The real estate industry is in the middle of a colossal paradigm shift in the way we operate buildings. Property owners and operators have had to constantly realign strategies to meet changing occupant needs and rely on data-driven insights to inform these key decisions in operations. The constraints imposed by the pandemic have made it even more crucial to have real-time building information readily accessible and therefore has put BAS and its many shortfalls in the spotlight today. While building automation has been hallmarked for years by outdated software, lack of openness, and an obsolete business model, property stakeholders have fully woken up to the problems in the BAS industry only now. The realization — that the traditional BAS software in buildings today is unsuited to access or share data in real-time, doesn’t interoperate with any other systems, and is questionably old school — has finally hit us hard.
Building automation needs big-time innovation
In an alternate world, BAS could be the core driver of real estate operations and portfolio-wide performance. It could be the data powerhouse that helps derive key operational insights in real-time. It could be particularly useful to drive visibility for key stakeholders into their entire operations and inform strategic decisions. It could help devise tactical measures, pave for new use case deployments or performance optimizations in weeks (versus months today).
Most importantly, it could have embraced technological advancements in cloud, IoT, and big data analytics to transform itself into uncovering all of the above possibilities and more. Sadly, its service-heavy business model has always put a lock on incentivizing upgrades and, as a result, BAS software hasn’t seen innovation in years. To date, it’s limited to a narrow scope of equipment controls and alarm management and is rarely useful to anyone other than a building controls technician, despite its sizable capital investment.
Furthermore, it is hard to imagine any software or system today that works seamlessly with BAS for data access or control based automation. Anyone who has attempted to do any efficiency-based initiative — real-time energy management, analytics, automated billing, new sensor deployment in buildings, to name a few — can relate to the full extent of this problem. It involves painful building-wide system integration or stitching together complex manual workflows that end up adding to the existing building management silos. While it may even seem feasible to do this in one building today with the help of your BAS vendor or contractor, you can’t even start to imagine scaling this across your portfolio.
In this post-pandemic world — with entirely new occupant health and safety use cases that demand integration with smart sensors and equipment — BAS software in its current form is greatly at the risk of becoming redundant.
Synergies in property operations when the full potential of BAS is unlocked
In reality, it’s not impossible or even too hard to turn the BAS data lock-in problem around. Most BAS networks support IP-based open standard protocols like BACnet/IP, Modbus TCP/IP, OPC, etc. Using edge technology, accessing real-time building information from these networks becomes pretty straightforward. Combine cloud technology with this and it unlocks new, unexplored potential for BAS. Take supervisory controls for building systems that are traditionally on-prem software and operate at a single building level. It is effortless to imagine these functionalities to work across your entire portfolio from one place with the help of cloud-based platforms. Much before enabling supervisory controls across buildings, this approach lays the foundation for data-driven operations and that’s what makes it the most significant shift in this direction.
Imagine having historic BAS data collected over the years and across buildings on a cloud-based platform. What if it can be normalized to a common data model and naming standard. Imagine using the power of analytics over such unified data sets. Consider deriving insights and sharing visibility into building operations for key stakeholders. Imagine the same platform also enables data sharing with other applications that need this data. That solves all the pains of BAS system integration — something that is proven to be a bottleneck for tech adoption in buildings. Imagine having a CMMS system that seamlessly uses data surfaced from the BAS and enables maintenance to be performed based on the equipment condition besides periodic schedules. Or, a tenant servicing system that automatically adjusts HVAC schedules or overrides set points in a building based on occupant requests. The possibilities that this approach creates are limitless and lucrative in meeting the evolving operational demands of large organizations.
Turning to next-gen technologies for portfolio-wide automation
Over the past decade or so, building operators who have attempted to address the BAS problem have had to build a solution themselves with the help of IT solutions vendors, experienced MSIs, or automation vendors. Often these solutions were based on the same outdated BMS technologies, extending the same functionalities but for multiple buildings, took considerable time, and cost a lot to deploy. What’s worse is quite often these solutions didn’t even get deployed across portfolios because of the same teething problems like lack of openness, vendor lock-in, etc. reinforcing the need to make a transformational change to building automation of today.
And, frankly, the industry isn’t looking up to the BAS incumbents to bring about these innovations. While most of the big automation vendors have launched platforms and solution offerings that attempt to solve this, the property operations industry isn’t flattered enough to believe these companies to have suddenly prioritized customer needs at the expense of disrupting their own service-based business models.
With the commoditization of IoT, cloud, and analytics technologies, however, things are taking a positive turn. It’s not too late to leverage the full potential of existing BAS. This is a game-changer with respect to the role of software in building automation and operations — a movement that is accelerated with growing cloud and IoT startups across the globe. The possibilities we discussed in this article are exciting, and we’re only just starting to scratch the surface here. Once the data from building automation systems and sensors become readily available, an innovation barrier is lifted for real estate companies across asset classes to build solutions for countless needs in various operations and maintenance (O&M) contexts.
It is with this grand vision that Facilio has been building a cloud based O&M data platform that allows real estate portfolio owners and operators to consolidate data across building systems and optimize operations in various contexts.
This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of www.automatedbuildings.com. See it in its entirety at http://www.automatedbuildings.com/news/jan21/articles/Facilio/201215011001Facilio.html.