evolution of an industry takes time and the buildings industry is slowly freeing itself from the shackles of legacy practices. However, construction is notoriously slow to embrace change, the established procurement practices are highly risk-averse and too aligned to low-cost approaches. While the market for smart building technologies continues to grow at a healthy rate, the technology also continues to develop and customer expectations continue to rise at an even faster rate. Smart buildings must solve their procurement problem to become truly mainstream.