Leveraging Technology to Improve Building Operations

by Erik Fehl
Environmental Control Solutions, Inc.

With proper collaboration and communication, we can leverage technology to provide a safe and productive workspace.

Almost every building on the planet is constructed with a purpose in mind. With the exception of haunted houses, buildings are constructed to provide a safe and welcoming place to conduct business, to educate, to treat the sick or to worship.

Let’s pretend we are tasked with constructing a new building or renovating an existing one. Countless hours are typically spent determining the location, size, layout and appearance of the structure to ensure occupants are efficient and productive while inside. Once the building’s architectural design work is agreed upon, we must fill it with plumbing, electrical, mechanical and information technology—and this is where things can get tricky. How do we ensure the operational infrastructure will meet today’s building standards while simultaneously meeting the technology needs of today’s occupants? The answer is: collaboration and communication.

Productive collaboration and communication now requires a higher level of understanding and investment, as advances in technology are causing the boundaries of our imaginations to expand—and quickly. With today’s technology, I can answer an email, send a text message and answer a phone call… all from my watch. We have been firsthand witnesses to this advancement, and it is amazing. Some of us might relish the times we used land-line telephones, but for the younger generation, a phone that is wired to the wall of your house seems absurd. For employers—and building design teams—this exposure (or lack thereof) to technology can create a wide range of ideas and expectations.

The responsibilities of owners, architects and engineers are constantly evolving as the technologies within buildings increase at a rate we have never seen. With the development of the Building Internet of Things (BIoT) and introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) in the building space, the infrastructure choices for the design team are nearly limitless. With proper collaboration and communication, we can make responsible decisions to leverage these technologies to provide a safe and productive space. Here are some examples.

Proper Ventilation Control
Dozens of research studies prove that workplace (and learning environment) productivity can be affected by proper temperature, humidity and CO2 control. Harvard University, for example, conducted a study to research the cognitive effects of CO2 levels in an office space and how fresh air can help increase cognitive response and productivity. Today’s building ventilation standards are based on occupancy, not CO2 levels. The code requires a specific amount of fresh air per occupant, and because people exhale carbon dioxide, CO2 was used to determine the occupancy of a room, and thus, its ventilation rate. Technologies are now being developed to more accurately count people in occupied spaces. When integrated into the HVAC control system, they can help ensure proper ventilation and productivity.

Lighting “Temperature” Control
Lighting technology is advancing at a rapid pace. What used to be stagnant and boring has been turned upside down with the introduction of LED lights and control. With the push of a button, an occupant can create a “warmer” or “cooler” lighting temperature to make their environment more appealing. BIoT technology will allow integrated solutions to control lighting temperature based on space temperature, daylight levels and time of day.

Apps for Employee Engagement Smartphones are now being used in the commercial office space to provide occupants with continuous control of their environment. Smartphone application solutions have been developed to allow for temperature adjustment, lighting control and location detection. This level of engagement can help increase occupant comfort and boost morale. Proper infrastructure needs to be in place to implement and maintain this type of solution.

Building the Case for BIoT
It is a fact that an office space or building is a contributing factor to an organization’s productivity. So shouldn’t employee productivity be considered when determining the return on investment (ROI) for building design and upgrades? On many occasions, a building manager or facilities director must focus on energy or maintenance savings when calculating the ROI related to a capital investment such as equipment replacement, lighting upgrades or an HVAC control system. If the cost-to-savings ratio is not acceptable, the project will never be considered. What if they were able to calculate the potential production levels of the organization’s most valuable asset: its employees? If calculated properly, this value would dwarf the energy and maintenance savings calculations.

Designing or maintaining a building can be difficult—so can keeping up with today’s technologies. Doing both can be next to impossible. By collaborating and communicating with engaged occupants and industry professionals, the result will be a safe and productive workspace with a more efficient and content workforce. iBi

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