Democratizing Smart Buildings with IoT

Until recently, smart buildings have been limited to large commercial sites — but with the advent of powerful and cost-effective Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, owners and managers of small and mid-sized buildings can take advantage of connected technology.

Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Organizations

Smaller buildings are frequently heterogenous, with a myriad of disparate systems that don’t interact with each other in an intelligent way. The equipment has different makes and models. There’s no common protocol between systems, which is challenging in terms of interoperability.

Traditionally, rooftop HVAC units are controlled individually using a thermostat to manage zoned heating and cooling. Lighting is generally on a separate system and in zones controlled by individual switches or circuits. The same can be said for other electrical systems in the building including the utility meter, submeters, and other operational equipment for each individual business. Small- and medium-sized business owners and operators have smaller budgets than big corporations, so many service providers focus on buildings with more than 50,000 to 100,000 square feet.

Without connected devices, a business has limited insight into building system performance – typically only utility bills to help them understand energy consumption data. This can mean assets end up working more than they need to, ultimately reducing asset life and increasing the cost of maintenance.

Most IoT-based smart building systems on today’s market use proprietary solutions or are siloed, meaning users are captive to a single technology stack. That can make it difficult to incorporate additional devices for control at the edge, including those used for energy monitoring and lighting control.

The cost to install a complex building automation system runs, on average, $2 to $3 per square foot. These systems are great for large commercial buildings, but at a smaller scale the ROI doesn’t work. $100,000 to $150,000 for a 50,000 square foot facility makes it a difficult expense to justify. In addition, these systems require specialized expertise to operate and can be complicated for building owners and operators. If the workflows are difficult to navigate, the system won’t be used to its highest potential, reducing efficiency and increasing long-term cost.

A new generation of IoT devices such as sensors, thermostats, and different types of lighting control solutions are driving the cost of data and device management down to only a few cents per square foot, allowing small- and medium-sized building owners and operators to participate in this space. This has enabled system integrators and service providers to adopt this type of technology as part of their solutions for this previously underserved segment.

Selecting a Smart Building Solution

When evaluating smart building solutions, key variables include:

  • Platforms that leverage open, multi-protocol solutions that don’t rely on a single technology to deliver value
  • Incorporation of logical workflows that are simple to use
  • The ability to scale across use cases as the industry begins to harness IoT technology more broadly

For energy managers, facility managers, and service providers who want to adopt IoT-based technology in their buildings, it’s critical to have a flexible platform on which to scale and deliver value. This includes incorporating productive analytics or enabling the choice to use a third-party analytics platform.

One of the advantages of Altair’s Smart Building solution is that it’s built on Altair SmartWorks™, an IoT platform for enabling applications across a wide variety of industries and verticals. SmartWorks has multiple components that help solve problems common to many IoT applications. It has an edge component called Altair SmartEdge™, which helps connect to both wired and wireless networks on the ground, aggregate and normalize the data, and send it to the cloud. It has a cloud component and a drag-and-drop data visualization layer, which helps drive outcomes from the data that comes from the cloud. We’ve adopted this architecture for smart buildings.

SmartWorks is an open architecture, so each component in the structure is swappable with other components. While they work well together, they don’t necessarily need each other. They’re also easy to use. A core tenet of every development for these products is that it needs to be easy to implement and use. Because Altair’s Smart Building solution is built on SmartWorks, it means that as we add features, they become part of the solution and part of all the smart buildings that use it. Having a solid backbone like this allows flexibility and long-term scalability.

Benefits of Enabling an IoT Solution

Not only is there a tremendous energy savings opportunity that comes with the ability to identify energy conservation measures through real-time data analysis, but users can set thresholds and alerts on the data from specific pieces of equipment. Doing that allows them to react quickly to faults and triage issues immediately. If you’re an energy service provider or mechanical contractor, the ability to do proactive monitoring means you can optimize your service visits. An IoT platform provides insight into the status and operation of equipment and devices, and it allows building managers to get ahead of faults and breaks — without waiting to be notified by tenants.

It’s an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, be a trusted advisor, monitor asset performance over time, and identify issues early, potentially extending the life of your assets.

In an upcoming article we’ll share some specific use cases — setting up smart building solutions for commercial real estate and for a special-needs school.

Learn more about these scenarios and about connecting small and medium-sized buildings in our on-demand webinar available now.

Bryan Anderson
Bryan Anderson

About Bryan Anderson

Bryan is responsible for Smart Building Solution Sales at Altair. Prior to Altair, Bryan worked as VP Sales for CANDI Controls who were acquired by Altair in April 2018. He also worked at Director Sales at EnerNOC and Pulse Energy, two prominent energy management software companies. Bryan works closely with our partners and end customers to identify how the Altair SmartEdge IoT platform can support their desired use cases related to optimizing energy services and commercial building operations.