As the world grapples with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the huge effect on the global economy, the pandemic lockdown continues to redefine the management of commercial spaces, changing expectations and most certainly altering the industry for years to come. With most buildings still operating during the lockdown, typically without manual input, this is a perfect opportunity to elevate the use of cloud-based, remote building automation systems (BAS) for commercial buildings. This will not only allow remote monitoring and operation but also will allow a leaner operation to most facilities while reducing operational expenditures. Techs were forced to conduct on-site visits at buildings lacking building management systems (BMS) and those that could not be controlled remotely, ensuring that lighting, HVAC systems, and security systems were all still working correctly, potentially exposing themselves to contracting the COVID-19 virus with each trip. It was either visit the buildings or wait until the lockdown was over to check on their condition. This was a serious issue for building owners during the extended period of lockdown around the world. Facilities with control systems that were capable of remote monitoring and control had no such issues. For these systems, if there are issues that could not be solved remotely, firms/owners could dispatch one of their less at-risk facility staff to check on the facility.
Every major disruption shifts our priorities and alters perspectives, redefining the existing status quo. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to redefine our new normal. During this pandemic experience, the digital economy gained substantial traction, paving the way for the adoption of technology in every sector, including the building industry. COVID-19 has forced building operation to be more automated and less reliant on manual interventions. During the current pandemic, BMS/BAS technology was one key tool that helped building managers quickly modify their building operations in an effort to minimize the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The use of enhanced ventilation systems is key to the reduction of the COVID-19 transmission within commercial buildings. Buildings that could use their BMS/BASs to quickly modify their ventilation systems proved to be more flexible than those that were unable to. The remote manipulation of an MEP system has been around for some time, but the majority of buildings that are in operation are not equipped with that technology. This is often attributed to the high capital cost involved in getting them installed during the construction process. Usually, these remote operation designs are often viewed as extra and not a necessity.
Despite its obvious benefits that smart buildings afford, the BMS/BAS industry has always faced tremendous challenges due to the way manufacturers deploy and install their systems. Most building control systems are closed protocols that will not allow third-party systems to be installed within their ecosystems. Owners are challenged when it comes to choosing a sole manufacturer to be tied down to, as this lack of flexibility in the installed systems could lead to high routine maintenance costs and delayed service. Manufacturers have been improving their offerings, but this need to be intensified to allow more open protocol-based control systems, granting owners more flexibility in their building control procurement. This, in turn, will reduce the costs associated with control modification projects.
The importance of cloud-based remote access and control has also become extremely important during the pandemic. The extended lock down that was implemented during the pandemic’s first surge had forced owners to redefine the way they wanted to access their remote building control system operations. Having easy remote access would have helped to reduce the in-person activities in buildings during the initial pandemic surge. Owners who had the ability to easily access their building BMS/BAS system remotely were much more adept in handling the challenges associated with ongoing building operation during these months.
HOW WILL CONTROL SYSTEM HELP IN REDUCING OPERATIONAL COSTS?
The novel coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, upending entire industries and leaving scores of people around the world without work, child care, and — in many places — enough food on their tables. Building owners are not only faced with the challenge of rebuilding the confidence of building occupants with respect to safety but also finding a way to reduce the overall operational cost of their buildings.
Business owners will need to reduce the operational costs associated with their lines of business; there is a need to focus on workforce optimization, remote asset management, building environmental safety, and efficient building energy usage. The use of cloud-based and portfolio-wide building operations of building control systems will be a key factor in ensuring a leaner building operation. For ongoing operation throughout the remainder of this pandemic, remote operations technology will play a key role in facilitating smaller on-site workforces and social distancing practices. The use of remote operation will help to better utilize the building resources for unoccupied floors. Floors that can isolate the HVAC and lighting system can be turned to reduce the building energy use if they’re unoccupied. Portfolio-scale BMSs can be configured to automate these building operations to contribute to a reduction in costs. This will be integral to building operational savings for the new normal.
There are several control strategies that will reduce the operational cost of buildings going forward, the effectiveness of these strategies will be enhanced by remote-tech BMS/BAS solutions. Some of these are:
- 24/7 monitoring of equipment usage status, energy consumed, and HVAC operations;
- The use of cloud-based command and control in an Internet of things (IoT) environment;
- IoT-based remote dynamic scheduling, consumption reports, and HVAC adjustments;
- Predictive monitoring of critical equipment, limiting the possibility of disruption due to failure to prevent building downtime;
- Remote BMS/BAS shutdown and restart for buildings or sections that are unoccupied for the duration of this pandemic and similar future events;
- Timely alerts in the form of SMS and emails in case of abnormalities/deviations; and
- Single console view of multiple sites in different geographic locations.
The new normal will force the building industry to incorporate greater building automation than in the past, which will make buildings much more resilient to future pandemic challenges like COVID-19 and even a true airborne disease. In a post-pandemic world, the use of portfolio-wide centralized command control platforms will help building systems to have a more reliable building operation. The advantages of real-time, system-wide fault detection and diagnostics; remote command and control of systems; integrated workflows coupled with maintenance; and occupant maintenance requests have become obvious to most building owners and operators during the current pandemic — making a compelling case to reduce building operation costs. With the current reduction in on-site building maintenance workforce, predictive and automated maintenance and remote building monitoring present the best approach to building control systems.
BMS/BAS WITH INTEGRATED TECHNOLOGIES
The future of building automation revolves around less reliance on human intervention to execute repetitive tasks as automation continues to take over routine activities. Automated BMS/BAS solutions will help to deliver consistent quality in performance; reliability; programmability; remote, targeted intervention; and seamless operations. The use of IoT technology and AI-driven digital control platforms will allow enterprise buildings to provide real-time, systemwide transparency and a centralized view of building operations. This will unlock unprecedented levels of efficiency while reducing long-term operational costs.
The management of commercial property using digital automation tools has become even more important during the current pandemic. Using this technology has helped facilities at the portfolio level to do remote work-order management, monitor critical alarms, and trigger routine maintenance notices while maintaining a high quality of occupant experience. Digital automation tools also helped to re-establish building occupants’ confidence using touchless access to building — using contactless, app-based controls for elevators, lighting, HVAC, and plumbing.
CREATING THE NEW NORMAL
The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered many operational gaps in the control of buildings, which should be best addressed through increased automation. The increase in the number of hardware-agnostic, off-the-shelf automation solutions that require minimal IT skills to manipulate and the rise in the open protocol of building controls are propelling the industry in the right direction. The ease of installation of these new control platforms will allow the digital retrofit market to soar in the post-pandemic economy. The pandemic has exposed the success of smaller maintenance teams coupled with enterprise remote operations as a more economical way of controlling buildings. This will be accepted as the new normal in the post-pandemic era.
The future of design will be forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic because building owners will have to invest in more resilient measures to safe guard their investments against the chance of any future pandemic occurrences. Before the pandemic, IoT and AI BASs were considered as future technology and optional; now, they are being viewed as the best response to efficiently control a building’s operations.
After the pandemic, we will begin to see more and more convergence within building control systems between traditional applications and newer, pandemic-related technologies, which are predominantly driven by small, fast-moving, and innovative players. COVID-19 has shown that smart building technologies can help in more ways than simply through security and energy management, and we’re now beginning to see many of these innovative solutions being deployed. Currently, this innovation is being driven by smaller players. In the next several years, we will begin to see more traditional smart building businesses evolve their offerings to incorporate these pandemic-driven changes.
The new normal will involve remote, cloud-enabled building control capabilities that will be a powerful enabler for building owners seeking to brave inevitable economic headwinds while reducing disruption to their operations and optimizing returns on their investments.