Aug 22, 2022


by David Stephenson

Leveraging Technology to Streamline Facility Operations

In the first part of this two-part series on Smart Building Technology, I discussed how technology can enhance the experience of building occupants, whether they are office workers, teachers and students, or doctors and patients. This article shares some ways technology can work behind the scenes to streamline how buildings operate. As established in the first article, the best place to start is developing the use cases of what you are trying to accomplish.

Operational Use Cases

If you are familiar with the current climate crisis, you may know that the built environment accounts for nearly 50% of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Of that, 23% is attributed to the day-to-day operations of buildings. There is immense opportunity to improve that figure through better access to data, leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) that suggests adjustments to operational schedules, and sharing this information with building occupants so they can make more informed decisions that reduce energy.

While Building Automation Systems to control heating and ventilation were initiated in the 80s, these systems were traditionally based on a set schedule and occasionally some additional inputs, such as outdoor air temperature. Old systems couldn’t understand what was happening within the building and adjust on it’s own. But today, with the widespread adoption of sensors and data integration tools that are easy to use, we can dynamically heat and cool a building based on actual occupancy, thus reducing energy. We can gradually heat and cool a building based on the arrival time of employees into the parking deck by sharing badge swipe data with the HVAC system to control the zone associated with that employee. This eliminates heating and cooling entire floors and instead just heats and cools a zone of the floor. Now, let’s think about maintenance operations and how data can support the deployment of staff and the longevity of equipment.

Not only do modern building systems help identify issues, they also highlight inefficiencies that waste energy and overburden mechanical components. Having this insight can result in a 30% savings in operational costs.

If you started driving before 2010 you were told you should change your car’s oil and air filter every 3,000 miles. But newer cars have an Oil Life Monitor that analyzes everything from miles driven, temperature while driving, cold starts, idling hours and engine revs to help you get the most life out of your oil. Today’s intelligent buildings are just as smart. Imagine the time saved by changing HVAC filters only when they’ve reached minimum air flow instead of every three months. Sensor packs in today’s systems provide air pressure values on both sides of the filter. With that data, AI can automatically create a service ticket when the discharge pressure falls below the threshold, indicating a filthy filter that needs replacing. Today’s building operations platforms can even analyze alerts to determine if the cause is coming from an upstream or downstream component which allows technicians to get to the root cause of an issue more quickly and with less downtime. Not only do modern building systems help identify issues, they also highlight inefficiencies that waste energy and overburden mechanical components. Having this insight can result in a 30% savings in operational costs.  

Improving Staff Performance

Helping direct facility technicians to issues based on data certainly saves them time, but they aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this treasure trove of data. What about the custodial staff? With elevated cleaning protocols now the norm, we can deploy custodial staff to high-traffic areas more accurately. There are multiple sources of data to accomplish this. For instance, many companies are returning to work with a hybrid approach where you reserve a desk for the day. From a change management standpoint, ensuring the new hybrid workplace is cleaned routinely is an important consideration. Facility managers can use daily booking data to direct custodial staff to the desks used that day or occupancy sensors at desks can provide utilization data in a floor plan view. Custodial staff can employ mobile devices to navigate the floor after hours and focus on the space that was used instead of cleaning the entire floor. In addition, the same custodial staff can use their mobile device to scan a QR code at the desk after the cleaning to notify the reservation system that the desk is now available for re-booking, providing a fully integrated end-to-end solution for a healthy hybrid return to work.

Occupants Can Make a Difference Too

It might seem like this operational data is just for the facilities team to leverage, but there is tremendous benefit in sharing it with the occupants, especially if you have sustainability or wellness goals. We all know that friendly competition can lead to higher engagement. Colleges and universities can pit residence halls against each other to see who has the highest percentage drop in energy use in a given month and then reward them with free tickets to the next home game. Offices with sit/stand desks can have a wellness challenge based on how long employees stand during the day. Sensors can not only detect occupancy, they can detect when a desk is raised or lowered. Correlate the two to find your super-standers and reward them with a $50 gift card to the closest juice bar. These and many other opportunities exist to engage your occupants in reaching your goals.

Putting it all Together

Every day new use cases are being developed to leverage the growing amount of data we capture within our facilities. Tools such as AI and Machine Learning are accelerating the pace at which large data sets can be analyzed and insights delivered to our desktops or mobile phones. While very exciting, it can be difficult to figure out where to start and which technologies to leverage. That is why it’s so important to start with developing your use cases first. Whether it’s reducing energy consumption, extending the life of your systems through predictive maintenance, or optimizing cleaning schedules, a well-defined use case can quickly narrow the field to the technologies that can successfully deliver on your goals. 


David Stephenson

As the Director of the Smart Building Studio of Little, David strives to ensure clients are leveraging their data to its fullest potential. He is motivated by the premise that smart buildings not only optimize the user experience, they help drive down the cost of occupancy and improve resource utilization. With over 25 years of experience in real estate and workplace management technologies, David brings deep expertise in data management and analysis as well as technology integration to each and every project.

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