Aging buildings and sensor-based technology developments are creating unique opportunities for contractors and integrators to help building managers track the health of their facilities, the efficiency of the equipment and their usage of space.


Traditionally, predictive maintenance was a task that only some facility managers took part in. The complexity of tracking the health of the building’s many functions is still there, but now sensors, the internet and smartphones are changing the amount of information that can be gathered and who can help manage it.


On paper, manual inspections and maintenance are still the bread and butter of a building’s management, but solutions based on the internet of things (IoT) bring a building’s systems onto the web, which enables contractors to help take a headache away from building managers.


A growing number of companies offer sensors integrated on or in a device along with apps or software to analyze data and detect a potential failure. Today’s sensors include everything from infrared temperature to vibration sensors.


The IoT is having a major, permanent impact on the building management industry and puts the potential for building maintenance in the hands of a variety of sources, including electrical contractors.


Today, companies offer the services around installing and managing those sensors and the data they capture. Companies that own a large amount of real-estate in the building-management market are offering predictive maintenance solutions as well as sensor-based intelligence to increase a building’s efficiency.


IBM, for instance, offers IBM Watson, a system that promises to help companies save energy, automate inspections and maintenance tracking, and help predict safety and maintenance issues, said Claire Penny, global industry leader, Watson IoT for buildings.


“IBM Watson is helping companies expand augmented intelligence, drive innovation and unlock business transformation,” she said.


IBM Watson employs machine-learning models to analyze energy consumption based on details such as time and day of the week, weather and building occupancy. Building operators then learn and predict behaviors in energy utilization at the building level, at speed and at scale. If anomalies are detected, they can be tracked down to the submeters that caused the anomaly using the meter hierarchy. The models then help explain the cause of the anomaly at the asset level. In addition, operators can use augmented reality (AR) to diagnose problems and even control the assets.


Using the same approach with machine learning, some space managers can learn how space is used, at the building, floor or room level—even at the desk level in some cases—and ensure that they have the right type of space for users, today and in the future, Penny said. They can put a very accurate cost, per person per square meter, and show the cost of space at its current utilization rate.


“Often, this is a very sobering figure,” Penny said.


For example, IBM partnered with ISS, a global provider of facility services for more than 25,000 buildings worldwide, from concierge to cleaning to technical maintenance. ISS is using IBM Watson IoT to integrate and analyze data from millions of devices and sensors including doors, windows, chairs, meeting rooms, dispensers and air conditioning systems. This enables companies to optimize service and further understand exactly how people are using buildings, Penny said.


Putting sensors in chairs can help staff manage room occupancy and cancel unnecessary room bookings. By placing sensors on plate dispensers, kitchen staff can predict how many people are still likely to eat so they can prepare the right amount of food and avoid waste.


KONE Corp., a global elevator and escalator company, has its own solutions. KONE operates more than a million escalators, elevators and turnstiles that move a billion people around buildings every day, and they all require regular maintenance. With Watson IoT, it can connect, remotely monitor and optimize the management of these machines. By using Watson IoT to analyze the data from sensors embedded in this equipment, KONE can predict and respond to technical issues, run tests remotely and issue commands over the cloud.


“No one wants to get stuck on an elevator or walk up a broken escalator,” said Scott McMahon, company communications manager. “With Watson IoT, KONE has real-time insights and can ultimately provide better service and more innovation in buildings.”


This year’s introduction of KONE’s 24/7 Connected Services will enable equipment to be connected, bringing real-time data and more insights for customers and service technicians, he added.


“We collect data from our equipment,” McMahon said. “Then, using IBM Watson, we can analyze the data in real-time and deliver insight into potential issues or prevent issues from ever happening.”


Embedding sensors throughout buildings generates data that programs such as Watson IoT can use to identify irregularities and analyze patterns, make predictions on when maintenance might be needed, and suggest more efficient methods. In the past, companies had to collect data from disparate systems and databases manually, which could take weeks (not to mention the time it takes to analyze that data manually). With software solutions and sensors, these processes become more automatic and efficient.


IoT can also provide users of the building with cognitive concierge services, enabling users to ask for services using language, such as “I need some coffee,” “Find the nearest free meeting room,” etc. Over time, the systems start to understand a user’s preferences and adjust accordingly, Penny said.


While much of this is still far in the future for the typical commercial space, the pressure is always increasing for building managers. As buildings get taller and serve tens of thousands of people simultaneously, building operators must ensure everything operates smoothly, and that the people working in these buildings have a convenient, intuitive and enjoyable experience every day.


Being able to quickly resolve or prevent disruptions, such as a broken escalator, helps building owners save money and time as well as provide better service, Penny said. Building operators need to be aware of the changing workforce, and with a deeper focus on productivity within companies, they have to deliver buildings that are central to the users’ needs.


Contractor opportunities


For electrical contractors, this all means more business opportunities. As more buildings will need installation of IoT technology, integrators and contractors can serve a crucial role in the implementation. Successful IoT implementation is a collaboration between product and service in order to enable this complex new technology.


“Across all industries, we see more and more companies looking for ways to take advantage of the vast amount of data being produced, so they can make sense of it and find innovative ways to transform their business,” Penny said.


Building management is moving into a cognitive era that will permanently change the way business is conducted. As cities continue to grow and more buildings are constructed, there is an enormous opportunity to integrate IoT solutions and create smarter buildings. Not only will building managers be able to do their jobs more efficiently, the people working and living in those buildings will expect the same quality of maintenance and experience provided by smart buildings.


Contractors will gain from watching the evolution of IoT technology and learning what types of infrastructure, platforms and capabilities need to come together to build out a building maintenance solution.


Customer expectations are rising all the time, McMahon said.


Even before new construction begins, contractors should also think about closing the loop between design, construction and operation of a building.


“What level of intelligent and sustainable buildings could we collectively deliver if the data and insights from the operational phase of a building was fed back into architects and designers?” Penny asked.


The use cases are limitless, so the market is benefiting from forward-thinking contractors and building owners that find ways to ensure that spaces are working for the people, not the other way around.


“We have the sensors, we have the data, we have the analytics, we have the platforms, we have the security,” Penny said. “Now we just need to deliver.”