5 Key Concepts to Prepare for the Next Generation of Buildings

Oct. 14, 2021
The next generation of healthier buildings is upon us. Owners and operators are already leveraging connected building technology and data analysis to monitor and improve performance, but to take advantage of these tools, it’s important to consider these five key concepts.

The next generation of healthier buildings is upon us. Owners and operators are leveraging connected building technology and data analysis to monitor and improve performance in three key areas: 

  • Healthy people, including providing improved indoor air quality, environmental personalization and better security for its occupants, all of which are key contributors to productivity and wellness. 
  • Healthy places, including the development of building systems that use preventive maintenance, integrate controls and offer high levels of automation. 
  • Healthy planet, including meeting an organization’s environmental goals, such as reducing the building’s carbon footprint. 

There are many tools and strategies to achieve health in those areas. Buildings are already alive with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, streams of data, automated operations and other services. Plenty of other capabilities are emerging, too. To take advantage of these tools and achieve the promise of healthy people, healthy places and a healthy planet, it’s important for building owners and operators to consider these five concepts as they develop next-generation buildings. 

[Related: How Technology Saves This Hospital $3.2 Million a Year in Energy Costs]

1. Recognize the Power of Data 

The backbone of any healthy building is the data it produces. Data reveals trends and enables intelligent predictions. By using it properly, building owners and operators can more easily meet business productivity, efficiency and sustainability goals.   

Data on its own is great, but it is even more powerful when it is democratized, allowing any approved application access to it when merited. However, in order for data to be rationalized in a unified way, data normalization must occur. With proper normalization through a centralized operations platform, information from a variety of systems can be collected and analyzed to maximize efficiencies.  

Brick Schema is an ideal data normalization method for as-built environments. Brick is an open-source consortium to standardize semantic descriptions of the physical, logical and virtual assets in buildings and the relationships between them.  

The building itself isn’t the only source of data, though. Data also comes from outside your building systems from other sources such as occupant comfort requests and feedback, current and predicted weather conditions and outside risk assessments. These sources are just as important as the data coming in from your internal systems, so equal priority should be placed on collecting, processing and analyzing this information, too.   

For example, when considering the temperature setpoint that optimizes productivity, sustainable energy options (healthy planet), heating equipment performance (healthy place) and related real-time occupant comfort perception (healthy people) should be normalized together to see the whole picture. 

2. Understand the Value of a Digital Twin 

A digital twin (DT) goes hand-in-hand with a healthy building because it helps users bring information together and see how seemingly different aspects of a building work together. Johnson Controls defines a digital twin as “a connected, digital replica of a physical product, asset or system. Digital twins are used to represent the past and present state of products or systems and then simulate, test and predict future processes by answering ‘what if’ questions.”  

So, with a DT, you can visualize your buildings’ systems in use, refine assumptions with predictive analytics, troubleshoot issues and manage complexities. The DT can also help you understand where your occupants are within the building and how they use its features. However, it’s important to clarify that a DT is more than a digital map of your building; it’s actually a visual display of all the systems in a building which also monitors and predicts those systems’ current and future states.  

How do you get a DT for your building? For new construction projects, the DT brings together the design twin and the operational twin once the building is commissioned and serves as a “digital handoff” from the designer to give the owner a greater understanding of the overall operation. For existing buildings, a DT retrofit can be created to provide modern analytics of data from older systems.  

Looking deeper into the potential of DTs, they offer an improved opportunity to contextualize what previously was displayed only as graphs and dashboards. Forget boring, hard-to-understand graphs and charts; a DT’s 3-D building map can be the backbone of real-time system visualization, providing improved representation of concepts and systems. In short, more than ever before, a DT can give the user a deeper, dimensional awareness of a building and its connected systems, including:  

  • Helping to predict maintenance needs based on previous performance and then grouping those needs by location and directing the maintenance team 
  • Testing new or repaired functions before deployment 
  • Analyzing the effects of seemingly dissimilar items and events on the building and its carbon footprint; examples include seeing how schedules, weather, asset lifecycle and occupant activities all affect one another 

Like your building, the DT is always evolving and easily updated with new components, which make it always relevant and future proof while providing quality information for operators. 

