Market engagement specialist Justin Kirby and smart building specialist Aleksandra Dasala recently co-facilitated a round table with those at the sharp end of design and deployment to discuss upcoming trends and challenges they are facing with the smart enablement of 'digital buildings'. They've reported on the day including how and where participants see value in smaller, focused but more representative agile groups collaborating including effectively filling gaps in existing frameworks.

Fuelled by collaboration, the conversation started by having participants co-create the agenda, offering their six most crucial discussion points. These were then shaped into the following unattributed themes, paving the way for a meaningful exchange, devoid from any sales pitch:

  • Definitions & Standards
  • AI, Cybersecurity & Data matters
  • Mostly drive towards NetZero but S & G also in ESG
  • Dissolving the Landlord & Tenant dichotomy
  • Smart Enablement Process (Best Practice)
  • Business Case, ROI & Risk
  • Tech Direction of Travel & Future Proofing
  • (Industry) Collaboration Priorities and possible next steps

The LMG IQ team kindly provided their London HQ for a 4-hour discussion and networking session, for the gathering we convened of a representative mix of design consultants, MEP engineers, contractors, systems and software Integrators, technology and platform vendors.

The depth of discussion for each theme was substantial, meriting its own in-depth article or serving as a potential conference topic. In this overview, our aim is to provide a snapshot of key takeaways, emphasising participant perspectives on prioritising collaboration for future initiatives.

Value in collaboration

The current state of the industry is still very siloed and there is a need to shift towards a more interconnected approach. While various groups focus on different verticals or layers of the technology stack, the smart approach is horizontal. Participants see value in smaller, focused but more representative agile groups that can effectively fill gaps in existing frameworks such as the RIBA PoW Overlay. Creating accessible datasets and making collective outputs publicly available can significantly enhance best practices and industry-wide improvement.

Distinction between Certification and Standards

A universally agreed definition of "Smart Buildings" remains elusive due to the diverse stakeholders involved and impacted by 'smart.' While several relevant Standards and Certifications add value in clarifying the concept, differentiation between them and their purpose is essential. Industry standards address technical requirements, while certifications provide validation frameworks. The discussion didn’t delve into their respective merits or compliance considerations (including time and cost implications), however, it emphasised the multitude of global IT and OT standards, including those from Industrial Automation, available for adoption in the built environment. This is where initial collaboration efforts should be best focused, considering the challenges of the competitive landscape. Agreement on relevant standards, combined with regulations and legislation, can alleviate ambiguity in general understanding, specifications, and deployments, serving as a foundational step toward establishing a common language.

Common agreement on smart enablement process

The Smart Building landscape features competing diagrams illustrating technology and functional progression, suggesting a need for a unified language and agreed-upon stages. Nuanced interpretations of terms like smart ready, smart enabled, smart building and smart workspace emphasise diverse perspectives. Establishing and clarifying a common understanding of those terms and their supporting tech foundations, is the possible low-hanging fruit for further collaboration and may even help with defining ‘Smart.’

Shift from use cases to success metric

A consensus emerged in prioritising success metrics over libraries of use cases for effective design. However, caution is urged to avoid a complete shift, as it may introduce vagueness and complicate the sign-off process, as exemplified by the challenge of determining a 'world-class experience.' Collaborative efforts to define success, focusing on building or portfolio strategies and expected outcomes before delving into technology, can alleviate this vagueness and contribute to a common language in broader specifications.

S & G also in ESG

ESG and Net zero targets have been key drivers for many smart building deployments, emphasising energy efficiency and carbon reduction, often overlooking societal and governance aspects. Achieving sustainability targets requires a comprehensive approach beyond technology alone. Optimising building performance still faces challenges in data accessibility and transparency, preventing feedback loops crucial for good governance and user experience. A comprehensive approach, considering occupant well-being, ethical data handling, and compliance, is vital for smart building technology acceptance, transforming not just efficiency but experiences, beyond sustainable performance ratings. This gathering affirmed enthusiasm for a collaborative approach in addressing the practical aspects of sustainability and the role technology plays in its achievement.

Demonstrating the business case through ROI and mitigating risk

Success metrics must transcend solely sqm costs. For instance, workplace ROI, demonstrated by the collaboration between the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and Leesman on Return on Workplace Experience, illustrates this evolution. The business case should also address risk mitigation, encompassing factors like poor air quality and cybersecurity threats. A consensus among key takeaways and potential next steps highlights the essential engagement of Project Managers (PMs) and Quantity Surveyors (QS). Their involvement is vital to ensuring that Smart deployment costs are comprehended and considered in the project's early stages, avoiding them becoming an afterthought vulnerable to value engineering. Considering aspects like smart readiness, digital enablement, minimum viable technological foundations, minimum viable office, and retrofitting roadmaps can serve as strategic starting points.

To conclude, this gathering affirmed the enthusiasm for collaborative discussions on the practical aspects of implementing smart solutions, moving beyond the 'Why' to address the 'How,' 'Where,' 'When,' 'What for,' and 'Who by Whom.' It underscored the significance of in-person post-COVID meetings in fostering open dialogue and sharing insights. Crucially, it offered a platform for discussing experiences and lessons learned in a confidential setting under Chatham House rules, contributing to the collective pursuit of best practices.

Huge thanks to all those who participated including: Brahm Lategan at MiX Consultancy, Brian Coogan at Ethos Engineering, Daniel Watson at Hereworks, Derek Harnett at Switch Automation, James Thomas at SES Engineering Services, John Clarke at One Sightsolutions, Katie Whipp at REsustain, Kevin Brownell at Nuxform, Matthew O'Halloran at Smart Spaces®, Mike Hook at LMG, Nicholas White at the Smart Building Collective, Ravi Lakhani at Cordless, Rob Souto at Simmtronic and Shaun Taylor at HID.