Smart Design For Smart Building Tools

by Graeme Laycock

Your day likely starts with a technology-heavy ritual that includes scrolling through e-mail via a smartphone, and with an additional swipe, effortlessly checking the day’s weather. Perhaps you’re traveling on business so you ask your phone where the nearest coffee shop is located and set off using GPS to address your nagging caffeine fix.FE-WebOnlylogo

All of this happens without much thought or effort, and in many ways, we’ve come to take this level of convenience and visibility into our surroundings for granted.

When you head to your job as a facility professional, should this seamless and effortless use of technology suddenly stop? The answer is “no,” but that’s different than the reality of a lot of the software and systems currently used to power buildings. Regardless, employees are coming to expect the same mobility, ease-of-use and simplicity they find on their personal smartphones and tablets. And the building industry is starting to shift accordingly; the same concepts and principles that make consumer products intuitive and indispensable are bleeding into facility technology.

Call it the Apple-ization of the industrial world.

Fortunately, this is not change for change’s sake. Facility professionals who embrace this trend and the underlying tenets—improved data mining, visualization, and user experience—can help improve processes and operations to drive meaningful business outcomes.

Adopt Design-Led Technology. Design-led technology is all about making things simple, engaging, and easy to understand. In a facility environment, this translates into building automation control features like map-based visualization and touchscreen interfaces. It also means leveraging the interconnectedness of today’s smart buildings to help more intelligently manage occupant activity and use of space.

Intuitive design can benefit other areas as well, such as reducing system training time to speed on-boarding and minimize operator error. The goal is to make the learning curve slight if not erase it altogether. Imagine a building management system that’s only accompanied by a short start-up guide. The technology would no longer be the exclusive domain of facility personnel. Operations and management teams would also be able to access and understand easily data such as energy use and security alarm patterns, turning the building into a driver of efficiency and business continuity.

Seek Ways to Improve Visualization. Building controls designed with the user experience in mind should inherently be more “visual,” much like today’s smartphone and tablet operating systems. By more quickly aggregating system data across a facility and presenting it to operators along with suggested improvements that can be automatically implemented, technology can help pave the way for faster and better informed decision making.

For example, with enhanced visualization, first responders can easily investigate alarms, view the areas that might be at risk, and map the most safe, efficient routes to those zones if necessary— all without setting foot in a facility.

Know that Smarts Are Only the Start. Smart buildings can exist without a well-designed user experience, and a number of building functions and processes certainly happen automatically as a result of intelligence and integration. However, layering on technology to help drive an enhanced user experience can provide the holistic, actionable and intuitive view one needs to derive maximum value from a building’s performance. Whether benefiting productivity in a government facility, monitoring crowd levels in an airport line to help determine the necessary staffing, or helping enhance security in a hospital, keeping the user experience in mind can help improve even the most seemingly well-run buildings to deliver that much more value.

Buildings are critical to a business and can help it meet its strategic objectives when the right tools and technologies are in place. Today, the consumerization of building technologies is helping facilitate these improvements, enabling facility executives and managers to truly put their buildings to work and help meet organizational goals.

Graeme LaycockLaycock is an experience design fellow and design studio manager for Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions. In this role, he leads a global team focused on creating effective, easy-to-use technology for building management, video surveillance, and process automation.