How Do Intelligent Buildings Differ from Building Automation Systems?

The emergence of intelligent buildings and data-driven facilities management practices has begun to create some confusion for customers trying to understand how to make investments in their facilities and the systems that help operate them. Many of them are asking the question I already have a building automation system, why do I need an intelligent building? What is the difference?

The confusion surrounding these two concepts is understandable given the number of solutions available on the market today, but it is a misconception that a facility with a traditional building automation system (BAS) or building management system (BMS) can provide the same functionality as an intelligent building. Both an intelligent building and a building with a traditional BAS use software and programming to control the function of facility assets like HVAC, lighting, and security infrastructure, but the capabilities beyond this core function and the value delivered to the owner is different between intelligent buildings and building automation systems.

To assist with articulating the differences between these two concepts, let’s first look at the definition:

Automation (n) – automatically controlled operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices that take the place of human labor.

Intelligence (n) – (1): the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations (2): the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (such as tests).

Building automation systems help a facility owner save energy and optimize performance through things like scheduling, controlling output based on occupancy, and more. However, the capabilities of a traditional BAS stop there. The major difference between a BAS and an intelligent building is the ability for an intelligent building to analyze data from multiple sources. The control of your facility assets becomes ‘intelligent’ through the facility’s ability to learn from that data and change operations accordingly. For owners with a robust BAS in their facilities today, moving to an intelligent building is the next step forward.


Let’s look at a few simple examples of how an intelligent building extends value to an owner:

Lighting Controls

Lighting control systems today can operate by a schedule (i.e., – turn off automatically at 10 pm and turn on automatically at 7 am), change their output based on occupancy or the presence of daylight in the space, and can have their programming changed through a software interface.

In an intelligent building, your facility will analyze occupancy data in each lighting zone and change your programming automatically. For example, if the historical data from one department shows that no one arrives before 8 am, your program will adjust so that the lights remain off until 7:30 am. At 7:30, they will turn on to 20% output and then ramp up to full output on detection of occupancy. Similarly, through a connection to your company’s calendar, the facility can detect events like key customer visits and change the light output in specific departments or throughout the facility automatically before the customer arriving onsite.

Preventative Maintenance & Spare Parts

Most preventative maintenance of key facility assets today is calendar based (performed a specific number of times per year) or event-based (performed as a result of a failure). An intelligent building optimizes preventative maintenance by automatically scheduling maintenance on assets based on things like actual run hours or onboard performance diagnostics in the system. As facility managers use things like variable frequency drives (VFDs) to save energy, they reduce the total run hours on a piece of equipment. An intelligent building will analyze the run hours on that equipment, compare it to your established maintenance intervals, and then add the maintenance activity to a technician’s calendar.

An intelligent building can analyze historical data and adjust the maintenance schedule accordingly. For example, the data in your building could show that a fan coil unit running at 100% output for more than one month requires maintenance activities 30% earlier than normal. For units that meet the criteria, your facility can adjust the maintenance schedule automatically based on its understanding of this historical data.

For spare parts, an intelligent building can analyze the maintenance completed over a historical period, what parts were required for those replacement efforts, and create a recommended spare parts list to be kept on hand. Inventory systems can provide another input to the facility such that if one of the parts scanned out of inventory for use, a replacement part is automatically ordered.

There are countless examples of how an intelligent building can optimize a facility. If a conference room is reserved and no occupancy is detected within 10 minutes of the scheduled meeting time, the facility can unbook the conference room. If there is a failure on a piece of equipment that requires emergency repair, the facility can use wayfinding to locate the closest qualified technician and dispatch them to the repair. The key difference is that an intelligent building uses data-driven insights and analysis; that analysis enables you to make informed decisions about your facility, manage your real estate assets proactively, and provide data-driven reporting to executives and shareholders.