Automation, Controls

Framework for designing the intelligent building

Intelligent buildings are no turnkey matter. They take a deeper understanding of client’s goals and objectives for what is desired and discipline to implement through a collaborative design and construction process
By By Brad Kult, PE, CTS, HGA, Minneapolis; and Neil Osten, PE, LEED AP, Mortenson, Minneapolis September 20, 2019
Figure 2: Data and information must be meaningfully collected and transformed to provide actionable insight for decision support. Courtesy: HGA

Learning objectives  

  • Understand building intelligence, which should be used consistently by the user and team.  
  • Learn how to engage the owner, operator, design and construction teams early to ensure team alignment and successfully implement intent. 
  • Support the intelligent building effort, especially if the project becomes budget challenged; trade-offs should not be made in a bubble. 

A truly intelligent building can mean many different things depending on the client’s needs. Designing building intelligence is about defining what success means, planning what will be allocated to make it happen and allowing for room to make it happen — especially because we dont often have consistency of the same team or available technology. Building owners and operators recognize that buildings are becoming more intelligent and the way they manage facilities is changing. At the same time, occupants expectations of how they interact with built environment are changing. The way we collaborate, design, specify, buy and construct buildings must change as well.  

There is no industry standard scale for classifying a building as intelligent. Buildings that implement automation between building systems or that use data analytics for generating insights and automating processes are commonly accepted as operating at some level of intelligence. Intelligent buildings can be dynamic, adaptive environments that optimize occupant comfort and well-being, energy efficiency and operating efficiency.  

Owners and operators understand that buildings are capable of offering greater insight into how to they operate buildings to streamline the facilities management workflow, optimize energy efficiency and improve the occupant experience. They also recognize that they must take action to achieve results. But in the rapidly evolving marketplace, it can be a daunting task to determine what steps need to be taken to achieve desired goals in a fiscally responsible manner. In many cases, significant capital investment has already been made in systems and equipment and theres a desire to enhance the utility of the tools that are already in place.  

Clients look to their consultants as their trusted partners to provide guidance on what their expectations should be for their new construction or renovation projects. Many are seeking flexible and scalable solutions that will meet current needs and adapt to future demands that are often unknown at the time of design and construction.  

Many clients interested in adopting intelligent building technologies are aware that they can benefit from integrated automaton and intelligent data analytics, but they understand that there are capabilities they havent even considered and they are seeking a partner to help guide their education and decisionmaking process. Its up to the architectureengineering and construction community to familiarize owners with both the capabilities and limitations of new technologies to meet the needs of their business and avoid adapting flavor of the day short-term solutions or point to solutions that only solve a single problem. 

Figure 1: More devices have the ability to communicate, interact with each other and provide meaningful data insights for facility and occupant enhancement. All of these specification sections, including owner operation technology/information technology systems, could contain devices that need to be coordinated and specified. It is important to address this early in design phases. Courtesy: HGA and Mortenson

Technology is pervasive 

Technology can no longer be considered as an afterthought in the design process. Technology is so ubiquitous, its no longer a singular discipline tasked with determining where the outlets for computer or printer will be located. The use of high-tech tools drives daily processes and has enabled a shift in the way people work. Our clients understand the impact technology has on their businesses and often recognize there is untapped potential to use technology more effectively.  

As owners and operators progress in sophistication and as users begin to demand more from the place where they work, technologys impact on daily life must be considered from the outset of any project. Owners are driven to adopt new practices because the rapid and accelerating pace of technology means its easy to fall behind if not proactively addressed and its hard to play catchup if an organization falls behind.  

Competitive advantage 

Most businesses are in business to make profit and they are all accountable for managing budgets responsibly. While our main constituents are often members of the facilities or IT departments, theyre still bound by the economics that drive the bottom line for the business. We must focus on addressing their business needs, because technology that doesnt address user needs and solve business problems is superfluous.  

Per Arie De Gaus, The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. Equipping owner-operators with the right tools can help them reach actionable insights to more efficiently address building operating issues that impact all users of the building or even enhance occupant experience. The focus on the right tools is important because data for datas sake turns your data lake of actionable items into a data swamp of stuff. 

Often the economic focus in building design and operation has been on energy savingsother factors must be balanced along with energy. Occupant satisfaction is a contributor to workforce productivity and is increasingly a focus of the design process. While occupant satisfaction and productivity are intangible and more difficult to measure than energy savings, the 3-30-300 principle coined by Jones Lang Lasalle is recognized as a useful measurement for illustrating the contribution workforce productivity can have on a businesss bottom line.  

