We’ve all worked on projects that want one… a Single Pane of Glass. Apparently, having one place to access all systems is the panacea of smart buildings. They’re supposed to be sleek, streamlined interfaces that bring together various systems – be that heating and cooling to security and lighting – into one, easy-to-use dashboard. It's akin to having the ultimate controller for your building. However, as many in our industry (myself included) have found, this concept often morphs into what I'd cheekily call a 'single pain in the ass’.

Firstly, there’s the complexity. The idea of a single pane of glass is predicated on the notion that one interface can cater to all the diverse needs of a building’s systems. However, this is akin to expecting a Swiss Army knife to replace a full set of specialised tools. Buildings, especially smart ones, are complex beasts. The one-size-fits-all approach often results in a tool that is a master of none, leaving facility managers yearning for their old, specialised tools. The fact that all buildings are different means that the hope to standardise and productise leaves many with the need to build bespoke integrations and workarounds. Standardised interfaces may lack the flexibility to accommodate these nuances, leading to a square peg, round hole scenario.

Integrating disparate systems under one umbrella is a bit like hosting a dinner party for guests who speak different languages. Sure, they're all there for the same purpose (dining or, in this case, building management), but getting them to communicate effectively is a Herculean task. This integration often leads to compatibility issues, bespoke builds, updated integration methods without any notice, and a whole lot of headaches.

A single interface can lead to an overwhelming amount of information. It's like trying to drink from a fire hose – you get more than you bargained for, and not necessarily in a manageable way. The challenge is not just in displaying the data but in making it understandable, automatable and actionable. Without proper analytics (or dare I say it… AI), the data becomes noise rather than valuable insights.

So, what's the solution? The key lies in striking a balance between integration and specialisation. We need systems that talk to each other but also respect the complexities of each domain. This calls for a hybrid approach – a bespoke combination of specialised tools that are integrated thoughtfully, keeping the user at the heart of the design. The latest thinking across leaders in PropTech is how to adopt the tried and tested methods from IT professionals. Thinking about individual systems as a microservices architecture. That’s nerd for having small applications that are really good at their domain and then having a lightweight integration that allows you stitch your customised overall solution together with standardised and best-in-class capability under the hood.

I don’t think we’re there yet, as an industry, in our thinking on this. As more and more corporates dip their toe into smart buildings, there’s an increasing demand to align with the IT department who are demanding a level of maturity in systems design that construction hasn’t yet called for. Scale is what is needed for success now, and this approach feels like a strong one to really get smart buildings to stick.

In Dr Marson’s monthly column, he’ll be chronicling his thoughts and opinions on the latest developments, trends, and challenges in the Smart Buildings industry and the wider world of construction. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, you're sure to find something of interest here.

Something to share? Contact the author: column@matthewmarson.com

About the author:

Matthew Marson is an experienced leader, working at the intersection of technology, sustainability, and the built environment. He was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering as Young Engineer of the Year for his contributions to the global Smart Buildings industry. Having worked on some of the world’s leading smart buildings and cities projects, Matthew is a keynote speaker at international industry events related to emerging technology, net zero design and lessons from projects. He was an author in the Encyclopaedia of Sustainable Technologies and a published writer in a variety of journals, earning a doctorate in Smart Buildings.