Turning an existing building into a smart one requires more than a simple upgrade of systems. It requires significant planning and design. From my 20-plus years of designing, programming, integrating, and supporting building technologies, I have found that stakeholders wanting to add intelligence to their projects should ask the following five questions.
1. Why does the building need to integrate new technologies?
Always start with the why. Many clients are caught off guard when we ask, “Why do you want to integrate these systems?” Use cases are important because integration for the sake of integration is a waste of time and may not produce anything valuable.
One reason for needing concise and consistent building operational data is ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting, for which owners need to demonstrate a safe, healthy, and compliant building environment for tenants, insurance carriers, investors, regulators, and certification organizations.
Another potential use case is portfolio management. Building owners and facilities managers may want to streamline operations across multiple geographies and building types to ensure proactive management and real-time data utilization.
Owners should also know why specific systems should connect and the value of data-sharing across systems.
Integration for the sake of integration is a waste of time.
2. Will integrating smart technologies be part of a building’s full, gut renovation, or is the integration the only scope of the renovation?
The project scope will affect how owners engage with their MEP, construction, or facility management team members, as well as steer discussions around project funding. Are existing service providers engaged and cooperating? Multiple vendors may be under contract to monitor, maintain, and upgrade the existing building management system, meters, and lighting. If not, a master systems integrator can assist in evaluating local service providers and ensuring their services align with the integration strategy.
3. What needs to change in the building, and what will integrating smart technologies affect the most?
Answering these questions requires an understanding of what systems are currently in place and what is—and is not—working. Responses might mention the equipment, network, and relationships with vendors and contractors that are limiting the building’s potential; or internal processes needing revision or improvement.
Because conversations around integration efforts often begin when owners become interested in leveraging system and equipment data to effect change, more questions may follow:
- How will an integrated system affect vendor service contracts?
- What opportunities are available for increasing efficiencies in operations and maintenance?
- How can the data provide value to real estate teams, tenants, and other stakeholders?
4. How will project success be measured?
A smart building is inherently a living, breathing, and evolving entity. As the people and the objects inside the building change, the systems and equipment integrated within the facility will change. As a result, the initial plan may change. Stakeholders should continually look back and ask, “Are we still getting the expected value out of the technology as when it was first installed?” If not, the building owner and integration team need to collaborate and decide what should be changed or adjusted.
Sometimes new standards, regulatory issues, or ESG requirements will change the operation strategy for the smart systems. The built environment will also change. Building operators must assess whether they are equipped to accommodate new changes or adjust accordingly. Having specific target goals to compare against the data and analytical reporting from integrated systems will inform these discussions.
Stakeholders should continually look back and ask, “Are we still getting the expected value out of the technology as when it was first installed?”
5. What is the overall portfolio strategy?
An owner’s portfolio strategy has a tremendous impact on the decisions of which systems should be integrated and how to integrate them. It aligns stakeholders and defines value and return on investment (ROI) before any projects are executed.
Large real estate portfolios can comprise buildings of different types and uses, and owners may have different goals and intentions for each. Understanding the value of each building will help determine which properties become part of the integrated, smart building portfolio.
Smart building consultants and master system integrators can help owners determine what data from each building is needed to meet that portfolio use case. This will inform which systems are to be integrated. Investigating each system’s current state will help drive choices for projects that then drive real value to the portfolio strategy.
Asking the five questions above will help owners plan and prepare for integrating smart building technologies with intention and clear expectations. The result will be clear, delivered value and a definable ROI.
Based in Milford, Conn., Matt White is vice president of building solutions and a Master Systems Integrator at Buildings IOT, which helps building owners and managers set and achieve their goals at any phase of a smart building implementation.