3. See the Link Between Personalization, Safety and Occupant Satisfaction  

A major concern for any building owner or operator is that the building properly serves the occupants. Their satisfaction and health are critical to productivity, meeting business goals, and creating an overall healthy environment that attracts and retains the best talent. There are several ways building owners or operators can serve their occupants, including:  

  • Addressing comfort needs: These are centered around requests for changes in an occupant’s unique environment, such as preferred temperature, sound and lighting levels. Meeting these expectations delivers on occupants’ needs for physical health, which include administering virus- and allergy-control procedures, maintaining ideal temperatures and providing clean air; their needs for mental wellness, which include control of their work area, building a sense of safety and limiting mental distractions; and for easily personalized mobile experiences that occupants can also experience at home or on the go. 
  • Amplifying safety: Real-time safety monitoring and response features include touchless entry via face-recognition, phone as badge or fob-tracking technology, instantly distributed safety alerts, and SOS/duress features that ensure help is on the way quickly when needed. 
  • Supporting interaction: Real-time occupant surveys, sent by email or to a mobile device, allow the operator to make immediate adjustments and allow occupants to find and interact with each other efficiently to foster healthy collaboration. Easy booking of collaboration spaces, finding teammate desks, and calendar synchronization promote further connection and innovation. 
  • Promoting integration: Easily integrated systems can bring together office, facility and productivity functions into one place, providing a single app to access the breadth of a company’s tool investment. A workday app such as OpenBlue Companion from Johnson Controls, for example, provides benefits to occupants no matter where they decide to work via cloud services that are integrated under one platform for easier coordination and analysis into the future of hybrid work. 

[Related: AI Concepts for Security]

4. Gather Occupant Data to Improve Operations  

As occupants interact, the building can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn from their activities and train itself to respond to situations better and use resources more efficiently. This is because monitoring occupant activities allows AI to learn how the space is used in reality, adjusting system settings to accommodate current and future needs, such as meeting room usage.  

For example, AI can monitor equipment and physical space usage, and, once usage meets a certain threshold, AI will schedule maintenance tasks and cleaning orders for times when those assets aren’t in regular use. Over time, AI can predict when the threshold will be met with greater accuracy as the model gets smarter. 

AI can also offer guidance on expenditures that were previously “best guesses” by humans. As another example, using past and present data, AI can advise the cafeteria to order and prepare less food during certain times of the year or days of the week, based on occupancy, weather and other trends, enriching the model with insights from a wide array of sources. 

5. Take Proactive Actions to Reap Rewards  

With a smart, healthy building in operation, you will find that its predictive capabilities will create unprecedented efficiencies that support budgetary, sustainability and safety goals. Savings can be found in: 

  • Making the change from response-based maintenance to predictive maintenance and scheduling: Most maintenance activities are now triggered by vibration- and fault-detection systems as well as use-based analysis. Instead, focus on preventing failure accurately before it occurs and reducing downtime and costly emergency repairs.
  • Improving energy conservation and reducing carbon footprint: This occurs by utilizing systems only when they are needed and only to the appropriate degree. For example, data on occupant feedback requests can help find the threshold where occupant comfort is impacted and where a building might be over- or under-cooled and wasting money. 
  • Utilizing risk-prevention analysis: This kind of analysis addresses security, social and weather threats, allowing for proactive response to these unique events that can have a dramatic impact on a building and a business. End-of-life equipment concerns are also a facet of risk prevention, and occupant risk reporting should be included as well. 

The Path to Next-Generation Buildings 

Access to data and the differentiated ways in which we can make sense of it drives nearly all these concepts. Without that differentiation, data is just extra noise that lacks insights and understanding for those who are consuming it. To that end, the presentation of the data through user-friendly assets— such as customized reports, easy occupant interactions or a digital twin flythrough—is vital to achieve the highest value to building operators and the people they support.  

This treasure of contextualized and normalized information provided by powerful interfaces is what makes the next generation of smart, healthy buildings what they are—structures that respond to the needs of the occupant and the operator.  

By embracing these concepts and their ability to create better work and living spaces, a building operator can meet business goals while delivering on occupant satisfaction alongside sustainability expectations. 

About the Authors:

Rachel Ellerman is the digital solutions product manager for Johnson Controls. Jason Pelski is the cloud platform product lead for Johnson Controls.

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