A new digital ecosystem – made up of artificial intelligence, billions of connected devices, fast connectivity and huge volumes of data – is transforming the workplace.Imagine a building that understands the working habits of every employee – from where they like to park on arrival at the office to whether they like one lump or two in their coffee.

Imagine no longer. A new digital ecosystem – made up of artificial intelligence, billions of connected devices, fast connectivity and huge volumes of data – is transforming the workplace.

Smart buildings can analyze people movements on a minute-by-minute basis, adjusting comfort controls to ensure the right conditions for peak performance. Sensors can track everything from the quality of the light to the cleanliness of the bathrooms to support seamless services. And monitoring can make best use of a building’s downtime, creating scope for co-working and creative reuse.

In the future, buildings will know what we want before we even know we want it. But as Bill Gates says: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10 years.” For most asset owners, this building nirvana is many years away.

While a handful of high-tech buildings are brainy, the rest are lagging behind the leaders.

The Green Building Council of Australia has estimated that up to 80,000 buildings classified as ‘mid-tier’ are well below par when it comes to simple strategies like energy efficiency. Premium and A-grade buildings now average 4 stars for energy efficiency under the National Built Environment Rating Scheme, or NABERS, but the average mid-tier building boasts just 2.4 stars.

So, forget tomorrow’s smart building. It’s clear the “onramp” to smart is optimizing the asset you have today.

Building the business case

With Australians demanding action on climate change and energy price rises having hit hard on the corporate bottom line, energy efficiency remains the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.

Take the example of a large health group in Australia, which was spending $2 million each year on energy in a single, energy intensive hospital building. After deploying Envizi’s software into the hospital’s existing building management system, we uncovered $60,000 in savings within just eight weeks. At a busy city airport terminal, more than $100,000 in savings were measured and verified within the first 12 months of using Envizi. And at a large commercial office building in the CBD, Envizi’s data analytics helped slash 12 per cent from the energy budget and elevate the building’s NABERS rating from 4 to 4.5 stars.

But building optimization brings with it a host of benefits beyond energy efficiency, as our table below illustrates.

Energy savings and increased asset value are appealing incentives for building owners. But when people are a tenant’s largest cost – amounting to around 90 per cent of operating expenditure – optimizing a building to enhance health, well being and performance of staff are increasingly important business drivers for tenants of commercial real estate.

Integrated real estate firm stok has estimated that high performing buildings enhance occupant productivity, retention and wellness to the tune of AUD $4,800 per employee per year. Lab-based research undertaken by Harvard University has found people working in high-performing buildings perform a staggering 101 percent better on cognitive tests.Participants also reported 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms and higher rates of satisfaction with the quality of the indoor environment. They even reported a better night’s sleep than those operating from business-as-usual buildings.

The study’s principal investigator, Dr Joseph Allen, is a proponent of “buildingomics” – an approach to building optimization that considers all the factors that influence human health, wellbeing and productivity.

Smack bang in the centre of buildingomics is data. And it is this data that will drive future decision-making and smart buildings.

Data drives better decisions

Buildings are expensive living environments with many disconnected systems. By harnessing the power of data and analytics, we can connect these systems to make smarter decisions, match demand with supply and optimize the performance of spaces.

The traditional pathway to assess a building’s performance is a static audit. Enormous amounts of money can be spent assessing the efficiency of just one asset. The building owner gets handed a fat report with a stack of recommendations – but that report is based on one moment in time, and the value is not realized until the recommendations are implemented.

As data analytics become more accessible, we can access real time data feeds from a building to check whether the systems are running at optimal performance. This amounts to an audit every few minutes – and at a fraction of the cost of a static audit. 

We often hear the phrase “big data” bandied about. But even a basic level of data from a building management system can unlock the first tranche of value. 

Comfort issues are identified immediately rather than when building users complain. Notification of faults occur when they are easy to fix, not when a major incident hits. And inefficiencies in equipment can be pinpointed with laser-like accuracy without the need for a service technician to spend significant amounts of time trying to diagnose a fault. More time and money can be spent improving a building’s indoor environment, reducing energy consumption and enhancing tenant satisfaction.

Data analytics delivers dividends

Your building may have all the high-tech bells and whistles but without access to data analytics, how can you tell if it’s performing at its peak?

A large proportion of a building’s operating costs can be influenced by a good data analytics strategy.

So, where can you find the quick wins?

  1. Switch off and save: Data analytics can identify when equipment is being used unnecessarily. The biggest opportunity can be addressed by targeting energy wastage when facilities run on weekends or out of hours. Our work with a large multi-site retail organisation identified over $2 million in energy was being wasted each year – in many cases due to equipment running out of business hours and in some cases, running 24/7, which is effectively pouring money down the drain!
  2. Enhance efficiency: Equipment often operates inefficiently – such as energy-intensive HVAC powering at full throttle even when the conditions are mild. Simple fine-tuning measures can deliver huge savings without a cent of capital expenditure.
  3. Best practice controls: You don’t need to invest in plant upgrades. Improving the performance of HVAC through simple strategies, like free cooling and economy cycles, can reduce the dependence on mechanical systems, delivering immediate reductions in energy use and costs, and reducing wear and tear on expensive plant and equipment.

Of course, optimization activities should be supported by a robust business case that analyses the cost benefit, return on investment and long-term savings.

As we enter the data-driven era, the trend line is pointing in one direction. And the end game is clear: efficient, healthy and sustainable buildings that are worth more. And now that’s smart.

This is the second in a three-part series giving real estate executives and facilities managers the tools to understand how building and equipment performance data can optimize the performance of their buildings.