The pressures driving ever-greater IoT adoption in buildings management are cultural, social, regulatory and financial. Employee expectations, rising energy costs, mandates for increased energy efficiency and the corresponding expansion of energy demand-response programmes have pushed many businesses and facilitates to pull the disparate systems and hardware that run their buildings into the wider IoT.

Making a building or facility IoT-ready – connecting previously siloed systems, software, hardware, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and building management systems (BMS) – is undoubtedly a daunting venture. However, it would be wrong to view this trend as purely reactive and reluctant. The potential for savings, innovation and optimisation in an IoT-enabled network are enormous and represents a substantial return on investment which businesses cannot ignore. It is no accident that so many organisations have turned to the IoT to augment their processes, efficiency and energy management capabilities.

The power of IoT – integration and automation

Much of the IoT’s value lies in its ability to integrate the various and complex components and IT systems that comprise any modern building, functioning as a cloud-based network where these myriad devices can communicate and collaborate. Only through cross-system communication is real-time monitoring, optimisation and automation possible. When building systems can ‘talk’ with each other without the need for complex interfaces, the resilience of the infrastructure as a whole is strengthened and provides access to a greater volume of intelligence, as well as a better use of its resources.
Such a system augments an organisation’s pursuit of greater energy efficiency, where the rapid collection of and reaction to massive amounts of information are essential. For example, having IoT devices and sensors integrated with an HVAC system means that organisations can collect real time data on all of their products and services. Here, thousands of sensors are gathering data to be analysed while the system is communicating with the outside world. This will include actionable data from outside of the building itself, such as electricity, utility and commodity prices. Then by understanding and organising this information, the system will enable organisations to take a fresh look at their current practices, generate business change and create efficiencies.
Of course, none of this would be feasible without the IoT’s accommodation of automation. Tools that visualise and report utility bills, monitor assets, detect and diagnose system faults through benchmarking and analysis and enable fixes and optimisation are nothing new, but have previously demanded a considerable amount of human involvement, reducing speed and overall effectiveness. The benefit of an IoT network where devices communicate with each other without the need for human intervention is that adjustments can be made on-the-fly and instantaneously, provided that the right software is in place. By taking advantage of the IoT to better manage the day-to-day running of a building or facility means that an organisation can reallocate its human capital to higher value tasks.

Benefits at work

How then does this benefit an enterprise in practice? There are significant opportunities for greater efficiency, sustainability, and productivity in an IoT-optimised environment. For example, consider an office that is minimally-staffed due to employees suddenly going out to lunch. An occupancy sensor, integrated through the IoT to the BMS, will detect a reduction in the CO2 levels of the office and set off an immediate chain of actions, communicating with the BMS to switch off heating, ventilation and lighting systems and place the environment into a deep setback, low-power mode until the employees return. In the long term, the presence of such a system saves energy and reduces waste, amounting to substantial cost-saving.
The IoT-powered BMS will also enhance the experience and performance of a building’s occupants. There is a clear correlation between an employee’s output and their ‘thermal comfort’ - their physical and psychological reaction to the air temperature of their environment. The IoT’s superior ability to measure and respond to its surroundings, specifically to temperature and air moisture, will actively ensure that employees are at their most comfortable. Healthier and happier staff invariably contribute to increased productivity and higher retention rates, the quiet components of a business’s growth and success.
Finally, cheaper proactive and predictive asset maintenance practices rely on the monitoring capabilities of an IoT system. Equipment maintenance is cheaper and more effective when a building’s devices are communicating with each other. It is more difficult for failures and malfunctions to go unnoticed and unrepaired when a BMS can detect a fault and automatically schedule maintenance, all without human input. This cuts down on the number of equipment failures and instances of costly and unexpected repair work, helping to ensure that maintenance is scheduled for a time that is least disruptive and expensive to the business.
According to research by McKinsey Global, the economic impact of IoT adoption in factories, retail settings, work sites, offices and homes could total as much as $6.3 trillion by 2025. This will take the form of hardware that goes into buildings, advanced and more efficient BMS’, increased productivity on the part of employees, more energy efficiency and less wasteful buildings. Connected, intelligent equipment and systems have proven their ability to provide greater insight into performance and deliver a considerable, measurable return on investment. That which is happening at home, where HVAC, lighting and security systems can be managed from anywhere, is finally headed to transform the commercial space.