A reliable in-building wireless network has quickly become a commercial real estate building’s top attraction outside of its location. Today’s building tenants operate and communicate wirelessly through mobile phones, tablets and computers, leaving the “landlines” of yesterday behind. Tenants require the assurance that their wireless connection will not be lost at any time. More importantly, it is available at the most critical times.
Some property managers and commercial real estate owners have kept up with this trend in an effort to keep their tenants happy and their buildings occupied. However, the most forward-thinking property managers realize the true key to increasing income and maximizing occupancy is to market the property as a “smart building.” With a smart building, property managers hold their property a cut above the rest as they include Internet of Things (IoT) devices that can connect BMS (Building Management System) systems, sensor technology that allows for better office layouts and sizing, automated entry systems that use tenants’ cell phones instead of keys or fobs, among other upgrades improving the tenant experience and increasing operational efficiencies. Upgrading a building to offer various types of machinations might seem costly, but the investment is worth it to property managers when they have 100 percent occupancy at a higher rate while making their property more efficient.
It’s important to understand exactly what makes a building smart before moving ahead in the process. By definition, a smart building is deemed a structure that uses an automated process to control the building’s operation, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as lighting and security. Additionally, smart building designs are viewed as the future of the building industry as they can help save energy, which in turn reduces the costs of property ownership.
This textbook definition explains what a smart building is, but there are multiple factors that make a building smart. The first factor involves facility-based construction and looks at whether the building’s makeup follows the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program as defined by the architectural and engineering industries. LEED-certified buildings follow the practice of “green” building, which includes “designing, constructing and operating buildings to maximize occupant health and productivity. A green building construction will use fewer resources while reducing waste and have less negative environmental impacts while decreasing life cycle costs.”
The second factor pertains to the actual infrastructure that comes into the building. For example, alternative energy powering the building through solar panels or wind turbines, or steam generators that create energy from the building’s HVAC systems, thus recycling the HVAC system by products to create electricity.
“This allows your building to become more energy efficient,” ANS Advanced Network Services President and General Manager Paul Fettuccia said. “Is there the ability to have multiple power vendors to bring power to the building? Can we have two companies versus one and can we pit them against one another? Are there certain ones that are specific to using renewable energy products versus those using coal to get natural gas?”
The third smart building factor stems from the technology side of the equation. This ties back to IoT devices such as security cameras, lighting and temperature systems, occupancy sensors, building entry systems and public safety systems.
“After aligning the three parts, what really makes the building the smartest is tying all of those disparate pieces together so your building has a communication and technology system that is looking at your building’s occupancy patterns and utility usage to automate your system and start making smart decisions,” ANS Advanced Network Services Director, In-Building Wireless Brendan Delaney said. “You need to have all the IoT sensors integrated at a high level to use the information available to drive a more efficient, intelligent building.”
Since all of these smart building components connect in the cloud, it’s imperative for property managers to have a robust pipe-line coming into the building. That means having the right fiber provider on hand and not simply relying on a single vendor for both the tenants and the property managers. Providing services for the tenants as well as the building structure requires a robust network to pull all of the information together.
Property managers have a number of options to choose from for their smart building. A building can include software that is written to integrate all the connected devices on their network — whether it’s the card access, physical security door locks, video cameras or with occupancy sensors so the building’s HVAC system is not heating or cooling rooms that are vacant. A properly specified and deployed smart building solution (from sensors to software) allows property managers to track tenant usage of shared resources and amenities, providing opportunities to recoup some of the wear and tear costs from tenants because of higher than expected usage, or repurpose a space that is underutilized.
“There are a lot of algorithms that are in the background that are driven from cloud platforms, not necessarily a facility- based server,” Delaney said. “A lot of these disparate platforms do operate from facility-based servers; it’s tying all of those algorithms together that is typically done in the cloud from platforms we see.”
Meanwhile in larger and public facilities a lot has been adapted from a military perspective — gun shot sensors are easily deployed today, which can reduce the turnaround time from someone calling to report an incident. Being able to report an emergency in seconds rather than minutes could be the difference between life and death — something that anyone with a public-facing venue should think about.
“There are a lot of algorithms that are in the background that are driven from cloud platforms, not necessarily a facility-based server, Delaney said. A lot of these disparate platforms do operate from facility-based servers; it’s tying all of those algorithms together that is typically done in the cloud from platforms we see.”
Property managers can also use the data collected from their smart building technology to enable them to make cost-saving decisions. For example, an office-building property manager could have tenants who lease several floors or tenants who share different amenities like kitchen areas and office spaces. The systems in place can show the property manager which spaces are being fully utilized and which ones are not, leading them to reduce the number of communal conference rooms or turn an unused communal space into leasable space. The same goes for energy savings — property managers can leverage smart lighting systems so lights are on when they need to be instead of on a simple timer. The lighting systems sense when occupants exit the room, thus turning off the lights, there-fore reducing the cost of wasted energy. “Beyond just having a static motion sensor, you can better manage that occupancy because it’s counting people,” Delaney said. “It’s not waiting an additional 10 to 30 minutes for that light to turn off. Plus, the smart lighting systems leading into the green and more health-conscious building design that’s going today can manage the amount of blue versus warm light that’s coming in. The systems can measure the type of light that’s coming in through the windows, and compensate to make a healthy environment for people.”
It’s also important to note any of these smart devices are only as good as the in-building network on which they are operating. “You have to have a rock-solid network tying this all together, otherwise you’re blind to what’s happening in your building and it won’t perform correctly,” Delaney said.
The benefits of providing tenants a smart building are clear, but there is a lot to navigate when it comes to the IT part of the equation. ANS Advanced Network Services offers property managers a single source of information and truth for what’s happening inside of their building. Since all of these systems ultimately need to ride a communications backbone, whether it’s copper, fiber or wireless, it might take placing sensors outside of areas where there might be a wired network available to complete the job. ANS Advanced Network Services can help provide the wireless connection for these devices as well as work on the property manager’s behalf to get the systems installed to manage the cloud platform that ties everything together to provide a truly smart building.
Content contributed by: Brendan Delaney, ANS Advanced Network Services Director of In-Building Wireless and Paul Fettuccia, ANS Advanced Network Services President & General Manager.