If $3/square feet/year represents a businesss energy use, $30/square feet/year represents the capital costs of rent and furnishes, fixtures and equipment) and $300/square feet/year goes into employee salaries. A 10% impact on productivity can net $30/square feet/year. The value derived from the intelligent building program must exceed the investment to create and maintain the program. 

Figure 2: Data and information must be meaningfully collected and transformed to provide actionable insight for decision support. Courtesy: HGA

Changing workforce demographics 

Experienced facility managers with intimate knowledge of the buildings they operate are reaching retirement age. According to the International Facility Managers Association Foundation Global Workforce Initiative prospectus, 50% of facility management staff will retire over the next five to 15 years and there will be 500,000 global facility management job openings over the next five years. Generation Z is entering the workforce and millennials are stepping into positions of leadership. Members of these generations have never known a world without the internet. They expect real-time access to information wherever they are and they will need intelligent tools that simplify the task of building operations to augment the loss of experienced facility managers.  

The changing workforce demographics mean that occupants and operators have new expectations about how they will interact with the building. Clients also are challenged to hire qualified staff to meet their workforce demands. Many clients have multiple open facilities management positions and are forced to do more with less. They must have tools that function as a workforce multiplier to help them conduct day-to-day operations more efficiently and also diagnose critical component failures before they take place to minimize downtime.  

On the flip side, facility managers may be able to justify additional full-time equivalents to manage operations by using intelligent building tools to measure and report on operating/maintenance cost avoidance, manage work orders and assist in longrange financial planning 

In one example with remote facilities management, the integrated automation system was able to send an automatic work order to a remote diagnostic technician to investigate falling refrigerant levels over time. While an alarm had not yet generated for system performance, allowing the system to get to this low level risked critical systems failure, multiple expensive emergency work orders and business impact due to system downtime. Instead, the remote technician was able to confirm the problem and dispatch a technician on a standard work order with the correct parts to schedule service off business peak and avoid additional negative business impact. 

We also see changes in employee expectations being driven by the consumer marketplace. Competition for top talent is fierce and the amenities offered in the workplace are used to recruit and retain workers. As consumer smart home technology adoption increases, theres an expectation that what can be done at home should be possible in the workplace.  

Bring your own device programs are allowing workers to access secure areas, schedule conference rooms and report service tickets via their smartphone. Simply put, smart people wont be satisfied working in dumb buildings. We must adapt our designs, as well as our planning and project delivery processes, to deliver intelligent buildings that meet the current and future needs of our clients.  

How to implement the intelligent building 

The good news for building owners and operators is that they can often leverage their capital investments in existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and equipment to make their buildings more intelligent. Buildings with digital control and monitoring systems already are loaded with sensors connected to digital systems that are generating a great deal of data.  

We recognize our clients tend to work in siloed departments, but the technology tools they use cross over departments, so its important to align teams who may not be accustomed to working together so they can discuss common goals. To harness the potential value of building data, we must think differently about how traditionally siloed building systems share information and how that information is processed to generate insight to improve user experience, optimize energy and operating efficiency and enhance existing automation. 

For building systems to be able to exchange information, they must be able to communicate together. This requires communications network infrastructure to interconnect the disparate building systems and a common set of languages and protocols for systems to communicate. As more building systems turn to internet protocol technologies for communications, the trend is for building systems to converge onto a single network that uses commodity information technology networking infrastructure and equipment. This network may exist as a virtual segment on the IT network or it may manifest as a separate physical IT network for the operating technology equipment. The network provides the pathway for sharing signals and information between systems.  

With the connectivity strategy established, the communications language or protocol must be considered. Unfortunately, there is no single protocol for communicating with all of the systems that run a building. Legacy proprietary protocols are being replaced by standards-based protocols such as ASHRAE Standard 135BACnetA Data Communication Protocol for Building Automation and Control Networks for in-building communications.  

Many systems also are capable of using standards that have been developed for sharing information across the web, such as web services and application programming interfaces. After clearing the technical hurdles for interconnecting the islands of building systems, the endless possibilities for intelligent building actions must be carefully considered. 

