Duncan Cooke, business development - security, Stratus Technologies looks at how edge computing will affect building automation

The working world is in a state of flux - and it doesn’t matter what sector, what city or even what job role, things are different. What is clear is that current events are changing the normal way of working, and technology can ease the transition.

What is the new normal?

In the midst of the pandemic, building automation has more to add to the working world. The goal of Smart Buildings is to offer greater efficiency whilst keeping all occupants safe and productive. Covid-19 hasn’t changed this goal, only increased the importance of it. And with Covid-19 comes new challenges for facilities managers. Meeting these challenges requires new practical solutions to ensure the safety of all staff.

With the current state of the world, and financial implications of Covid-19, most facilities managers are having to do more with less and this is where Edge Computing can help. There has been a reduction in frontline personnel and increase in remote working, while those still on-premises are using more technology which is increasingly being deployed at the network edge. Contact tracing and temperature checks are both examples of new building automation technologies that can sit at the edge. Now, with the fundamental well-being and safety of the workforce is being added to their remit, it will be facilities managers who will be able to implement practical solutions to meet the challenges of Covid-19. Adhering to social distancing measures, for example, is a brand-new challenge brought on by the pandemic. So, facilities managers today now need to plan for and comply with many and varied new legal regulations.

What building automation is found at the Edge?

Building Automation Systems (BAS) including traditional Access Control Systems (ACS) and Video Management Software (VMS) are all edge-based frontline systems. It is these systems, already in place in most smart buildings, that facility managers are looking to update to meet the new demands of the changing workplace. Technology at the edge of the network is now serving extended functions with new Covid-19 focused solutions.

BAS will be critical for the data collection and sharing required in the new workplace. The need for greater co-ordination between these systems for health screening, will be much simpler when these new applications are located at the edge of the network.

This does bring into focus the ongoing debate around certification of devices associated with Covid-19 protection. Unfortunately, a consensus hasn’t yet been reached. Let me explain, for example, let’s look at thermal cameras used for temperature checking. They are nothing new but with them now being sold as a health checking system, does this mean they now need to be certified as a medical device? What about the data being collected, does it have to adhere to GDPR / other privacy rules? These are just the tip of the iceberg and the debate has only just started. One thing is for certain, when it comes to managing Covid-19 regulations, new technologies will need to be deployed and edge-based BAS infrastructures are the natural starting point.

To the question “will Edge Computing get staff back to work quicker?” This of course depends on advice and regulations from the Government, but Edge Computing is a sure-fire way to ensure your building automation can support new applications. And the right edge deployment can achieve this without major system redesign or significant additional cost.

What does a smart building with Edge Computing technology look like in the new normal?

It all comes down to data and how it is used. Facilities managers in smart buildings have an abundance of data available to them, and the need for this data to be analysed is continuously growing. A recent report shows that 91% of today’s data is created and processed in a centralised data centre. By 2022 Gartner estimates that 75% of all data will need analysis and action at the edge. Smart thermostats and indoor air quality sensors allow the entire indoor environment to be monitored and managed, delivering a safe and comfortable working environment for all occupants whilst minimising energy usage. Couple this with monitoring and management of HVAC systems and facility managers can identify and rectify potential problems before they become costly issues.

All of these data analytics lend themselves perfectly to increasing efficiency within a smart building. And the addition of other data sources, such as video cameras, can provide a plethora of new data. This detailed insight into building-usage can show footfall counts, tracking information and occupancy density to name just a few examples. Include thermal cameras or sensors onto this infrastructure and you now have a data source that can provide personnel temperature profiles and health checking alerts round the clock.

Facilities managers can use this in-depth knowledge to help building occupants adhere to strict social distancing regulations and other Covid-19 compliance issues.

Where do you start with implementing Edge Computing within smart building automation?

Take some time to look at the bigger picture and plan accordingly. When choosing the Edge Computing deployment partner, look for peace of mind proven by resilient systems. Your chosen platform has to be flexible and have the capability to accommodate changing demands during these uncertain times. An Edge Computing platform should be easy to deploy even without IT specialist knowledge or support, easy to manage and maintain by those on-premises and capable of being left unattended. Self-supporting yet capable of remote connectivity and reporting as operations demand. In three words, your Edge Computing deployment must be simple, secure and autonomous.

The need for smart buildings has been growing over time but that journey has been exponentially accelerated by Covid-19. The pressure and challenges put onto facilities managers has never been greater than in the new normal. Whilst a lot of workers can comfortably ease into working from home, facilities managers are still responsible for the properties they manage whether that business is closed during lockdown, running with reduced operations or keeping business as usual. Facilities managers need to ensure to continuous running of systems, building security, on-site safety and property maintenance. Technology, and Edge Computing especially, will ensure all these elements continue giving facilities managers the confidence to continue operations whilst adhering to all Covid-19 regulations and peace of mind that their smart building is ready for the new normal, no matter how much that changes.