Think smart and big: scaling up smart buildings

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Scott Cuthbertson Director, Capital Projects & Infrastructure, Technology, Media and Telecommunications, PwC US

Smart buildings aren’t new. What is new is scale. Many businesses are aiming to apply smart solutions to suites of properties, including ones that cross geographies.

Big projects require big thinking and some extra effort. Beyond the standard challenges that any smart building faces, scaling up creates extra obstacles for everything from tech integration to meeting a large and diverse workforce’s large and diverse needs.

But the obstacles can be managed, with a few solutions that also scale, and the results will be more than worth it.

Lower costs, lower risks and an edge in the war for talent

The global smart buildings market has been booming, with a growth rate of more than 32% a year, for good reason. For starters, they lead to big cost reductions. Connected solutions, for example, can cut office energy costs by an average of 18%. They also improve operational efficiency, as smart sensors and data analytics detect and automatically react to variations in workspace usage, equipment glitches, or weather changes.

And in the war for talent — plus efforts to make that talent more productive — smart buildings with real time aggregated experience and performance data offer an edge. They make current employees’ lives better, improving everything from parking to lighting and elevators. And potential employees (especially tech experts) often prefer to work in high-tech facilities.

Smart buildings also help reduce risk. Sensors and analytics can detect or even predict changes in air quality, water shortages, waste overflows and more — facilitating and even automating quick responses to avoid environmental dangers and liabilities. They can also help building security through biometric entry/exit tracking, improve fire safety through connected sensors, and even monitor structural integrity by tracking responses to ambient vibrations.

Yet smart buildings also face special challenges, especially when you aim to develop a lot of them.

The big obstacles: integration, workforce, obsolescence and data

Any capital project requires an agile strategy to effectively manage vendors, negotiate contracts, ensure quality, and monitor cost and schedule risks. But large-scale smart building projects need some extra TLC in a few areas.

The first is tech integration. A set of smart buildings should work best when their sensors, analytics, cloud storage, and underlying IT architecture all work in sync. That’s a big challenge when you are likely dealing with multiple vendors and designs at several properties, as well as aiming to integrate performance data onto a single frontend UX that aggregates underlying systems and sources.

The second special challenge is achieving workforce consensus. The more your buildings can do, the more your various end users will want from them. That can lead to tough internal negotiations — and risk costly changes in scope mid-project.

The third issue to watch for is technology obsolescence. The building landscape is full of yesterday’s innovations, which are no longer so appealing today — and obsolescence costs can snowball when occurring across a suite of properties.

Smart buildings also need a smart data strategy. You should integrate data standards across multiple projects and ensure that all this data (including the data that third parties handle) is accurate, secure and in full regulatory compliance.

4 priorities to succeed with smart buildings at scale

My colleagues and I have identified four priorities that can help large-scale smart building projects overcome these obstacles.

  1. Plan upfront with the business front and center. Any capital project needs a well thought-out roadmap, but when you’re juggling specialized tech vendors and multiple end user needs, you need to make extra sure that they all will integrate smoothly to serve the business.
  2. Develop a structured design and intake process. With far more specialized vendors and unique end user needs than in a “dumb” building project, you’ll need to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard at the right moment — neither too early nor too late.
  3. Future-proof tech by future-proofing design. Two elements are key here. One is choosing a tech stack and architecture that can handle emerging tech, such as 5G and artificial intelligence. The other is modular design, so down the road you can swap out an old technology for a new one without disrupting the system.
  4. Nail down the data governance. It’s difficult (and expensive) to add on top-notch data privacy and security after a project is up and running — especially if that project includes multiple buildings in multiple places. Get the seven layers of smart data governance right from the get go.

With these priorities, you should find that large-scale smart building success can happen more quickly and cost-effectively than you expect — and when you succeed, your cost structure, operational efficiency, talent strategy, and risk management can all benefit.

Contact us

Scott Cuthbertson

Director, Capital Projects & Infrastructure, Technology, Media and Telecommunications, PwC US

Greg Chiasson

Greg Chiasson

Principal, Capital Projects & Infrastructure (Technology, Media and Telecommunications), PwC US

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