Smart Buildings – Thoughts from Olympia

When I first started attending trade shows years ago, I was of course eager to find the latest technological wonders, unveiled before our admiring eyes. Over the years I have come to see that such events are less places to go to for dramatic revelations and more experiences which either confirm or call into doubt what you already thought you knew about what was happening in the market.

This was encapsulated by a familiar face from a major supplier who admitted that the company was there mainly to underline its presence in the smart buildings space in the UK.

For our presentation we had chosen the theme of “Wellbeing in Buildings: Gimmick or Game changer”? The theme clearly captured a lot of interest from the audience. Global wellbeing standards like the Well Standard and the Fitwell standard lay down detailed and structured standards against which wellbeing can be measured.

Over 1,300 organisations in the UK have either passed the Well Building Standard or are working towards it, which is more than any other country in the world, just ahead of the US, despite this being a US-based standard. My own quick preliminary research confirms that in many cases BACS or other smart building technology can make a tangible difference in attaining many of these goals.

Looking at the themes of all the presentation, wellbeing and related subjects was the second most popular topic, so we appear to have captured the zeitgeist. Most popular of all was “IoT” and its impact on buildings. One presentation supported the notion that IoT will lead to the demise of BACS as it has traditionally been known (though security is likely to require that building systems remain insulated to a degree from the wider internet – by firewalls or other security measures).

Lighting was the third most popular theme, which of course ties in with both wellbeing and energy saving. In joint fourth place were cyber-security, issues related to wireless, and the more general advance of integration. Cyber security is clearly the snarling guest at the party which is not going to leave however hard you try, and which will require a constantly evolving strategy to control.

The interest in integration is hardly surprising, since you can no more have a smart building without integration of a range of different building services than you can have a smart animal if the hands, the feet, the eyes, the lungs and the liver all operate entirely independently.

Wireless technology continues to gain ground, slowly, though key questions of reliability and security remain to be fully resolved. The growth prospects for wireless look likely to be boosted if there is a growth in smart building technology in smaller buildings, driven partly by new energy regulations.

In connection with wireless, I attended an interesting talk on the roll out of 5G in the UK. While the speaker saw it mainly in terms of an increase in overall network capacity – with the major telcos enjoying varying shares, in buildings there was also the opportunity to licence a small and localised part of the network to use for internal transmission.

Other themes favoured by more than one speaker included the growing importance of having large numbers of sophisticated sensors to collect the data needed for a smart building, the importance of data and analytics, and the value of space management.

And of course, at an event like this, we should pay attention not just to what is said, but what is left unsaid, or merely whispered sotto voce.

Of the big themes that we might have expected, there was less explicit reference to the cloud. This partly reflects the fact that the cloud is an enabler rather than an end in itself and is implicitly linked to the most popular theme of all: the IoT.

There was less direct reference to data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning than I might have expected. I suspect this is partly because these are hard to pin down for the benefit of an audience more interested in practical results than in the theory that under pins them. After all, AI is as hard to define rigorously as is the “smart building”. Both are essentially continually advancing targets.

A significant number of major building controls suppliers were in attendance – most of them headquartered outside the UK

All of this made it an event worth attending.

 

Written by Henry Lawson, Senior Market Intelligence Analyst at BSRIA
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