Smart Building Technologies Are Enabling a Safer Return to Work

Oct. 11, 2021
IoT and 5G technologies will help building automation systems to optimize performance and to help ensure occupant health. 

Smart facilities that utilize building automation systems and IoT technologies are nothing new, but they’re about to become a lot more popular. In fact, the global smart building market is projected to grow from $67.60 billion in 2021 to $265.37 billion in 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of 21.6%, according to a Fortune Business Insights report.  

The reason for the surge in demand for smart building technologies isn’t simply due to operational efficiencies, however. The pandemic is accelerating the need for facility managers and corporate tenants to offer safe office environments for employees as they return to work, and smart technologies will help enable that process, the report noted.  

Building Controls Key to Safe Return to Work 

Commercial building executives “are expected to utilize smart technologies in managing regular cleaning and sanitization, proper office ventilation, smart entry control, temperature measuring devices [and] space optimization for physical distancing. This is likely to fuel the demand for smart building solutions,” according to Fortune Business Insights.  

Robert Harland, Metasys brand manager at Johnson Controls, agreed and suggested that building controls are essential to making sure that commercial buildings are safely operating as workers return to the office.  

“From ensuring that occupants are breathing clean, fresh air to making sure floors and conference rooms are not exceeding safe occupancy levels, building controls are integral to our return to ‘normal,’” he said.  

Utilizing its proprietary cloud-connected solutions and BAS, Johnson Controls can help to track occupant locations within a facility and to smartly occupy only the required areas. This occupancy information is reported to users on virtual dashboards delivered via a mobile application to help workers make better decisions as they move about their workday, Harland said.

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“The pandemic has really put a microscope on [questions like], how do I control my building better? How do I align these systems that never spoke to each other? And how do I use that in a way to ensure to my employees that they’re coming into a safe environment, that they’re coming back to a space that is paying attention to itself so we know who is in which room, how many people are on which floors, what needs to be cleaned and what doesn’t need to be cleaned,” said Jeremy Witikko, Cisco CTO and global director of smart buildings.  

As a result, Witikko said there’s been an increased interest in data and automation, which has also resulted in labor efficiencies. For example, facility managers don’t need to hire additional staff to clean the building if it can be reconfigured with sensors to keep track of which areas have been occupied and require disinfection.  

“I can use the same—if not less—staff to keep it at a level of cleanliness and safety for the occupants within the building,” he said. 

Better Connected Buildings with 5G 

Building automation systems provide an integrated and secure approach to monitor and control various systems within a building, including HVAC, lighting, security, video surveillance and life safety systems, Harland noted.  

“Monitoring and controlling these systems improves the daily comfort and productivity of tenants while reducing utility usage and lowering the building’s carbon footprint,” he said. “As technologies like 5G become more prevalent, we will see more IoT devices utilizing 5G networks to communicate to both on-premises and cloud-connected BAS” to provide improved experiences for tenants.  

For example, IoT-based indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors can be installed within a building’s existing framework and integrated into the BAS to ensure tenants are breathing clean, filtered air every day when they enter the office, Harland explained. With a few tweaks, the BAS can not only monitor but also control a facility’s IAQ, he added. 

Witikko said Cisco is converging many disparate networks in buildings today onto a single platform to integrate legacy systems like elevator networks and lighting controls, which were historically kept separate.  

“What we’ve done is, we’ve started to converge all of those things into that world, so now it’s a network-driven elevator, it’s an IoT-driven lighting network or HVAC network, and we can keep them safe and separate and distinct with our cybersecurity posture on top of that,” he explained. 

As 5G technology continues to emerge, Harland predicts that BAS will have more cloud-connected interfaces and the faster, more resilient building networks will allow for greater amounts of critical information to be collected from IoT sensors and other smart, connected devices.  

“Cloud-based systems will help analyze the new data and make optimized decisions to drive better outcomes for facility managers and tenants,” he concluded. 

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