Figure 3: In this case, a basic commercial scope matrix example is shown with on-site generation and electrochromic glass. The owner has a work order management system and room scheduling. The integrated automation scope provides front-end graphical user interface, gateways and programming to integrate into the main GUI; a main GUI isn’t necessarily required for each separate division of work except for its own startup, programming and commissioning. Controls work could either be completed under the separate scope packages or through the master systems integrator as defined by the partial scopes. The o sees a single day-to-day user interface with a blended operational technology/information technology system for the owner’s team members, however, the MSI may not have complete insight into the owner’s IT. Courtesy: Mortenson

Design process 

Vision and team alignment: Leadership support and business alignment across the organization is critical to interdisciplinary success. It often takes a champion with a vision to be the catalyst for an intelligent building initiative and strong project leadership to align multidisciplinary teams from the client, design and construction teams. Collaboration is essential to maximize the opportunities for discovering potential interplay between business units and between systems, but the various teams may not be used to working together.  

The design process must seek to align teams across business and operations units, including key user groups, facilities, ITsecurity departments and the clientproject manager to discover common goals that can be achieved through integrated automation and intelligent data analytics. Its an engineers role to help foster team alignment and lead the clients teams to define common objectives.  

Benchmarking and client team alignment: For the best chance to succeed, intelligent building initiatives must be identified from the outset of a project. The engineer should be engaged during the programming phase while there is an opportunity to influence the budget and overall program. The engineers first task is to conduct a baseline review to establish the current state of systems, equipment and common practices. After benchmarking the existing baseline conditions and practices, stakeholders from each of the clients business unit are brought together to participate in a process that will help define the ideal future state.  

Ideation phase/ownerproject requirements: During an ideation exercise led by the engineer, representatives from each business and operations unit share their individual goals, desired outcomes and metrics for measuring success and establish a risk management framework for what should be integrated for their individual business. This ideation session yields many ideas that are analyzed for common themes, consolidated and prioritized based on perceived impact to the overall organization. The main use cases identified through this inclusive process are used to generate the OPR.  

Prioritized use cases: Early and frequent budgetary updates help the project team prioritize the use cases that can be included in the project. The use cases established in the OPR are budgeted and prioritized by weighing the cost of implementation compared to their anticipated impact and return on investment. Reprioritization is required as changes to the program impact the scope and budget. Use cases that dont fit within the budget are placed on a technology roadmap for future implementation. Because interdisciplinary business units collaborate on use case prioritization, the use cases that make it into the project will have the greatest impact to the overall business.  

Design and construction team alignment: Much like alignment of the clients business units may have been a new experience for the clients team, interdisciplinary alignment of the design and construction teams mean that designers and contractors must work together in ways theyre not accustomed to achieve a common outcome which may include early trade partners if they are participants based on the projects chosen delivery method. Engineers must understand what each others systems are capable of and must communicate how their systems will interact and what components to potentially consolidate, to achieve the common goals set by the clients stakeholders. An engineer or project manager is needed to lead interdisciplinary design team coordination to ensure that the equipment and sequences required for integration and intelligent analytics are specified in the right sections.  

Construction Specifications Institute MasterFormat Division 25: Building specifications have included provisions for Division 25 to be used for integrated automation since the 2004 MasterFormat was introduced. Division 25 is a versatile section that can be used to specify controls for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting controls and other building systems independent of Division 23 or 26 where the controls responsibility had typically resided 

As controls become more open, more sophisticated and increasingly more integrated the skill set required of controls contractors becomes more demanding. Moving controls out of Division 23 and 26 and into Division 25 aligns controls under a single Tier 1 subcontractor who is responsible for their implementation and integration, typically resulting in an more unified controls platform, user interface and digestible data 

For buildings that integrate multiple systems, Division 25 may be used to specify the scope of work to be performed by the master systems integrator. The MSI is responsible for programming the sequences of operations among the integrated and interoperable systems. The MSI may also be the controls contractor, but often its preferable for the MSI and controls contractor to be separate and for the integration to third-party systems to be agnostic of the controls hardware.  

The nature by which the controls and/or MSI contractors are scoped and contracted can vary greatly. The specifier must clearly define and delineate their design phase role and their construction role relative to the general contractor or construction manager; mechanical, electrical or plumbing contractor; and other trades. The specifying engineer must work closely with the owner and with a CM to understand how the controls and integration scope will be procured so they can specify the work in the correct sections.  

