Real estate at the heart of a digital revolution

Real estate is at the heart of a digital revolution. Building professionals and occupants are now benefitting from a new generation of buildings that are more energy efficient, less expensive to run, more attractive and better suited to new ways of working. Requiring a whole new range of networked systems and services, smart building design involves new types of experts, IT and digital managers, in project teams.

Jean-Pierre Aubert (general manager, setec is) and Olivier Migeon (director of the electrical engineering department of setec bâtiment) explain.

What do you mean by “smart building”?

The idea isn’t new, but it has evolved. About 10 years ago, smart buildings were mainly automated, managing processes such as air conditioning and lighting. These buildings also had a generalized pre-cabling infrastrucutre to connect occupants to the company’s VDI networks. However, most of the building systems (fire safety, security access, technical management and video surveillance) used their own cabling and communications protocols.

The concept has been transformed by the digitization of building systems, the availability of a multitude of networks and wireless devices, the mainstream use of the cloud, the arrival of highly affordable and very low-energy connected objects, and greater environmental awareness. Today, “smart building” means new IT networks and big data applications that will drive change and meet the latest needs. All the applications, such as video surveillance, security access, energy management and technical management, now run over IT networks. Tests are underway to power our office lighting through the IT network.

What needs do these new smart buildings meet?

Ways of working have changed significantly, being more mobile, collaborative, multimedia and social than ever before. At the same time, environmental and energy regulations have also evolved. Future offices and workspaces must therefore adapt to meet two basic needs: user comfort and energy performance.

Improving comfort, assisting surveillance and security, managing electrical consumption and improving the energy efficiency of buildings… All these functions could be managed more intelligently with scalable IT networks that can adapt to future technology, offering excellent availability and optimized operating costs.

Smart buildings can enhance comfort for users through services such as geolocation; air quality tracking and adaptation; temperature and lighting; real-time meeting room management; and people traffic tracking.

They can also help users meet energy performance targets. New real-time consumption reporting tools alert building managers of over-consumption and provide comprehensive information on building performance.

What new challenges do IT directors now face?

The Smart Building Institute defines connected buildings as enabling the provision of precise information on building performance, the detection of errors and shortcomings, the integration of real-time reporting systems, and the integration of tools for managing energy spend. The stakes are high: these buildings will boost the attractiveness of buildings, improve employee well-being and productivity, enhance the value of real estate and reduce operating costs.

IT directors can and must offer property management departments their expertise in new technologies, architectures to be deployed and operating processes to be implemented. They must be at the heart of the design of future intelligent and connected buildings.

What new technologies and innovations make these services possible?

We are seeing the emergence of new low-energy networks, enabling hundreds or even thousands of devices and sensors in buildings to be connected at the lowest possible costs. These include future low-power Wi-Fi standards, Bluetooth low energy, Li-Fi (a communications network like Wi-Fi but using lighting in offices, meeting rooms, etc.), ZigBee, 4G and 5G networks, and Low Power Wide Area Network (e.g. Sigfox and LoRa). By equipping buildings with cheap wireless sensors that consume very little energy or are powered by IT networks, it is possible to capture millions of pieces of data on travel, lighting and temperature. These aspects can then be managed remotely through cloud apps, optimizing operating costs and enhancing the real estate value.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is also evolving to provide more energy from computer ports (15W, 30W, 60W and in the future, 90 W).

Among the major innovations that could emerge is LED-based connected lighting, powered directly by the IT network. On this topic, the companies Phillips and Cisco have jointly presented a first pilot building.

How can we make the most of these technological innovations and manage these projects?

We have seen considerable challenges for smart buildings in terms of:

  • Enhancing the value of property portfolios
  • Operating costs
  • Building attractiveness and employee well-being/productivity
    We are seeing increasing convergence between the real-estate and IT sectors
  • An identical communications channel: the IP network
  • The same equipment: cable, wireless and active devices
  • The same management challenges: VLAN, data security, QoS and server virtualization
    Given the potential acceleration in the number of devices and equipment to connect, as well as the range of available and competing technological solutions, it is difficult for property management departments to work effectively without involving their IT department (different client experiences).
    IT department clients are already entrusting setec to manage video surveillance projects and design smart connected factories.
    In these cases, the IT department manages the project:
  • Installation, maintenance and supervision of resources implemented on behalf of the property management department
  • The property management department becomes a “client” of the IT department for its own tasks
    Both departments must work together to:
  • Evaluate evolving needs
  • Design infrastructures and operating systems
  • Define rules for operations and interventions
    “Smart buildings” and by extension “smart cities” are unquestionably a field where building and IT experts will increasingly work together.