You may have noticed the term “smart building” coming up more frequently in business conversations and publications these days. According to the Continental Automated Buildings Association, an intelligent (aka “smart”) building applies technologies to improve the building’s environment and functionality for occupants and tenants while controlling costs. Is a smart building a pipe dream, or is it a viable reality? Three linchpin companies in the technology industry offer an answer.

Cisco, Intel and Microsoft

As a starting point, let’s take a look at Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco Canada’s president Bernadette Wightman believes the new Canadian headquarters for Cisco will be the first truly smart building in North America. In this new facility, building services, from lighting and climate control to security and elevators, will be monitored and managed through a core network of fiber cabling. Tenants will be able to view their energy consumption and other metrics in real time. Even the blinds on the windows will be computer controlled. Communications providers will only be permitted to connect to a basement hub, and their signals will be distributed from there to their proper homes via switches on each floor.

Furthermore, LED lighting receives its power over Ethernet cables instead of electrical wires. Each light will have its own IP address and will be individually controlled through a computer or a smartphone app. This will allow employees to adjust the lights in real time (e.g., dimming them during a teleconference to eliminate screen glare). Cisco also plans to install motion sensors to prevent unoccupied rooms from wasting power with full lighting. The net results of Cisco’s smart building technology are energy savings and a centralized infrastructure that increases flexibility for tenants using it.

At Microsoft, Darrell Smith (Director of Facilities and Energy) and his team are transforming the company’s 125-building, 41,664-employee headquarters into one of the smartest corporate campuses going today. Smith recognized the potential of smart buildings and worked with his engineering colleagues to create a data-driven, software solution that is saving Microsoft millions of dollars in campus operating costs.

Intel is currently using smart building technology in two different ways. First, it is deploying Internet of Things-enabled sensors to capture data that it can analyze to improve its factories. For example, the chip manufacturer will be able to analyze pressure variation and monitor the status of complex equipment to detect any potential failures. Intel estimates an increase of $30 million in output when such systems are deployed across its assembly and test facilities. Second, Intel is working on saving employees time to find a conference room. On average, it takes employees three minutes to locate a meeting room which results in a loss of 11,400 hours per year. The objective is to help employees see available rooms in real time. By fitting offices with motion, temperature, light and door sensors, Intel is looking for more ways to increase efficiency by utilizing automation.

Cisco, Intel, Microsoft and other organizations that are starting to use smart building technology realize that they can be more efficient with their facilities, especially when it comes to energy. Office buildings, hotels, stores, schools, hospitals, malls and other such commercial structures are responsible for up to 40 percent of the world’s total energy consumption. In the U.S. alone, businesses spend about $100 billion on energy every year. As Microsoft’s Smith explains, “Buildings have been built and run the same way for the last 30 to 50 years. This isn’t a Microsoft problem. It’s an industry problem.”

The Market and the Myths

According to The Global Intelligent Building Automation Technologies Market Forecasts 2014 -2020 report, the market for intelligent building automation technologies is likely to increase as better tools and technologies are introduced. North America leads the intelligent building automation technologies market followed by the EMEA region. For those organizations that are still on the fence about the benefits of smart building technology, Environmental Leader debunked common myths that provide the basis for the fence sitting:

Myth 1: Smart building technologies are expensive. Smart building technology investments typically pay for themselves within one or two years by delivering energy savings and other operational efficiencies.

Myth 2: Smart buildings are only about energy. A smart building management system can do a number of things including detect potential equipment failure. Knowing the right time to repair or replace equipment extends machinery life, and reduces facility staff, operations and replacement costs.

Myth 3: Smart buildings can only be new buildings. All types of buildings (whether residential or commercial) can be built or retrofitted to become highly automated and smart. Even very specialized facilities such as laboratories can be outfitted with smart building technologies.

Myth 4: Smart building technologies are not interoperable. In the past, building automation equipment and controls were designed as proprietary systems. However, affordable new technologies now make it possible to gather data from different systems produced by any manufacturer.

Myth 5: Smart systems don’t make a building more attractive to tenants. Anything that improves energy efficiency, reduces occupancy cost and improves productivity is valuable to tenants. The Cisco, Microsoft and Intel examples previously discussed provide evidence of the value.

Myth 6: Smart buildings are complicated to operate. Combined with a smart building management system, a smart building is often easier to operate and maintain than a building that lacks automated systems.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: BeoLink Local Scenes, Flickr)