Smart Buildings and Communicating with Clarity

You see and hear it every day; buildings are opening back up, employees are going back to the office, students back to school, and travelers back to hotels. Building owners and business leaders are promising a safer and healthier building and work environment. The challenge is how do the occupants know what has been improved? And how do building owners share what investments they have implemented to make the building safer and healthier? Communicating to occupants with clarity and transparency is one of the most important roles of a smart building.

Smart buildings contained a lot of data, and that data should be maximized and shared with everybody in the building.  One of the essential smart building objectives today is improving the occupant experience in a healthy environment. As workers head back to the office, occupants need to understand how the building is safer and healthier than before the pandemic, and it should be evident and easily seen. Maybe they are concerned about touching surfaces, so providing a frictionless or touchless experience via their smartphone is a great feature to provide a feeling of safety. A frictionless environment could include touchless elevator control or touchless access for building entry, to pass through the lobby turnstiles, or enter the office area. Occupancy awareness is another area of concern.  Going into a conference room with standing room only is not as popular as it used to be. Knowing that the room occupancy will be at maximum ahead of time will allow attendees to participate in the meeting virtually from their desks. Building occupants are also very interested in how clean the area is – like knowing when a room was last cleaned or when the new high efficiency air filters were changed.

Sustainability is another smart building objective that many owners, developers, and tenants are prioritizing.  Sustainability systems can range from solar arrays, geothermal HVAC, water conservation, recycling, use of smart glass, and providing plenty of electric vehicle charging stations. The quickest and easiest way to reduce a building’s energy footprint is to ensure that only occupied spaces are being conditioned. When nobody is in the room, it should not be heated or cooled, so having a good occupancy awareness system will provide key data to inform the building management systems of where and when space needs to be conditioned. The worst thing you could do is cool or heat a whole building over the weekend or holiday with no one there. We can also use data to provide the intelligence of knowing when a room will be occupied so we can ramp up the HVAC efficiently instead of running it at maximum to catch up for occupied space. Sharing sustainability results with the occupants provides an opportunity for creativity. For example, showing the number of trees saved by recycling, a graphic showing the portion of energy provided by the sun versus the utility company, or overlay occupancy and temperature data on a wayfinding map.

When sharing and displaying building data, occupants must see it at the very first opportunity, such as digital signage in the lobby or on the elevator monitor. Consideration of interactive digital signage via touchscreens will allow occupants to select building categories to learn more about what is most interesting to them. For example, instead of seeing the building’s total occupancy or energy usage, they dive deeper into the data and see the same information by floor and room level. Many buildings have a mobile app that can share real-time and predict building health status enabling occupants to view the information from their homes. Having this level of knowledge while still at home will help them decide if working remotely or going into the office is the best choice for that day.

The brilliance of a smart building originates with its data. The challenge is getting access to the right data, which requires a well-planned digital strategy. It is important to understand that a smart building uses an integrated set of technology, systems, and infrastructure to optimize building performance and occupant experience. The key ingredient to acquiring building data is systems integration such that technology, building systems, and infrastructure are brought together to seamlessly share information securely and efficiently for ease of use and accessibility. Developing a smart building digital strategy can seem complex. However, LEDG has a four-phased process that guides owners through the smart building life cycle implementation.

1. The first phase is to establish a vision for the digital experience, establishing how occupants, tenants, scientists, visitors, operations staff, and the community will interact with technology and how it will enhance their experience.

2. Then we identify the digital assets required to deliver on the vision for the digital experience, including assets like digital signage for data visualization, wayfinding, and stakeholder communication, integrated building systems for mixed-use, lab and manufacturing spaces, mobile applications, electronic safety, surveillance, and security technologies, and more.

3. The next step is to define the technology infrastructure and systems integration requirements needed to provide a reliable and responsive digital experience on the property now and in the future, including communications backhaul, underground pathways, and cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity.

4. The final step is to develop a data intelligence strategy that identifies how data can enhance the digital experience, what data to collect, how it can be analyzed, and how data can be used as a tool to effectively communicate to property stakeholders, operations, and the occupants.

As building owners invest in and implement smart building tools and technology as defined in the smart building strategy, they will have access to all the building data needed to realize the promise to enhance occupant experience and operational efficiency. Knowing how to take advantage of this data and share it in an easy-to-understand manner is the challenge. Converting raw data into something everyone can understand is genuinely an art form, and it does take effort. Understanding who will view and use the information is vital as what is important to them. Providing an engaging and interactive experience can drastically increase the adoption and understanding of building information. Remember, the most crucial role of a smart building is to communicate with clarity and transparency.