Graduating from smart to intelligent buildings

Technology is changing what is possible in the built environment. Smart buildings integrate the design of the infrastructure, building and facility systems, communications, business systems, and technology solutions that contribute to sustainability and operational efficiency.


This article has been peer-reviewed.Learning objectives

  • Understand what an intelligent, or smart, building is.
  • Learn how the intelligent building platform can be specified so the owner can use it regularly as a tool.
  • Understand how to apply the intelligent building concept.

There is a lot of buzz around intelligent buildings these days, but what exactly is an intelligent building? There are many interpretations and definitions.

An intelligent building is defined as a set of dynamically connected smart systems that are made interoperable through accumulating, sharing, analyzing, and acting upon the collective smart building data. When designed properly and effectively, the intelligent building platform will result in a more efficient, secure, and productive asset that has the capacity to continuously improve over its lifetime.

Smart buildings integrate the design of the infrastructure, building and facility systems, communications, business systems, and technology solutions that contribute to sustainability. Courtesy: CFE MediaThe intelligent building platform becomes a powerful tool, enabling optimal building performance across all metrics-life safety, security, energy efficiency, productivity, operational efficiency, utility consumption, sustainability, and conservation measures and employee and public engagement. The intelligent building design creates a common software platform that aggregates, normalizes, and coordinates the data from and between the disparate smart systems. This platform enables transparent access to real-time building performance data while allowing intuitive visualization of the metrics important to each class of stakeholder through dashboards. The capabilities of the platform are further expanded through the implementation of fault detection, diagnostics, analytics, and advanced reporting applications.

Often, a collection of independent smart systems has been considered "intelligent." For example, a typical building design may incorporate efficient mechanical equipment with advanced control sequences or a smart lighting system will use LED fixtures, energy-efficient ballasts, and daylight harvesting strategies. While smart systems are an excellent step and important components of a smart building, until they are enabled to share their critical data to effectively impact other systems, they act as islands of information within the facility, limiting the opportunity to positively impact the overall enterprise. However, when enabled to share their specialized data, through an open-source data platform, these smart building systems become collectively intelligent and their effectiveness increases exponentially.

An intelligent building should be fit for purpose and fit for the future. It must meet the requirements and needs of the enterprise's potentially vast group of stakeholders, addressing the goals and initiatives set forth in the customer's charter and vision. Simultaneously, the intelligent building needs to be fit for future use, with the flexibility and scalability incorporated into the design to easily and seamlessly expand with, and adapt to, tomorrow's technologies.

Seven steps to an intelligent building

Because a truly intelligent building necessitates a number of components working in concert, Environmental Systems Design has created a list of seven keys to intelligent building design and implementation. From the predesign phase to the evolving role of the facility manger in tomorrow's intelligent building, these seven design keys will help any stakeholder plan for and execute the fit for purpose, fit for future principal throughout their intelligent building network.

1. Plan ahead. The intelligent building concept is best planned for in the early stages of design-the earlier, the better. Both timing and an informed, motivated end user are critical to the execution of an intelligent building. Once the infrastructure has been defined, it is typically difficult and costly to makes the necessary changes to achieve the maximum benefits. Knowing the consumption of each piece of field equipment to the most granular level possible is beneficial. An intelligent building will have metering points on all pieces of equipment including, but not limited to, electrical switchgear and distribution, primary water distribution, HVAC systems, vertical transport, and irrigation systems. When the base building systems aren't designed for intelligence from day one, although not impossible, it is more challenging and costly to redesign and redistribute the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), fire protection, and information technology infrastructure to properly support and contribute to the intelligent building platform.

Figure 3: Each of the stakeholders in an integrated building will require a different dashboard of intelligent building information. This sample building automation system (BAS) screen shot could belong to the operational/functional stakeholders of a buil2. Identify and understand the wide-ranging stakeholder requirements. Each class of stakeholder will have different requirements in the intelligent building. The desired outcomes will vary depending on the individual, unique expectations, and experiences. Gathering these individual stakeholders to discuss their distinct and specific needs, including coming to consensus and compromising where necessary, will be critical to successful design. Intelligent buildings will need to take the following stakeholders into consideration:

  • Financial stakeholders will desire information on how the intelligent building systems are impacting the company's financial metrics/bottom line.
  • Operational/functional stakeholders keep the building functioning on a day-to-day basis and are concerned with occupant satisfaction, ease of operation, access to critical systems information, and productivity of the maintenance staff. They will want access to the total building's systems so they can address issues in real time.
  • Resource reduction, or sustainability, stakeholders are concerned with energy and water efficiency, utility optimization, and how to reduce emissions and save resources.
  • Productivity stakeholders are concerned with the productivity of those in the building. They will look for building comfort and will want access to information about the effectiveness of the building's spaces and how integration can improve productivity.
  • Security/life safety stakeholders will want the intelligent building to help disseminate messages during an emergency, including pre-action and warnings. Additionally, they will be interested in how the building's intelligence can be leveraged to maintain proper access control and improve emergency communications.
  • Amenities/public communications stakeholders will want to include performance data from throughout the intelligent building in lobby displays to promote the building's sustainability initiatives and help aid in wayfinding and destination control.
  • Prestige/recognition will be a motivation for multiple stakeholders who want to create a high-profile image for the building, company, and/or community, showcasing the company's commitment and dedication to all occupants, visitors, and investors.

All parties are interested in obtaining granularity in their specific areas so they can analyze the data gathered and optimize building systems according to best practices. Defining metrics helps apply the intelligent data gathered to minimize energy and operational expenditure.

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