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Smart Buildings - What does the future hold for Services Engineering

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Buildings and building technology is at the cusp of a revolution. Things are about to evolve rapidly - noises are being made - resources are being mobilised. 
 
CIBSE ANZ region has just concluded a series of seminars on the ‘Anatomy of a smart building’. A range of speakers highlighted the many issues that Building Services Engineers will need to deal with in the very near future, and for many in the audience the challenges look to be quite confronting, not least because normal rules are unlikely to apply.  The Engineering and Construction sector has been slow to embrace the latest technological opportunities, according to a World Economic Forum report, but rapidly changing expectations of building owners and tenants means that the anatomy of the smart building will look very different to that of its traditional counterpart. As Jon Clarke, NDY questioned, “Why approach smart buildings in the same way as we have been building automation for the past 15 years?”



Disruption, would be the simple answer, according to the seminar presenters. The existing building management control system companies may well have a limited future if they continue to focus on their traditional control system architecture (there appears to be an increasing move towards ‘software as a service’ and ‘the internet of things’ solutions, driven by organisations not normally associated with the building services industry). People working in the controls industry will need to find new ways of doing things, and quite a few in the installation, maintenance and diagnostics space can expect to be replaced by artificial intelligence and ‘plug and play’ equipment.
 
Whilst this might seem like wild speculation - it was something that all the speakers agreed on - the easy bit so to speak. The hard bit is trying to second guess exactly how this disruption will play out. For instance, sensor technology has come on in leaps and bounds- it is now possible to measure all sorts of parameters from occupancy and temperature through to CO2 and VOC levels throughout an occupied space (think one multi-sensor per light fitting..), but who will own the data? Who will have access to it? How will this data be manipulated? Some new generation sensors are coming from new generation suppliers ie they might have the smarts and expertise, but they don’t have a long track record – how many will be in business in 5 or 10 years’ time? (If a building owner commits to say 5000 sensors in a bid to future-proof their new building – will it be money wasted if the supplier folds?)
 
The bigger question is why would building owners even go down this path in the first place? (what new problems are we trying to solve?). Part of the answer lies in the fear of being left behind (“I don’t know what I want – but my competitors are doing something, so I want it nevertheless”), and part lies in the ability to do new and exciting things with our buildings. The latter is obviously a more noble reason, but what are these new and exciting things? Individual climate tailoring and control, greater resource efficiency, better targeting environmental factors that impact on occupant productivity…. these all featured in the presentations, but the devil will be in the detail – and as Matt Clifford, speaker from JLL, put it “we need to avoid the situation where we create solutions looking for problems”.



Factor in the Donald Rumsfeld dilemma (“There are things we know that we know, there are known unknowns - that is to say there are things that we now know we don't know - but there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know”)*, and the growing problems associated with cyber security as Wayne Gass from Jacobs phrased it, "there are two types of organisation – those that have been hacked, and those that don’t know they have been hacked”, and it’s clear that services engineers will have a lot of adaptation to do.



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