Asia’s new smart buildings

How modern building management systems are making a difference in building management

Each time something goes wrong at an office, a data center or a critical infrastructure facility, the result can vary from the slightly annoying to the highly disruptive.

When a lift breaks down, workers at a building have to walk up the stairs and possibly end up late for meetings. They lose time and productivity.

When a data center’s building facilities malfunction despite the usual safeguards built in, the cost can be in the thousands of dollars a minute.

Key infrastructure providers may also find themselves at the end of stinging regulatory action. Fines in the millions of dollars are not unheard of.

In 2014, a Singapore telecom operator was fined S$6 million for an outage at an exchange facility that affected close to 270,000 subscribers in the country. A fire had caused the disruption.

For data centers, the downtime can be costly as well. A study of data centers in 2016 by the Ponemon Institute found that a single minute of unplanned outage can cost a data center is as much as US$7,000.

Today’s Systems Can Prevent Common Problems

While there are many factors involved in each outage and costs often vary for each vertical, what is certain is that many everyday issues that occur at buildings can be proactively prevented.

From restricting access to only credentialed persons,  to controlling the air-conditioning and lighting in a building, today’s building management system (BMS) are helping to reduce the risk of downtime.

Many of today’s systems are able to connect various different sub-systems in a building, from its chilled water plants to the cooling towers and exhaust systems that provide a comfortable environment for occupants.

Modern BMS systems also enable zone temperature monitoring and control for air-conditioning, for example. They can help to monitor air quality, say, the levels of carbon dioxide in enclosed areas.

What separates today’s systems from the past is how integrated and connected they are. Unlike before, when each subsystem was set up with disparate control mechanisms, today’s microprocessor- and software-based systems enable real-time information to be fed to the building management center, where operators can quickly make important decisions on the fly.

So, fan systems are connected. A network of lights is connected, as are meters, emergency systems, CCTV cameras and even the fire control systems.

In the long run, a BMS makes it is easier to manage a building with the intelligence it provides to operators. With proactive monitoring, it allows for planned maintenance and reduces operational disruption. Ultimately, this means an improved experience for tenants.

Security Must Be Top of Mind

As with the introduction of any new technology, there are challenges involved in BMS. The reliance on sensors, in the form of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, means that there is a need to ensure that both performance and security are up to scratch.

First, the multitude of sensors that are sitting literally on the edge of the network have to be able to reliably send that data to a central point to be analyzed.

To do so, high-performance and secure IoT edge servers have to do the part of ensuring that the numbers are correctly delivered and then passing on the collated information onwards. Sometimes, they can help crunch the numbers as well.

The inherent risk of IoT has been widely publicized in high-profile incidents. In 2016, millions of Internet cameras were taken over by hackers to mount a denial-of-service attack that made the Internet inaccessible in parts of the United States.

Yet, connected devices are a key part of future systems that are used to manage buildings intelligently. Along with performance, their success will depend largely on the security that is built from ground-up to reduce the risk of cyberattacks and unplanned disruptions.

Indeed, in a use case where downtime is not an option, fault prevention rather than fault recovery is arguably more important. Whether this is to keep a cyberattack at bay or simply being able to run reliably, the hardware and software have to deliver.

This is an environment where the servers and networks that deliver the information to the control center have to be up 24/7. For many operators, the uptime has to be as high as “five nines”, and not any less.

In a way, that may be the real “smart” in smart buildings in the future. In other words, it’s not just the fancy front-end solutions that are highly visible, such as nifty user check-ins at the reception desk, but also the transformations happening in the control systems that quietly enable a building to run smoothly.