Karen Fletcher, editor of Modern Building Services magazine looks at important issues at the Facilities Show

Connectivity, data analysis, artificial intelligence and wellbeing – these topics attracted the biggest audiences for seminars at this year’s Facilities Show (18th to 20th June 2019, ExCel London).  

The audience of facilities managers and related professions were keen to learn about the latest developments in these fields – giving a clear indication of where the market is heading.

Digital transformation of business is happening at unprecedented speed. It has already affected some areas of building operation and management.

The latest, connected, energy efficient and high-performing kit is what building managers are putting a value on

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Editor of Modern Building Services

Being smarter

For instance, leading manufacturers are increasingly including controls and data-gathering capabilities in air conditioning equipment.

It’s possible to control, operate and monitor a series of VRF units using cloud-ready software that will connect to a smart phone.

This kind of ‘smart kit’ is an increasingly common phenomenon in building services, and it is moving the building management system (BMS) from a single control room out into the field where FMs (and even occupants) can use it to track energy use, or ensure that their area of the office is comfortable for their requirements.

It has been driven by a new level of connectivity that makes delivery of what used to be advanced control techniques much more straightforward, and affordable.

Machine learning

Of course, gathering data is one thing; using it is another. And that’s where big strides are being made in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Once a building is packed with services kit that is fully connected and streaming data, that data becomes a potential challenge simply because there is so much of it. Identifying patterns and spotting anomalies isn’t something humans can do quickly.

The IT giants such as IBM and IBM Watson have spotted this potential, and they are bringing the mass data analysis techniques used in manufacturing and logistics to the building management sector.

The ability to take the data from building services and analyse it in-depth is putting real power into the hands of building managers.

It is possible to compare buildings in a portfolio and across time, making for more accurate predictions of energy use and the ability to spot when usage is out the bounds of normal.

And on to AI

The next step in this technical progression is Artificial Intelligence (AI). While this is still in its infancy as far as buildings are concerned, there is clearly a huge potential value for building management professionals.

From large amounts of data and analysis, it is possible for IT systems to learn and predict future activities and requirements.

There are obvious benefits of this capability for buildings – better energy management; a more responsive environment; and a level of automated continuous commissioning driven by data that is being fed into the system minute-by-minute from all of the building services.

Employee wellbeing

In spite of the focus on IT, however, people are still the most expensive item a business can invest in. Speakers at the Facilities Show showed a concern for employee wellbeing that goes a long way beyond offering gym membership and a decent café. 

Attracting, retaining and getting the most out of the next generation workforce seems to be something of an obsession with today’s businesses. For building services, of course, the indoor environment is home turf: cooling, heating, ventilation, air quality, lighting – all of these issues are at the heart of well-designed and delivered services.

While the influences of IT and a focus on wellbeing seem to be coming from opposite directions, they are closely linked. As consumers in recent years we have grown very used to cars that connect automatically with our smartphones to play music or take calls.

And at home, automated systems are answering questions, finding recipes online and ensuring the central heating is on exactly when we need it. It’s a connected world, and the office is starting to feel a little old fashioned by comparison!

Summary

For building services professionals, these issues may seem a long way from the design of an air conditioning system, for example.

However, with the focus on tech and wellbeing, is also a potential opportunity for smart designers and installers.

The latest, connected, energy efficient and high-performing kit is what building managers are putting a value on – so now is definitely the time to start thinking along those lines when offering ideas to customers.

Karen Fletcher is editor of Modern Building Services