Ceri Williams, enterprise architect at Cisco looks at changes in the smart buildings industry.

A quick scan of Smart...anything content on web channels, conferences and product/service vendor sites suggests that the industry is relatively immature. Why? – because it is all about technology. It’s all about technology that assumes there is a ‘problem’ experienced by the building owner/occupier/developer that has a technology ‘solution’. The literature exclusively focuses on technology architecture, making the assumption that defining and deploying the technological solution solves the ‘problem’.

While this is how technology-intensive disruption is initiated, it is not how industries develop into maturity. Technology development presents some difficult, but ultimately tangible problems. Non-technical challenges present ‘wicked’ problems [see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... ]. Maturity is achieved through focus on non-technical issues and developing the capabilities and capacity to deal with Wicked Problems.

This article recognises that Smart-Intelligent Building technologies and examples have been around for quite a while (strictly speaking, 30 years+) in one form or another. It proposes that if discourse can now shift from technology to a set of non-technological challenges, the whole Smart Building life-cycle from concept to retirement can be better understood and exploited.

Non-technical ‘Wicked’ areas that urgently need attending to are, at the very least:

  • Requirements and Design
  • Governance, Systems & Service Integration
  • Supply Marketplace & Behaviours
  • Acquisition, Procurement, Sourcing & Service Provision
  • Balancing User Experience and Building Management & Control
  • Future-proofing & Flexibility
  • Multi-tenant implications

This article drills into Requirements & Design and Governance, Systems Integration, Service Integration & Management – the rest can wait for now.

Requirements and Design

Requirements and Design concerns the process of defining the requirements for and designing a new building or refurbishment that is inclusive of digital infrastructure and the effect that digital capability has on space design and use. This involves aggregating requirements across multiple diverse stakeholder groups, prioritising and trading them off to create ‘Actionable Demand’ – i.e. requirements that are matched by pooled budgets from a variety of stakeholders and beneficiaries.

The ability to effectively represent multiple stakeholder groups (including building Users of all types, owners, occupiers, tenants, operators etc) even to ‘simply’ design a building is a major challenge and always has been. Add digital capability into the mix and this challenge becomes even more complex, crashing the digital and built environment worlds together – and they are, truly, different worlds. If the industry is to mature beyond just the use of digital capability for HVAC and M&E control systems, these worlds have to be integrated. Hybrid buildings can only be shaped by hybrid design teams and hybrid collaborations between commercial organisations with complementary capabilities.

At any RIBA Plan of Work Stage, it is normal for context changes, omissions and reality checks to drive an iterative revisiting of earlier Stages. Digital is not spared and is just as subject to this disruption – compounded by the way in which a technology transition may take place before practical completion. It is also one of the first casualties of so-called ‘Value Engineering’ (aka Cost-Cutting) along with anything that requires investment to reduce operational costs – future OpEx increased to reduce imminent CapEx. Avoiding both these effects requires a multi-disciplinary, inclusive collaborative effort to understand and track the dependence between digital capability, space design and building operations.

In a nutshell, we are considering here what it takes to become an informed & intelligent Client. This capability will be a composite of buyer, user, operator, facilitator, consultant and supplier capabilities. Injecting the implications of digital capability into this composite can be accelerated through the use of design patterns and Use cases for hybrid (i.e. digital + built) spaces in the same way that Architects regularly based building design choices on existing patterns.

However, patterns have a Jeckyll and Hyde personality. They are very useful for accelerating design, checking that all things have been considered and embodying good practice to make it repeatable. The Smart Building industry needs to quickly create new hybrid & blended design patterns and replace existing non-digital patterns that perpetuate old practices.

The good news is that the Architecture industry is well used to doing this in relation to building materials development and steadily reducing energy use targets and carbon footprints. Now it must follow the same process for digitally-enabled spaces and digitally-managed buildings. RIBA is working on a Smart Building overlay to its Plan of Work – this captures key process highlights, checks and balances, but it will be up to the Architects in collaboration with digital capability providers to develop the patterns.

Governance, Systems & Service Integration

If they mention it at all, Smart Building technology vendors typically understate the critical significance of Systems Integration to success of a Smart Building. Systems Integration service providers in turn typically understate the significance of multi-system Architecture to the success of systems integration.

So, how can a procuring organisation (‘Client’ in RIBA PoW terminology) effectively manage the acquisition and coherence of what is now a complex, composite, multi-component, integrated engineering ‘object’ whose use and successful operation (and ultimately, delivery of its commercial and design objectives) depends critically on the dynamic interaction between static (i.e. building) and dynamic (digital) elements?

Smart Buildings offer significant opportunity for enhanced User experience, sustainability and long term building value – but this comes at a significant ‘cost’. ‘Cost’ in this case refers not to money, but to the enhanced design, build and operate capabilities needed to manage the building life-cycle from concept to retirement. ‘Capabilities’ in this case meaing people, skills, process, method, information & knowledge.

Only the Client organisations have the motivation, means and opportunity to ensure coherence of the Smart Building design over time (i.e. its life-cycle) and space (i.e. Spatial and Technological coherence). Smart Buildings are bringing a new meaning and focus on RIBA Stage 3 – Spatial Co-ordination however Stage 3 is only as good as the foundations laid in Stages 0 to 2. Only the Client organisations can realistically establish the governance, systems and service integration frameworks to manage tradeoffs between the digital and built environment and ensure coherence and manage the dependencies between them. This same governance capability can then be used to manage coherence across the digital estate.

Fortunately, a mature sibling discipline has been at work for over thirty years that can provide this degree of coherence – Enterprise Architecture. The typical Smart Building is of a scale and longevity that it can reasonably treated as an ‘Enterprise’. Enterprise Architecture comes with a heritage of methodical and systematic, model-based design that aligns well with Architecture and Engineering.

Of course, specialist capabilities will always be sourced from the marketplace. The point here is that it is only the procuring and owning organisation that is in a position to ensure that these specialist capabilities are required to work well with each other within the context of a coherent framework. For this reason, the current concept of ‘Master Systems Integrator’ is flawed.

Scratching the surface of the concept of ‘Master’ we find re-framed software development organisations developing new and API-based interfaces between a subset of Smart Building digital components. Only the procurer and owner can feasibly be the ‘Master’ – they can expect to be the ‘Uber’ integrator of several Systems Integrators. A Client-side Enterprise Architecture capability can provide the design context within which to effectively manage the integration challenge.

If you’d be interested in sharing stories and collaborating to seed and develop best practice in these areas, please get in touch with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ce... or ceri@designITin.co.uk.