The Australian commercial real estate market has experienced significant uncertainty and disruption for investors, landlords and occupiers over the past few years.
As the industry shifts back to pre-pandemic occupancy levels, the expectations of those who use these buildings have changed significantly, with smart buildings starting to move front and centre in the quest for improved operations and sustainability metrics.
Based on the same premise as smart cities, these connected structures both form and become part of a mini-ecosystem, interacting with the people, systems and external elements surrounding them. Smart buildings combine technology with data and the ability for existing building systems to communicate with one another, resulting in a smoother, synchronised environment that operates more safely and efficiently.
The rise of smart buildings has been driven by a number of factors, such as IoT technology, post-pandemic concerns around health and safety and improved connectivity. These moves have been supported by changing regulations and compliance, in an attempt to improve standards across industries.
Technology to improve processes and address concerns
Commercial buildings which use smart technologies are essentially an ecosystem of connected systems which aim to operate for the enjoyment, security, safety and comfort of users on a premises. The connected nature of a smart building and smart surveillance technology particularly allows for different factors such as security monitoring, control of traffic flow and energy consumption to be assessed and managed efficiently.
Different areas of a smart building require specific solutions to address the main function. For example, network cameras equipped with the relevant analytics software can be used to manage occupancy of a reception area, trigger alerts when a visitor arrives and communicate messages which reinforce the measures taken to improve comfort. From a security perspective, cameras can also be used to monitor for suspicious activity or identify persons of interest.
In a similar way, monitoring the flow of visitors and vehicles provides useful insights into peak traffic times. If a building consistently receives an influx of visitors around lunchtime then managers can adjust staffing rotas or open access points to accommodate the increased volume. This will help avoid any bottlenecks which would impact the building users’ experience. Looking forward, building managers can use this information to make intelligent decisions regarding the layout and future technology used. The right approach to integration will ensure the current and future performance of any building as a whole, ultimately protecting investment in the long term.
Challenges to making buildings smart
Although smart buildings come with a plethora of benefits, implementing connected technology comes with a range of challenges. Updating from traditional to contemporary operating systems can be financially demanding for some businesses. In addition, the existing infrastructure can prove to be a barrier due to how systems were originally configured. Work will need to be done to integrate and unify key functions into one for streamlined operation and a connected ecosystem.
When constructing a new building, care must be taken when designing the ‘base build’ to meet the basic requirements for operation and security. It’s critical that this base build is done with the potential for integration at the forefront of mind. The technology involved at this stage is intended to last for the lifetime of the building and must be able to connect with any new systems which are introduced.
Acting to support sustainable goals
As sustainability becomes even more of a priority – catalysed by the pandemic – it’s important for different factors to be managed within smart buildings, as these can contribute to the overall environmental goals of the city. With buildings consuming a large portion of global energy, there is a great drive to lessen their impact through changes which can be implemented and maintained using technology.
For example, when an area becomes less populated (as detected by network cameras), smart lighting can be triggered to turn off until a person enters the space. Similarly, on the days when many workers are in the office, the ambient temperature controls can be lowered to account for the increased body heat. These measures can act to effectively reduce energy consumption but are dynamic and responsive to the occupants’ needs.
Buildings made for the future
As more sectors adopt smart buildings to improve efficiencies and streamline processes, it’s easy to see how these will contribute to the wider productivity and sustainability goals for smart cities. Connected buildings play an important part by not only controlling the impact of the activity within its walls through the Building Management System (BMS), but feeding into the efforts of all buildings and structures within the wider city ecosystem. For example, smart lighting and heating systems can have a direct impact on the building’s energy consumption, as it is only triggered when a person enters a particular area or during certain times of day.
In this way, city authorities can have a bird’s eye view of operations on a macroscale and understand the role each structure plays in supporting their sustainable objectives. Smart buildings also enable a more integrated approach to improving the health and safety of residents and visitors – especially in a post-pandemic landscape – by using data collected from sensors to inform measures that will limit crowding and access.
By Sean Kim, Solution Program Manager ANZ at Axis Communications
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