The facility management sector is one of the fastest growing and changing environments within the real estate world, due to the technology emerging in the Internet of things (IoT). IoT devices and sensors enable cities and buildings to become smart. A smart building not only collects and provides data from its facilities, it has an automated system that enables different facilities to communicate with each other. The greatest improvement is the advancement of the sensor technology. This technology is even present in everyday devices, such as simple smart phones, headsets, carbon monoxide detectors, thermostats, smart watches, and cars. With the ability to transfer data and communicate, it is now possible to utilize the information gathered by the sensor and communicate back to take actions. For example, a simple electric thermostat senses an increase in temperature, which transfers this information to a central system, which activates the air conditioner. Those sensors are often not even bigger than a small microchip, and can be integrated in building components or products separately and simply installed on the wall, in a component, at a desk, or even a chair.
In the past, facility managers were responsible for repairs and maintenance and a large portion of the work was reactive. This means facility managers informed the property manager that a building might require some repair work and waited for confirmation to commission the work. Preventive maintenance was hardly possible due to the waiting time until repair work was approved. Due to such a long waiting time, facilities or components of a building could not be repaired before they completely broke down. This caused higher cost and consequently a lower return for the asset manager.
By using sensors and digital platforms that provide information about the condition of the building and its components, it is possible for the asset manager and the property manager to see data updating the condition. This means that, before the facility manager reports something, the property manager and the asset manager already have this information on the screen. Furthermore, it is not a subjective opinion of the facility manager or the contractor, instead it is an objective capture of the situation and condition of the building. It is therefore possible to react immediately and approve funds for maintenance work before the facility or system breaks down completely. The cost for maintenance can be much lower than an entire replacement.
Repairs and maintenance
While managing an entire portfolio, it is now possible to compare buildings and their expected ongoing cost. Digital platforms using big data are able to predict the operational expenditures and capital expenditure requirements of individual buildings. This was not that easy in the past, as cost that had accrued was generalized into one category, such as repairs and maintenance. With this new technology, it is now possible to determine where, when, and how a defect happened. With this information, it is possible to analyze the cause and install a preventive mechanism to avoid further defects.
For the development of new buildings, Building Information Modelling (BIM) should be used and the information should be passed on to the facility manager. He is able to use the data for the day-to-day operations. This means ongoing assessments of a number of components which are not visible without destructive measurements. For instance, it can be difficult to find the leak of a valve installed in between walls. Furthermore, it can be also very difficult to find the valve itself. With a 3D model of the building, it is possible to direct the contractor to the exact location of the component that caused the defect in order to fix it.
Sensors and Internet of Things (IoT)
Even if the building doesn’t have a three-dimensional model, it is still possible to use sensors to optimize the usage of the facilities of the building. Sensors can be installed in a number of devices, such as windows, lights, walls, desks, chairs, et cetera. The application of IoT capabilities is endless. The sensors give a command to execute, if a condition has been met. The combination of different sensors interacting with each other in a building can already be considered as a property with an integrated building management system (BMS). It is a controlling system, which regulates the HVAC, lighting, and fire and security system of the building independently. This could mean that you are walking into a room and the light goes on because the sensor detects movement in the room.
Some companies are focusing on combining components to provide a solution for a certain problem. Other companies are focusing solely on one individual component of the facility of the building. An example could be a firm optimizing the usage and maintenance of elevators only. Another firm is focusing only on the sensors in a window, which detects temperature, humidity, and light in order to control the HVAC system or blinds. And there are companies focusing just on the HVAC system to optimize energy consumption. There are also firms with the sole focus of the air quality within a building.
However, sensors do not necessarily automatically add up to a smart building. Buildings become really smart once they get a brain. This means the individual components, facilities, and the corresponding sensors need to talk and communicate with each other and are interoperable. For example, this could mean that if someone walks into a meeting room, the lighting, the projector, and heating or cooling goes on and informs other facilities in the building that this meeting room is now occupied. It could then inform the waiting client at reception that his meeting can start and direct him to the meeting room with indoor navigation through augmented reality, where the employee of the firm is already waiting for him. At the same time, it informs the other employees of the company that this particular meeting room is occupied. The Cube in Berlin is a building which will have those components communicating with each other.
Furthermore, there are companies that are not using sensors at all. Instead they create data to analyze and optimize the building by using given information, such as the energy bill or the given infrastructure, such as the strengths of the wi-fi signal. Firms which are able to utilize the data are the key to the future, as machine learning is able to automate and optimize the utilization.