By Jared See, Technology Leader (Singapore), Global Technology Solutions, Cushman & Wakefield

This is the first in a series of three articles on the subject of “Smart Buildings: A Journey into Artificial Intelligence and Thinking in the Connected & Secure Future”. To make sure you catch the next installment, subscribe to What’s Next today. 

What is a Smart Building? 

Transforming the landscape of facilities’ efficiency and management, smart buildings deliver useful, integrated and smart services that make occupants productive at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building life cycle. Fundamentally, technology enables the convergence of siloed systems and processes into an integrated workplace management and operations framework.    

In simple terms, smart buildings are buildings that: 

  • Are equipped with smart networked sensors, meters, materials and devices
  • Use automated processes to control, monitor and manage building assets and services
  • Are linked with an energy and sustainability management program 
  • Are connected to a network of intelligent systems, infrastructure and technology platforms

This new breed of buildings leverages information technology for real time data exchange and system interoperability, empowering occupants with visibility and actionable insights through unified information generated by a platform of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics technologies. 

Driving the Uptake 

As technology continues to redefine the world around us, Navigant Research estimates that the smart building market will generate global revenue of USD$8.5 billion in 2020, up from $4.7 billion in 2016.  

This value will be driven by five core benefits: 

  • Integrated workplace and well-being management solutions to drive productivity, performance, and longevity 
  • Energy and sustainability solutions for eco-friendly carbon footprint impact and compliance 
  • Increased efficiency via automation for workstream optimization and cost-saving
  • Predictive maintenance capability for effective operations and better asset management
  • Best practice & agile processes for converting reactive activities into smart services

Building owners are always striving for stronger bottom lines. Facility managers constantly aim for increased efficiency of operations. Occupants want control of their work environment with comfort. By harnessing integrated workplace management solutions, smart buildings deliver benefits for all three parties, including productivity gains, increased staff performance, optimized space utilization, and occupant satisfaction.  

Automation and Integration 

Today’s building capabilities include a certain level of process automation and system integration. Building Management Systems (BMS) and Building Automation Systems (BAS) have been the underlying foundations for monitoring, controlling and managing the overall core building functionalities and services e.g. Lighting, Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, etc.  

With the disruptive impact of the Internet of Things (IoT), buildings can start to leverage open-protocol standards to exchange and consolidate information between IoT technology and Industrial Control System (ICS) platforms. Through this they can derive AI-generated value-added insights to assist in decision-making. 

Facilities managers have been diving into predictive maintenance capabilities to anticipate failures, take corrective actions, make replacements, or plan-ahead of scheduled maintenance. This leads to cost savings and optimizing scheduled maintenances. Predictive maintenance employs machine learning modeling to achieve greater accuracy.  

Environmental Impact 

Calls for resource optimization and green energy, for example the BCA Green Mark Scheme, have accelerated the implementation of energy and sustainability programs within buildings and across sites. These programs emphasize the improvement of carbon footprint, energy saving, and efficiency based on green building standards. To achieve such demands, smart buildings make use of innovations such as IoT technology, for example Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) through Artificial Intelligence (AI), and integrated workplace management & operations platforms.   

Smart buildings bring together a wide spectrum of technology & business processes partners to deliver next generation, end-to-end solutions which leverage respective core capabilities across the value chain. One of the significant trends is the growing partnership between IoT, business improvement and energy and facilities management domain experts through a scalable and open architecture as well as a redefined structure of processes. An example of this is the Cushman & Wakefield’s Experience Per Square Feet program. 

By VIA Gallery from Hsintien, Taiwan (VIA Based Solution Smart Meter) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Smart Building Technology Fundamentals 

There are three fundamentals from a technological perspective which go into enabling a smart building platform:  

  • Application of infrastructure and technology capabilities 
  • Transformation of monitoring, control & maintenance processes 
  • Adoption of security assessment and enablement 

Every space, floor, and workplace of a smart building must be strategically planned, designed, and integrated to meet the core needs of operational efficiency and cost-saving. 

Deployment and Operation 

Using well-deployed technology and a connected platform can serve as an integrated solution for the delivery of optimized resources through automatic alerts, self-recovery, auto-resource-assignment, reduction of waste and downtime, eco-sustainability, streamlined maintenance, and ultimately improved productivity. The processes for operating the smart building requires transformed procedures as well as best practices to be adopted by every building resource. This ensures effective execution of workflows.  

A Centralized or Remote Operations Centre (ROC) is one of the outcomes of processes improvement. Through the ROC, traditional processes are transformed and redefined to optimize the operations of buildings and maintenance, providing monitoring, control and mitigates risks across various geographical sites through a connected platform as well as swift response from a mix of stationed and mobile dispatch team.  

AI technology based within the ROC, for instance AI-based chatbots, have transformed the conventional way that facilities maintenance teams work with call center staff, by increasing the productivity of call-handling (machine vs. man) and the automation of schedule management. Further benefits of ROC include but not limited to real- time fault reporting, incident prevention, efficient operations, effective-cost in resources and predictive alerts.   

Managing and Securing the Site 

In smart buildings, facilities engineers can make use of tools such as digital twin technology or Building Information Management (BIM) viewer applications to efficiently manage the assets and facility operations. This includes simulation analysis prior to inspection, plan-ahead of trips, and ease of documentation access during field works. Integrated with Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), a BIM viewer application conveniently enables field-service staff to handle the work order management.        

Security components of smart buildings can be categorized into physical, hardware, and cyber security measures. These include mobile and stationed security forces, intelligent surveillance cameras, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and alarms, biometric system e.g facial recognition technology, detection sensors, advanced locking systems, and back-end AI-based platforms that can flag threats.  

These tools can provide alerts or alarm trigger, plus protection and shields within a well-defined security response procedure. By further certifying and complying with information security standards like ISO27000/27001, intelligent buildings can measure up to stakeholders’ security expectation. No matter how well equipped the buildings are, smart buildings must always still incorporate an “always be prepared for the unexpected” contingency action plan as part of every organization’s business continuity plan.  

Upgrading the Smart Building 

As laid out above, smart buildings provide a wide range of benefits to owners, facility managers, and occupiers alike. They are typically more open and inter-connected than traditional Industrial Control System (ICS) based buildings, acting instead as a platform for additional services as needed by stakeholders. These introductory smart building steps pave the way for the integration of traditional Operational Technology (OT) with Information Technology (IT), for example IoT and AI capabilities, in order to transform and enhance existing buildings with the next level of intelligence. 

This article originally appeared on What’s Next, Cushman & Wakefield’s hub for Asia Pacific research and insights.

Jared See is Technology Leader (Singapore), Global Technology Solutions, Cushman & Wakefield