Report: Smart Building Conference returns to ISE 2019

The Smart Building Conference aims to provide business and technological insight into the world of connected infrastructure. Hurrairah bin Sohail reports.

The concept of smart buildings is nothing new. Evidence is provided simply by the fact that the Smart Building Conference is now on its ninth edition. Held at The Forum at the RAI Amsterdam a day before ISE 2019, the conference brought together experts, architects, integrators, manufacturers and professionals from across the myriad of job functions that go into delivering the spaces we inhabit. 

Kickstarting the Smart Building Conference was Oliver Iltisberger, managing director of ABB’s smart buildings business, with a talk about the future of digital buildings. He sought to identify the ‘megatrends’ that are currently shaping the evolution of smart buildings. Urbanisation, digitalisation, flexible demand and flexible supply are driving customer expectations for comfort, control, efficiency and security. The onus is on the manufacturers to respond and to deliver in a manner feasible for all. 

Energy management remains the core focus of smart buildings in both the commercial and residential realms. Furthermore, energy management is also a feature that current manufacturers are able to provide to a highly sophisticated degree. Iltisberger identified areas where energy management offerings could be improved. Renewable energy options, in particular solar energy, along with better and cheaper batteries are opening up new avenues for smart homes. On the commercial side, the uptake of EV charging and the regulatory drive for greater energy efficiency is changing the landscape. Both developments provide greater opportunities for possibilities in the future. 

At the same time, Iltisberger talked about new offerings that smart buildings could seek to explore in the future. True ‘personalisation’ is a frontier that has room to grow. The advent of artificial intelligence into the home in the form of smart assistants is the first step. Facial recognition is also in the works. Both are expected to improve the level of customisation that can be offered in the years to come. 

Gabriel Wetzel, CEO of Robert Bosch Smart Building, talked about how understanding the customer along with these trends was essential for moving forward. In particular, he identified two customer personas that can be used to better understand the client, namely the “optimiser” and the “comfort seeker”. These personas can be used to understand the demand for heating, lighting and security in the sphere of smart buildings. Playing on the theme of understanding the user, Michael Schneider, creative technology director for hardware at Gensler, discussed the broader role of smart buildings in the narrative of culture and human life. He posited that more social interactions were being conducted in the digital space. However, the spaces and real estate we inhabit has no presence in the digital world. Smart buildings are able to change this. With sensors and monitoring, buildings themselves can insert themselves into the digital narrative according to his argument. 

The main thrust of Schneider’s presentation was to underscore the need for an interface that goes between smart buildings and the digital realm. 

To further delve into how to bring smart buildings from a concept to a reality, AVIXA hosted a panel that was moderated by Sean Wargo, senior director for market intelligence at AVIXA; and included Ziad Banyamin, solutions architect at JLL; Robert Rosier, CEO of TPEX International; Daniel Schroeder, vice president, global head of smart space at Siemens Building Technologies; Vanessa Lee Butz, CEO and founder of District Technologies; and Kristian Glahn, chief AV specialist, practice lead at COWI. 

When asked about the technological hurdles left to surmount in order to make smart buildings a reality, the panel unanimously stated that the technology was ready to be deployed. They echoed Wetzel’s earlier presentation about how smart buildings are on the cusp of the slope of enlightenment on the Gartner Hype cycle. 

The obstacles still facing the adoption and implementation of smart buildings are of a different nature. Schroeder from Siemens stated that the issue lies in the convergence between operational technology, IT and HR. The products and technology that are being deployed need to interface with the world of IT in order for them to be managed and monitored. In addition, the technology has to be in line with HR’s vision of the spaces. It was noted that this convergence has yet to fully occur. 

Lee Butz from District Technologies further identified cost as a limiting factor. In her opinion, the benefits of smart buildings should be made available to as many people as possible. But with this approach, solutions will have to be designed with scalability, cost effectiveness and ease of deployment as the core principles. The future she envisions would also need the industry to pay serious consideration to the task of retrofitting existing buildings to bring them up to speed with newer structures. 

The key takeaway of the event to overcome these challenges also came from Lee Butz. She suggested that a change in how we design and deploy buildings is required to move forward. Rather than viewing buildings as having three-year to five-year gestation periods followed by three decades of operation, she believes that we need to approach them like Apple’s approach to iPhones. Smart buildings need to be designed with an iterative vision, with upgrades being rolled out frequently to keep them up to date and relevant. 

From the conversations at the event, it became clear that smart buildings require standardised platforms which others can build upon. Standardised platforms will also enable smart buildings to effectively leverage the power of the cloud not only for operational efficiencies but perhaps also in deployment and commissioning. 

Acknowledgement at the Smart Building Conference regarding the need to establish a framework within which all parties can operate was present. Whether everyone can pull in the same direction to make such framework happens is still up for debate.

“Urbanisation, digitalisation, flexible demand and flexible supply are driving customer expectations for comfort, control, efficiency and security.”

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