Paul McCarthy, CTO at Service Works Global (SWG) explores the seven steps to creating a smart building.

Creating a smart building is a transformative journey that requires careful planning and implementation. With the right approach and tools, organisations can achieve remarkable results in terms of sustainability, cost savings, efficiency, and service levels.

However, many people can find the journey towards a smart building a daunting one. There are many approaches that can be taken depending on a range of circumstances, including the size of the estate, budgets and organisational objectives.

Our advice is to set clear and measurable objectives and to start small, and once the first project has been assessed you’ll have more insight and confidence for the next stage.

I noted that every organisation is different, but there are generally seven essential steps that form a sound process for creating a smart building.

1. Selecting the right CAFM software

The foundation of a smart building lies in Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM) software. This technology empowers facility managers to plan, execute, and monitor various activities, including maintenance, space optimisation, and customer services. By integrating a CAFM system with other technologies, like Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins, organisations can unlock numerous benefits in facilities management and operations. Investing in robust CAFM software is a logical first step towards creating a smart building.

2. Digitising

To make a building "BIM-ready," digitisation is crucial. Even in older buildings, advancements in laser-scanning technology make it quick and cost-effective to capture accurate data and create a digital replica – this is often called retro-BIM. We recently completed this process for the Nordic Museum in Sweden, and as a result it now has an accurate up-to-date model which helps with maintenance and restoration work.

The more features that are scanned, the more complete the BIM model becomes, enabling effective building management.

3. BIM handover

For new buildings constructed using BIM, the BIM model should be handed over during the transition from construction to operation. This accurate digital representation of the building, its components, and assets provides a foundation for realising real operational benefits.

The BIM handover was a crucial stage in our work with the University of Worcester when we supported with a project to transform the former Worcester News building – a large two and three storey building constructed in 1965 – into a first-class centre for the education of health professionals. The University intends to use its new BIM standards to define all projects going forward and now has a fully operational CAFM system.

4. Integrating BIM and CAFM

The integration of BIM and CAFM is where the true potential of smart buildings comes to life. With a digitised building and rich data points, organisations can achieve smart information management. BIM acts as a process that supports optimised data management throughout the building's lifecycle, enabling operational objectives such as user experience, cost efficiency, and sustainability.

Following integration, facility managers can more easily monitor and maintain assets, schedule renovation work, store warranties and other important documentation, assess non-visible assets and systems, train new staff, and reduce disruption from maintenance work. All of this creates a ‘golden thread’ of digital information - an ever-updating encyclopaedia that informs many of the most important decisions FM managers must make on a daily basis.

5. Real-time data

The next step in the smart building journey is harnessing real-time data. By installing IoT-enabled sensors across key building assets, organisations can extract real-time information on various performance metrics. This data can include room occupancy, air quality, temperature, energy usage, and more. The integration of real-time data with CAFM and BIM operations provides a holistic view of building performance, enabling strategic facility management decisions. Developing these capabilities doesn’t have to break the bank or appear out of reach. Start small in areas that are most important to your building and expand from there.

6. An ecosystem of technologies

At this stage, organisations operate within an ecosystem of technologies that work together to deliver data-driven building management. This ecosystem optimises building performance in terms of user experience, sustainability, and efficiency. With a centralised data approach, actionable information can drive better resource utilisation and enhance the overall user environment.

7. Digital twins

The final, optional, step involves pairing the smart building with a digital twin—a virtual replica of the physical building and its components. Digital twins allow testing of various scenarios and situations to optimise building performance. By inputting abundant and accurate data, organisations can leverage digital twins to explore "what if" scenarios and inform facility management strategies effectively.

How would a building’s cooling system cope with a 10 per cent increase in occupants? What impact would changing a planned maintenance schedule have on downtime and disruption? These are the types of ‘what if’ scenarios which can be tested and used to inform FM strategies.

In summary

Creating a smart building is an achievable and realistic ambition for organisations of all sizes and budgets. By following these seven steps organisations can unlock the full potential of smart buildings. The benefits are numerous, including improved sustainability, cost savings, operational efficiency, and enhanced user experiences. As technology continues to evolve, the journey towards smarter buildings promises a brighter future for facility management.

For more information, download our free white paper on the topic.