A Smart Transformation for the Building Industry

  • by Bob Snyder
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  • 2020-01-30 20:58:03
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  • International
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  • 1739

What’s the difference between someone being smart and a skilled professional pointing out the obvious?

Suppose someone describes your work colleague is smart. Would you immediately know their IQ? Would that person be smart about life as well as work? Would it be more about college smarts or “street smarts?”  Or about a high degree of emotional intelligence?

This is similar to our problem in talking about smart buildings: a building can be smart in many ways. It can be very smart in only one aspect (for example, energy), or intelligent only on the outside (parking, access, lighting and more) but less so on the inside.

The history of building technology is the history of aggregating various specialties, lining up the proverbial “silos” so they contribute to the general attractiveness and return-on-investment of a building. Heating and air conditioning, electricity, fire and safety, public address and emergency warning, elevator, lighting… all these and more were technological fiefdoms working in parallel to one another despite their proximity in situ.

Along came the computer and the intelligent building was born—but in these early days, IT was really just another silo, adding a data and voice silo into a building of many silos.

With the advent of internet and IP technologies, the digital transformation entered the building industry with the same potential used to transform other industries such as music, photo, audio, and publishing.

“Smart building” grew from the idea we could unite all the building functions under a single control with IP as an enabler. To a building owner or manager, a single dashboard became the Holy Grail. It proved a harder, longer process than we thought—and in general buildings have become smarter not as a whole, but in parts. What you see now is a range of different types of smart buildings, as not all the silos joined the IP “chain of command” at the same time—and not all owners invested in the same tech at the same time.

Just as we are reaching our dream in building control, we now face the additional impact of technologies such as Internet-of-Things, 5G mobile communications, edge computing, Big Data, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

Both inside and outside “the built environment” the smart building will grow smarter, much smarter.  If smart building itself was an actual building, you might say we’re still building the ground floor. It’s the beginning of smart buildings, which we describe more as an on-going journey than a destination.

For example, the Internet-of-Things will allow us a new layer of intelligence, where the smart info can be interpreted at the edge of the IP network (instead of relying on a central brain, info can be processed at the fingertips or toes). While 5G will enable us to share both data and results with impressive speed and bandwidth, the massive data about all aspects of the building we will capture will be too much for us to process without the analytics of Big Data software.

Augmented reality may help us to turn that data into predictable info we can operate with. And artificial intelligence will allow the maximum amount of building automation, a new era of real-time control that will make smart homes and smart buildings more comfortable, safer, more sustainable, and less expensive to operate.

Ironically, our drive to give buildings a better brain has also led to introspection, to ask ourselves more questions about how we use buildings and how we should improve the occupant experience.

Our rooms inside the building are already transforming into smart workplaces and smart homes with connected environments-- aware of their occupants, bringing personalized experiences, with benefits of increased productivity, more collaboration (even remotely) and additional creativity.

As we move to the future, many vendors will try to re-frame “smart building” to their own commercial advantage. You may hear of “hyperintelligent buildings” (or even some who want to reintroduce “intelligent buildings” that history shows “smart” superseded).

Yet it all describes a digital transformation for the building industry that suggests we are not content with being smart and smarter: we want to reach genius level, no matter how many floors above ground floor we must build.


Bob Snyder is Content Chairman of the annual pan-European SMART BUILDING CONFERENCE at ISE 2020 in Amsterdam on Feb. 10th and SMART WORKPLACE on Feb. 11th.

 smart building
 smart workplace
 intelligent building
 smart home

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  • Bob Snyder

    Content Chairman


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