The Changing Face of Building Automation

Friday, August 28th, 2015
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Both around the world and in Australia, the push to use technology to make buildings operate in a more efficient manner is well documented.

In a recent white paper, international research firm Navigant Research forecast that over the next 10 years, the amount of money spent on building energy management systems around the world would grow almost five-fold from just over $US2 billion in 2015 to slightly over $US10 billion by 2025.

In Australia, change within this area is happening on a number of fronts. Richard Morrison, technical director – practice lead information and communications technology ANZ at architecture, engineering and construction services provider AECOM says a shift away from individual management of singular buildings and toward portfolio-based management of multiple buildings and assets from a central location is on.

Such a strategy, he says, enables the centralisation of facilities management processes and more facilities to be managed over a larger geographic footprint with fewer personnel, along with the provision of better services to tenants, who, for example, are able to manage their own net lettable area via applications or web-based services. Instead of using an after-hours A/C switch on a wall, for example, tenants are increasingly able to more accurately turn on and fine tune after hours air-conditioning via apps, which can also tell the tenant who switched it on and how long it was run for.

Such a shift could increasingly see Secondary grade buildings, for example, managed remotely from control rooms housed within Premium grade buildings (which still need on-site security at all hours) from within the same landlord’s portfolio.

“For Premium and A-class buildings, you still have that need (for permanent on-site security),” Morrison said. “But maybe some of the B and C class assets can be centralised in your premium building. So after hours, you can manage the security remotely for some of those other satellite assets.”

Another growing area, Morrison says, revolves around location-based services which indicate where people are located within buildings at a given time and allow for the optimisation of air-conditioning and lighting control according to this information. These, he says, are enabling tenants to put in place ‘next generation’ work spaces and, when connected to people’s calendars, for instance, allow heating or air conditioning to be turned on, off or down within meeting rooms according to whether or not these are in use.

A further change revolves around improvements in analytical software, which crunches massive volumes of data provided by existing building management systems and helps users make sense of it. Bryce Anderson, a BMS controls and integration specialist at Norman Disney Young, says such applications will help building managers and owners provide more targeted maintenance as opposed to general preventative maintenance and will provide better information from which to target poorly performing areas or systems.

Meanwhile, the underlying needs and requirements of customers are evolving. In a sector currently dominated by monopolised companies offering single systems, NDY senior associate and group controls manager Jon Clarke said, clients are increasingly looking for technology which can be supported by multiple vendors. Also, in an environment in which building owners are finding themselves having to offer lucrative incentives in order to persuade tenants to retain or take up space, owners are also looking to sell additional services to their tenants which impact upon the communications network and connectivity requirements of their buildings, such as supplying energy and cloud-based solutions for after hour’s air conditioning and online retail services.

Going forward, Morrison says the move toward location-based services and portfolio-based building management systems will continue.

“I think we will really see location-based services take hold where we are heating, cooling or lighting facilities based around where people are,” he said. “I think the trend where people want technology-based solutions will continue, and they will be happy to use their mobile to notify the building of where they are.”

Anderson, meanwhile, says much of the future revolves around integration of existing systems into one common front end with seamless operator interactions as lighting, CCTV, access control and smart signage all interact with the ‘smart centre.’

He says the challenge to make this happen lies ahead.

“Smart building control systems have been around for a while, the technology is available and there are contractors to deliver it but building owners and consultants need to deliver the design and push the dream,” he noted.

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