Getting To Smart Buildings: Six Keys To Implement IoT

As technologies continue to evolve in 2018, consider the connection between building energy management systems and IoT.

By Tyler Haak

Over the years, buildings have become more complex and dynamic than ever — housing multiple systems, standards, and vendors. Some of these newer so-called “smart” buildings also feature systems that weren’t commonplace even five years ago, such as water reclamation, sun-tracking, and rainwater harvesting.

Complexity, unfortunately, can also lead to inefficiencies. Systems may not be able to communicate to one another — instead operating in silo, meaning operations staff may not get a holistic view of the building’s performance. Building energy management systems (BEMS) emerged more than a decade ago to help companies and organizations cut their utility costs and make better strategic decisions around energy use. These early systems, while able to run diagnostics and send alerts if they find a problem, did not have the capabilities to be predictive.IoT

As our buildings have aged, the rate of change has sped up in the facilities industry. This lends to a positive forecast, since up to 75% of a building’s lifetime costs are spent on maintenance and operations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The BEMS market is evolving along with the ecosystem of intelligent building technologies such as control systems and wireless technologies, according to Navigant Research. Energy management was the initial focus of BEMS, but now companies and organizations want these solutions to optimize sustainability, space utilization, operational efficiency, and employee productivity.

As a result, BEMS are starting to leverage items such as the Internet of Things (IoT), solar energy storage, and building information modeling (BIM) to integrate various systems and connect them to a centralized technology “backbone.” These technologies can provide real-time performance data and analysis to the BEMS, helping facility managers identify problems before they occur and make their buildings more productive and efficient.

These new technologies are increasingly important as the power and efficiency demands of buildings evolve. Energy consumption around the world will increase by 56% by 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Our global population is expected to increase by 38% from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 9.6 billion in 2050, and our electricity needs are projected to skyrocket in this “always on” digital economy. Buildings currently consume about 53% percent of the world’s available energy. By 2040, that consumption will increase to 80% of our electricity.

Consequently, organizations need a more analytical, data-driven approach to building management to maximize efficiency, cut energy waste, and lower cost. We will also increasingly need such “smart” buildings so organizations and people can work more effectively.

Buildings of all sizes can benefit from this more technological and analytical approach. According to research, the small and medium-size commercial building market is poised to grow by more than 60% — to $38 billion — by the year 2025. In fact, these small and medium-sized enterprises can save 20% on their energy bills through more effective monitoring.

Leveraging the Internet of Things For Smart Buildings

What exactly is the IoT? And how does it relate to building energy management?

IoT is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet and/or to each other. The IoT uses one common Internet protocol (IP) to connect devices, which includes smartphones, wearable fitness devices, and digital assistants, as well as various types of sensors and systems such as HVAC, lighting, and security.

In other words, the IoT is a fast-expanding digital ecosystem of connected devices. In 2015, there were about 10 billion connected devices; by 2020 that number will more than triple to 34 billion. This growth is not surprising given the current technology conditions. Broadband internet is widely available, technology costs are decreasing, smartphone use is becoming ubiquitous, and more devices are created with built-in sensors and Wi-Fi capabilities.

The IoT can help create a dynamic and intelligent cloud-based interoperable network by connecting electrical, mechanical, and electro-mechanical building systems and platforms. By communicating with each other, these systems can help monitor themselves and act when necessary. For example, they have the ability to turn down air conditioning or heating needs in a less occupied area.

These connected systems will allow facility managers to optimize their building performance. All of these connected devices, systems, and platforms will connect to a central, open “IP backbone” designed to provide a holistic view of building performance. This backbone not only integrates all the data generated by the devices, but presents it in easily digestible ways, through graphics, reports, and trend visualizations. This central backbone or solution will help facility managers ensure that their buildings are running at maximum efficiency and make strategic decisions through data analysis and actionable insights.

Best Practices For Building Energy Management

Facility management teams need to figure out the best way to integrate IoT into their building management practices. Whether they are working in large multi-national entities or medium-sized businesses, they can deliver significant transformation over time by implementing IoT into their BEMS. Some important considerations for facility managers to take into account before diving into IoT include:

1. Test out the use of IoT: Organizations that want to take more measured steps before revamping their BEMS should start small. For instance, they could employ a pilot project that focuses on lighting or another aspect of building needs. Keep in mind that this and other systems need to have end-to-end configurability.

2. Build a solid plan: What are the specific, measurable goals that your organization wants to accomplish through an IoT-leveraged building management system?

3. Include all key stakeholders: This plan should involve all of a facility’s stakeholders. The stakeholders should take time to establish goals and objectives that align with the values and mission of the organization and evaluate ROI before broadening scope. Then, they should collaborate with contractors and vendors to produce a more effective strategy.

4. Technology integration and interoperability: Aim for a holistic — not siloed — approach to adding systems that comprise the network backbone. The various devices and systems must also be scalable, adaptable, and able to integrate with the BEMS. Organizations should be prepared to expand systems in the future as new technologies emerge and additional features and capabilities are needed.

5. Intelligent building data analysis: While advanced BEMSs can aggregate, filter, and translate large amounts of data to provide actionable insights, facilities managers and other employees should be trained to also analyze the relevant data in order to make smart decisions.

6. Cybersecurity and data privacy: Increased connectivity and data capture means more opportunity for data leaks and breaches. With that in mind, companies and organizations should employ cybersecurity and data protection software and other products specially built for the IoT age, not retrofit existing security solutions. In addition, instituting data collection, storage, and use governance, among other cybersecurity policies, will help secure company data.

This thoughtful planning in the implementation stages will help cut last-minute, costly changes and avoid redundancies such as multiple software systems and parallel networks.

IoT is still a new concept; only a small percentage of enterprises currently leverage IoT in building management. But whether it’s enabled in commercial buildings or your own home, IoT will be increasingly used to help companies and people live and work better. It will do so in part by creating more intelligent buildings to increase efficiency, productivity, and user satisfaction.

IoTHaak is U. S. northeast business development manager at Schneider Electric, EcoStruxure. He joined Schneider Electric in 2017 to communicate the company’s role in the buildings community as we gear up for a more connected, automated, and decentralized environment. With an educational background in Structural Engineering from Virginia Tech and a Master’s Degree in Energy & Atmosphere Engineering from Stanford, buildings – and in particular how to optimize their energy performance and user experience – have been Haak’s central professional focus during his first decade of work.


  1. Combining IoT with the vast amount of data available within building automation systems has enormous potential, and will absolutely transform the role of facility management for new builds as well as retrofits.

  2. Have you seen any trends in regards to PoE within the HVAC, Lighting, or security applications within the last few years? What does the market look like for the next 5 or 6 years?

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