Smart buildings and top challenges facility managers will face with the new technology

by FM Media
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As the interest in smart buildings and related technologies continues to grow, there’s an important issue that shouldn’t be lost in all the hype – exactly how can facility managers (FMs) effectively manage these buildings, and what challenges are they likely to face?

Here are four common challenges that facility managers can expect while managing smart buildings and ideas on how they can best tackle these issues.

 

  1. Device life cycle management

Smart building technology runs on an interconnected system of wireless sensors and other fittings, all coming together to create an intelligent system for monitoring an enormous range of functions. Depending on the size of the building, these devices can number up to the hundreds and increase to thousands over time. 

FMs will require a well-planned life cycle management strategy for every one of these items from day one. First, they’ll need to have a comprehensive asset register with details of  each item, then they must transfer that information to maintenance software, especially a CMMS (computerised maintenance management system) for better monitoring. Thereafter, they  can  create a schedule via CMMS for connecting new devices, decommissioning old ones and so on. This will be an ongoing process.

 

  1. Cybersecurity 

These buildings run on data and, where there’s data, there are usually cybersecurity concerns. Every device connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) could provide potential access for a malicious attack, and therefore the entire network requires proactive monitoring.

Since cyber attacks today can target almost all the major categories of networks in a smart building, such as OT (Operations Technology), IT (Information Technology) and the IoT, FMs must proactively seek out cybersecurity solutions that shield all three of these networks. Because once a single connected operational device is breached, it could impact the entire network, disrupt building services and potentially expose the building’s occupants to danger.

The threat is significant and the consequences of a security breach can be financially and psychologically draining for all stakeholders. These days, there are many cases of cyber attacks on smart buildings. For example, within a  few months, a smart Austrian Hotel was hacked four times. Hotel residents were locked out of their rooms until the owner paid a ransom.

 

Ideally, FMs can look into modern, proactive cybersecurity solutions that offer features like:

  • real-time network monitoring
  • early detection capabilities on both physical security elements and control systems networks, and
  • early detection of cyber attacks on edge devices.

 

  1. IoT integration issues

Traditionally, the major building systems have been siloed. This means that HVAC, security, energy use and other infrastructure have been managed as separate entities, each with different monitoring, maintenance and management. 

But integrating these systems is an essential part of running smart buildings. FMs will need to research and seek out IoT providers with open APIs and more user-friendly systems that allow connection of  multiple building systems under one singular IoT platform. For example, when this is achieved, it makes it easier to automate both lighting and HVAC systems to respond to occupancy and weather conditions – rather than having each system operating independently.

 

  1. Maintenance staff education and training

For those that lack the experience, working as part of a maintenance team on a smart building will be a whole new experience and distinctly challenging. They will need a well-structured onboarding process and ongoing training programs that could last for a few months.

Such training will cover a wide range of subjects: from teaching how to recognise potential cybersecurity attacks to training on how to troubleshoot the various installed devices. One way to make maintenance management relatively easier in a smart building is to deploy a predictive maintenance strategy (PdM).

Under a PdM setup, the maintenance process is completely automated and any potential issue is detected by sensors mounted on critical assets and machinery.

These sensors monitor parameters like temperature, noise and vibration, and give advance warnings well before maintenance staff notice that there’s a problem. Thereby the issue can be resolved before the affected equipment fails. Furthermore, all these interventions happen long before any issues can become an inconvenience to the building’s occupants.

That said, a good place to find appropriate training programs on smart buildings would be to check the various smart building technology courses available online by establishments like The Penn State College of Engineering or Green Moves.

Smart buildings are here to stay; most likely they will become the norm in the near future. But building owners and facility managers involved in running these buildings need to understand the challenges ahead and devise ways to tackle each obstacle. Only then can they set themselves up to run these structures efficiently long term and hopefully gain the benefits of smart building infrastructure. 

As custodians of maintenance, FMs in particular need to do their research then take the time to plan things correctly. Part of that planning is to ensure that they find and collaborate only with service providers that can offer them the kind of solutions needed, whether that’s in cybersecurity, IoT integration or other areas.

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organise, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.

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