Its the specifiers role to ensure that the required coordination between trades is clearly outlined and that gaps and overlaps between trades are identified and eliminated from documentation; failure to take procurement procedures — often influenced by local markets — into effect could change design and scope intent. Coordinating with procurement partners to leverage tools such as a detailed scope of work matrix, interviews with live demonstrations and/or requiring mockups before award will mitigate scope and cost duplication and assure the owner that the system designed can function as intended 

When to engage the MSIIt can be advantageous to engage an MSI during the design process when unique integration concepts or highly integrated systems are considered. Its not always possible to select contractors during design phase, such as on public or other hardbid projects. But when possible, the consultant and MSI can play complimentary roles during design phase. The consulting value proposition is to remain vendor and product agnostic, helping the client select solutions that best fit their needs. However, most consultants do not have the lab infrastructure, training or fee required to physically validate that integration capabilities described on product data sheets or in API documentation will perform as expected.  

The MSI adds value during design phase by performing verification of the planned integration and analytics concepts, allowing the owner and design team freedom to dream of innovative solutions with the assurance their vision is achievable. The MSI also provides frequent updates to the integrated automation cost model that gives the owner a running tally of the impact of their decisions.  

By binding the MSI to deliver the project based on the scope and budget agreed upon during design phase, they are obligated to produce the results that meet the owner and engineers expectations. The MSI also may influence equipment selections made by other trades based on opportunities to enhance integration performance without compromising base functionality.  

While its possible to competitively bid the MSIs scope, it is considerably more difficult than hiring an MSI as a design phase partner through a negotiated contract. The specifier assumes all responsibility for ensuring integrated automation concepts perform as expected and within the owners budget. Specifications must be detailed and well-coordinated to ensure scope is bid consistently. The bid selection process must be done systematically to ensure that the accepted bid or bids form a complete solution that conforms to each system specification as well as the integrated automation specifications.  

The MSIs skill set is not a commoditized product. In addition to ensuring the MSI has scope captured, the engineer must carefully qualify and evaluate the MSI using past experience and certifications a wide variety of subject matters including controls, integration, networking and cybersecurity.  

Figure 4: This is a basic commercial scope matrix example with on-site generation and electrochromic glass. The owner has a work order management system and room scheduling. The master system integrator provides complete low voltage systems, controls and integration of systems and contract may be shared with owner blending operation technology with information technology. The owner and the owner’s team members see a single day-to-day user interface with a blended OT/IT system that can be segregated by user (administrator, facilities operations, employees, etc.). While these divisions of scope are examples and aren’t all-encompassing, they are meant to highlight how muddy the waters can become to achieve common work results. Courtesy: Mortenson

Challenges and opportunities 

Tearing down the silos in which weve grown accustomed to working and moving technology earlier into the design and procurement, conversation is a transformative process with potential for disruption that requires teams to work together more closely than they may be used to. Alignment of client, design, procurement and construction teams requires cross-discipline coordination and enhanced cost-benefit/risk-reward analysis; it can take time to learn each others vocabularies and skill sets. Team unity around clearly defined goals is key to successfully navigating projects with the complexity of deep integration and intelligent automation.  

As fast as technology is moving, there are factors that contribute to a momentum that is resistant to change. Consulting and construction are coin-operated businesses and labor is required to create new specification sections. Also, a knowledgeable spec writer is required to keep specifications including Division 25 and other high-tech systems current. Specifiers must keep pace with industry advances and owner demands, so its incumbent on us to build flexibility into our specifications to continue to adapt to meet the demand. 

Todays buildings can be a significant improvement over traditional siloed systems that work independently and present alarms and data rather than intelligence and insights. Were beginning to tap the potential intelligent buildings have to offer and to do so well need to adapt how we think of collaboration to successfully deliver projects that drive value for our clients. The future of automation will be based on buildings that are self-aware and able to react dynamically to the occupants and changing environmental conditions. It will provide occupants with more options for taking control of their own personal comfort and will self-optimize and improve operators ability to manage. 


By Brad Kult, PE, CTS, HGA, Minneapolis; and Neil Osten, PE, LEED AP, Mortenson, Minneapolis
Author Bio: Brad Kult is the director of technology design and planning services at HGA. He is a 2019 Consulting-Specifying Engineer 40 Under 40 award winner. Neil Osten is a mechanical, electrical and plumbing design phase manager with Mortenson. He is a 2019 Consulting-Specifying Engineer 40 Under 40 award winner.