IoT Blog

What is a Smart Commercial Building?

Smart Cities, Connectivity

Remy Marcotorchino

Remy Marcotorchino

Director of Marketing, Industrial & Infrastructure

Commercial buildings are a lot more than steel, brick, wood, glass and stone. They are complex environments with a variety of power, networking, heating, cooling, security, and other subsystems, all of which need to be managed for the building to be comfortable, safe and efficient.

Increasingly, building operators are using the IoT to collect data from building subsystems, allowing them to make these building “smart” in ways that help them better regulate their temperatures, enhance their security, minimize their energy use, and otherwise increase the value they deliver to tenants and owners.

How Does a Smart Commercial Building Work?

Smart commercial buildings have advanced IoT sensors in place to collect data from various building functions and subsystems, data that the building’s operator can use to both automate and enhance the building’s operations and maintenance.

For example, building operators can use this smart building IoT data to identify operational inefficiencies in their building, improve building controls, and automate key building-management tasks, including heat and lighting management.

However, to do this the operator needs to integrate their IoT data into a Building-Management System (BMS), which the operator can then use to control and automate building functions, as well as process for valuable insights. In large commercial buildings various BMSs are often integrated into IT applications that allow them to share information with each other, helping the building’s operator further optimize the building performance. Some larger commercial building operators also integrate IoT data from multiple smart buildings into cloud-based IT applications, where it can be analyzed for further insights.

Today many modern buildings have IoT sensors and connectivity infrastructure embedded into their structure during their construction. However, older buildings often need to be retrofit with IoT sensors and connectivity infrastructure to make them smart.

What Are Some Smart Commercial Building Use Cases?

Building operators can use the control, automation and insights that IoT technology brings to smart buildings for various use cases – including use cases that help them increase energy efficiency, lower building management costs, and improve their tenants’ experiences.

These smart building use cases include:

Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC): With the IoT, building operators can use thermal sensors and HVAC automation to adjust temperatures in different areas of their buildings, depending on their usage. For example, using occupancy sensors, a building operator can instruct its BMS to reduce heat in areas that are dormant, and then increase temperatures in these areas when they are occupied. Smart building IoT systems can also be integrated with utilities’ demand response and other smart-grid programs, so that, in return for a financial incentive from the utility, the building automatically reduces its HVAC energy use when demand for energy on the grid is very high.

Lighting: Smart building operators can save energy by using the IoT to automatically dim or shut off lights in areas where they are not needed. For example, The Edge, a smart commercial office building in the Netherlands, used a 30,000-sensor smart lighting system to help them achieve overall energy savings of around 70% compared to other non-automated buildings.

Security: Security in a smart building can be made both stronger and less inconvenient to tenants by integrating the IoT with tenant and visitor radio frequency-enabled badges, cameras equipped with image recognition, and access management systems. For example, cameras can scan vehicle license plates and reference them against an internal database to authenticate entry, automatically opening an entry gate if a match is found.

Working Environments: Temperature is not the only environmental condition in a building that can impact tenants’ experiences. Air quality and airflow is another, with studies showing that low CO2 levels improve employees’ cognitive functions. In addition, by carefully monitoring air circulation and filtration, building operators can lower the risk that a sick employee will get their co-workers in the office sick – a particular concern for many tenants in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Smart buildings can also help tenants manage desk occupancy, as more organizations move toward hot-desking. For example, French bank Société Générale partnered with space management consulting company Ubigreen to deploy a sensor-based hot-desk system that uses Sierra Wireless IoT solutions to coordinate the use of shared desks and meeting rooms across its buildings. The system also provides Société Générale with insights on how employees use their facilities, helping them create better building layouts.

Maintenance: Smart building operators can use IoT sensors to monitor the operation of practically any asset in their buildings – backup energy generators, elevators, even soap dispensers – allowing them to determine if this equipment is malfunctioning or broken and needs servicing. In addition, operators can use this data to conduct predictive maintenance on these assets, fixing them before they malfunction or fail, which increases these assets’ uptime while reducing expensive maintenance visits by outside technicians.

What are Some Common Smart Commercial Building Challenges?

While smart buildings offer a wide variety of benefits to building operators, owners, and tenants, transforming an older building into a smart building or optimizing the operation of an existing smart building does not come without challenges.

Two of the most common challenges include:

Collecting and Integrating Data: Older buildings and many other smart building IoT projects will have existing equipment that uses legacy and sometimes proprietary data formats for reporting their operating metrics. Extracting data out of these systems and integrating it into BMSs and other IT systems can be complex, and requires both hardware and programming knowledge. In fact, ABI Research cites integration as one of the most important tasks when designing a IoT smart building solution. In addition to extracting data from a wide number of assets, building operators need platforms that can ingest data from all of these sensors and interact with their buildings’ automation systems.

