Facilities managers are constantly facing a struggle to balance costs with safety levels. A facilities management company is a business like any other, and must make a profit; but at the same time, the buildings for which it has responsibility must be kept as safe as possible. At some point on the scale, the need to manage costs becomes incompatible with the need to protect staff and assets.

Smart buildings may have the answer. Safety and security management is undergoing a process of transformation, as smart buildings equipped with IP-enabled safety and security devices provide facilities managers with a raft of new capabilities. These include data collection and analysis, linkage with other in-house systems and consolidated administration.
The integration of smart systems can provide facilities managers with deeper insights, faster situational judgement and reduced administration workloads, which have the dual benefit of an improved health and safety regime and a reduced bottom line.

A new way of working

In this new landscape, facilities managers can increase their efficiency through a combination of innovative products and integration, connecting devices and processes which before were isolated or watched over by a single operator.
For example, if fire detectors across the site are integrated with the latest CCTV technology, operators will be better able to aid the early detection and verification of fires. In the case of false alarms, CCTV cameras can help to aid the early detection and verification of fires by allowing users to view the area to gain a fuller picture of the situation – acting as a secondary investigation strategy. Several buildings’ systems can also be monitored offsite, consolidating administration and reducing outlay.
Managers need to take notice of the possibilities of smart buildings and integrate their systems to get a single view over the movements of people throughout their facilities.

Connected from bottom to top

Let’s consider how such a connected system could work, from entry to exit. First, someone enters the building and walks up to the security gates, where they scan their chipped ID card. The gate scanner then accesses the organisation’s security database and scans for a match. If it finds that the person is an employee or a registered guest, it will open the gates. If not, then it directs them to the front desk to undergo manual identity checks, such as calling their host for confirmation, or requesting a first-time entry pass.
Many companies already have such a system in place. Once the person has made their way through the gates, however, an integrated access system can then retrieve their destination from tenants’ databases and continue to guide them on their route. For example, if the system identifies an employee of an accountancy firm on the fourth floor, it can convey that information to the lift system, identify which lift will be the first to reach that floor and then direct them to it, either with big-screen displays or a smartphone app for regular users. Should the CCTV scan detect a guest, however, the integrated system can also restrict that person to the only lift which will stop on their assigned destination floor - reducing the risk of guests using an appointment with one company to gain unsolicited access to another.
The integration of IoT access control systems can be taken to an even more granular level. Once a guest arrives on their destination floor, the system can access that day’s meeting plan in the company’s database to determine where they are scheduled to stay during their time in the office. It can subsequently deny them access to any meeting room bar the one in which their meeting will take place, through the use of a pass scanning system. In the case of employees, who may be given access to all meeting rooms, they may be still need to be restricted from senior management’s offices on a day-to-day basis, or conference rooms on an occasional basis - for example, when board meetings are in progress. Under this system, facilities managers would also benefit from quick and easy flexibility, as staff could have the system reassign entry privileges on-demand - for example, if an employee is promoted, or an extra attendee is summoned to the board meeting on short notice.
The same principles apply to controlling access to sensitive areas such as loading bays, storage areas and data units. IoT-enabled cameras, scanners and gates can be programmed to grant access only to authorised people or only at specific times - for example, if a delivery driver arrives during his usual delivery time-slot he will be granted access, but if he arrives late in the evening, the system will bar entry.

Extracting intelligence

Facilities managers must also take advantage of smart buildings’ capacity for data analysis. A single facility may have several hundred cameras and detectors, each of which collects a constant stream of data on people movement, traffic flow, peak times and anomalous behaviour. This data can be overseen by a single control room, reducing expenditure on administration, with the potential to control several facilities from a central monitoring point.
That consolidation of information will only be useful if analytics capabilities are put in place, however, in order to make sense of what is being recorded. So, for example, the CCTV system in a building can ‘learn’ the usual routes of employees around the building, or identify when a restricted area has been accessed by more than the number of authorised individuals. It can then flag this information up to a human operator, who as a result is freed up to monitor more activity overall, in the knowledge that the automated system is acting as the first line of defence.

Connect and protect

Facilities managers need to make sure that they are ahead of the curve with smart building technology. It’s essential to take the opportunity to upgrade and upskill now, and take advantage of the new possibilities on offer - or risk being outdated and outmanoeuvred.