Digitalisation and data are transforming the world.

“By 2020 the digital universe will reach 44 zettabytes, roughly a 10-fold increase from 2013,” said Azheem Haseeb, head of sales at Siemens’ Building Performance and Sustainability division in Melbourne.

In addition, the number of connected devices is exploding, with Haseeb noting that estimates suggest there could be 25 billion connected devices by 2020.

“With digitalisation, there is more connection to the world, where from one device you’re connected to multiple devices. We can see that with our smart phones today,” he said.

All those devices and the data they generate have the potential to dramatically improve the functionality of the built environment, if the data is actually used to improve systems.

“The biggest change has been how we treat and increase the amount of data being made available,” Haseeb said. “There is all this data; what do we do with it? How do we derive smart outcomes out of it?”

In building automation, systems that have been automated but siloed can now communicate. For instance building management systems can now interact with security management, fire management and other such systems, creating a holistic system of control.

Those systems will also talk to other systems outside the building to deliver the features of the smart city model.

“In the future, everything is going to be able to talk to one another. Your car is going to be able to talk to other cars on the road. It’s potentially going to be able to talk to the traffic management systems,” Haseeb said.

Communication between cars and buildings will offer benefits as well. For instance, at peak demand times with the grid, when power demand outpaces supply, buildings will be able draw power from EV cars parked there.

These trends also offer opportunities for companies to improve how they service their customers. Haseeb noted a change toward using data for proactive and predictive approaches.

“We’re seeing a change in service offerings as well, from what we call a more analogue service routine, which is someone going to site and having to manually do a lot of things, to the ability to be smart about our approach, to do it remotely, to target actual failures and faults, and be predictive and preventative, rather than reactive,” he said.

Digital monitoring of equipment, for example, generates data that can flag malfunctioning equipment.

“Let’s say that you have equipment that needs to have a maintenance cycle every 2,000 hours,” Haseeb said. “So instead of just waiting for the 2,000 hours to kick over, you know that within 1,000 hours it needs to have this service because it’s drifted away from its design conditioning.

“How interesting would it be to be able to predict this before it happens? Imagine the cost benefits. One, you minimise downtime for a client. Two, you also minimise costs, because potentially if one piece of equipment fails, there could be a downstream effect on other pieces of equipment,” he noted.

Those cost savings due to proactive approaches could be massive in certain industries as downtime on a major piece of equipment in a mining facility, for instance, could result in millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Data and digitalisation are disrupting established markets, as well.

“We’re also seeing a change in the complete markets. You’re now having companies try and offer solutions without selling any hardware or product. It’s software,” Haseeb said.

Prime examples are AirBnB and Uber, which Haseeb called “disruption through digitalisation.”