Connectivity: In addition to the challenges associated with extracting data from IoT sensors and building assets and ingesting it into BMSs and other IT applications, it can be difficult for smart building application developers and operators to securely and reliably connect their buildings’ sensors and assets to their applications (and visa-versa). Moreover, for certain smart building use cases, such as security access control, this connection also needs the speed and latency required for real-time responses. Uncertainty surrounding connectivity costs can also make it difficult to estimate the cost of smart building IoT project, hindering a building operators ability to determine the project’s return on investment.

How Can Building Operators Overcome Smart Building Challenges?

While these integration and connectivity challenges can be difficult, new IoT solutions are making them easier for smart building application developers and operators to overcome these challenges. For example, Sierra Wireless offers IoT gateways, connectivity services, all-in-one IoT solutions and other products and services that simplify the extraction of data from IoT sensors and building assets, this data’s transmission to BMS and other IoT applications, and its ingestion into these applications.

These solutions and services include:

Octave is Sierra Wireless’ all-in-one edge to cloud solution for connecting assets to the cloud. Octave securely integrates edge devices, network, and cloud APIs into a single solution, so smart building developers and operators can focus less on collecting, transmitting, and integrating building data, and more on using this data to improve building operations.

Octave includes gateways that can connect to existing building infrastructure hardware and derive data from it, no matter what format it is in. Octave also includes access to Sierra Wireless’ global cellular network, which can transmit data to BMSs and other cloud-based IT applications. In addition, Octave provides users with control over their entire smart building IoT connectivity data layer stack, allowing them to determine which data they want extracted, transmitted and processed from their building’s IoT-enabled assets, and change the data that is extracted, transmitted and processed from these assets over time.

Smart Connectivity
In addition to Octave’s all-in-one approach, Sierra Wireless’s Smart Connectivity service provides smart building application developers and operators with access to global Low-Power Wide-Area networks like LTE-M and NB-IoT, and faster cellular networks like 4G, helping them simplify smart building connectivity.

This Smart Connectivity service features:
• A Global Network Operations Center (GNOC) which proactively monitors network operations 24/7/365, helping both prevent service disruptions and resolve any disruptions that do occur by working directly with network operators to quickly restore connectivity.
• One Core Network, with geo-redundant infrastructure that connects to more than 600 partner networks in more than 190 countries, providing customers with global connectivity for all their smart building assets.
• A Worldwide Smart SIM able to identify in real-time the best network option across multiple networks in different countries.
• The AirVantage Management platform, which delivers a unified view and API access to all Sierra Wireless Smart SIMs and devices.

For companies focused on smart building deployments in North America, Sierra Wireless’ Enhanced Carrier Connectivity (ECC) service offers similar functionality as its Smart Connectivity service, through Tier-1 carriers in North America.

Ready-to-Connect Devices 
Sierra Wireless offers smart building application developers and operators Ready-to-Connect modules, gateways, and routers, with embedded SIMs that automatically connect to Sierra Wireless’ Smart Connectivity and Enhanced Carrier Connectivity services. Ready-to-Connect devices simplify smart building connectivity by allowing smart building application developers and operators to activate IoT devices over-the-air anytime, anywhere. This eliminates individual device provisioning, which can reduce total cost of device ownership by up to 40%.

While different, Octave, Smart Connectivity and Ready-to-Connect all provide companies that are developing and deploying IoT smart building solutions greater simplicity, resilience, flexibility, and security than can be achieved if they try to assemble all the devices, connectivity services and cloud APIs they need for smart building data collection, integration and connectivity themselves.

Where can I learn more about Smart Commercial Buildings?

As one might expect of a market that was worth US$66.3 billion and is forecast to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% to 2025, to reach a value of US$108.9 billion, the smart commercial building questions we have addressed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the different opportunities and challenges application developers, building owners and building operators face when it comes to smart buildings.

You can find below websites, reports, and articles with more information on how building owners and operators are increasingly using the IoT to make their buildings smarter – and in doing so are making these buildings more energy efficient, less costly to manage, safer, and more comfortable for tenants.

 eeNews Europe -- The growing market opportunity for smart buildings
 Buildings -- Smart Sensor Technology: Reducing HVAC Energy Use
 ABI Research: Smart Commercial Buildings 2.0: The Next Wave of Applications Driving IoT Building Automation Services (requires payment for report)

In addition, Start with Sierra and read our white paper, Creating Smart Commercial Buildings With the IoT to learn more about how Sierra Wireless’ Octave solution, Smart Connectivity service, Ready-to-Connect devices and other IoT solutions can help create smarter buildings that unlock value in today’s connected economy.

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