Honeywell VP Frank Pennisi: What makes a building smart

Globally and in the United States, buildings are making strides to incorporate "smart" technologies to drive improved intelligence. But gaps still exist, and it’s important to understand what it truly means for a building to be intelligent.

The following article is sponsored by Honeywell.

Buildings today are fairly dumb, but thanks to a slew of new technologies it’s becoming ever more practical — if not pivotal — for them to improve their IQs. Information technologies are providing connectivity and actionable intelligence that can make facilities “smarter” than ever.

Globally and in the United States, buildings are making strides to incorporate these technologies to drive improved intelligence. But gaps still exist, and it’s important to understand what it truly means for a building to be “smart” — including how to bolster a facility’s safety, sustainability and productivity, the core tenets of a smart building — and how doing so can improve the bottom line.

Global technology firm Honeywell is at the forefront of this worldwide shift toward smarter buildings by providing a number of the subsystems and, increasingly, the infrastructural items related to helping to tie these subsystems together through a single platform. This week at VERGE, Honeywell will discuss how it has developed a way to quantify the intelligence of a building so that organizations can determine how “smart” their buildings are.

I recently spoke with Frank Pennisi, vice president and general manager of Connected Buildings at Honeywell, to learn more about the trends ushering in a new era of smart buildings.

Mike Hower: What makes a building smart, exactly? How do you define a smart building?

Frank Pennisi: A smart building is a building that helps the owners or the occupants fulfill the mission of that building. So if you're an educator, the mission may be higher test scores. If it's a hospital, it may be better patient outcomes, or productivity if you're a publicly traded company. It may be better financial performance, revenue growth for many publicly traded companies. Most buildings today simply aren’t equipped to support those missions, but the technology to make a building smarter is here now.

Hower: What are some of the technologies making buildings smarter?

Pennisi: I'd break it into two categories. First is the infrastructure-enabling technologies, things like Wi-Fi, mobility and having the ability to connect to the cloud. The other category is the subsystems that populate the facility. Subsystems are things like comfort, security, air quality, fire, power, telecom, lighting. If you can get those disparate systems to communicate with each other, you can start getting better outcomes over time.

Historically, “smart” technologies have been sold on the idea that they can cut costs and reduce risks. And those are really good things, there's no doubt about that. And that's the core of where a lot of this comes from.

But their real power comes from helping to fulfill the mission of what your building's trying to accomplish. Think of a hospital patient who has the ability to check in, be told where it is they need to go, perhaps using their mobile phone, to have the doctors there waiting for them, to have family members who are looking to keep track of them have the ability to work with them. That requires any number of systems to be able to talk together right now, that capability generally doesn't exist today.

Hower: How is a smart building better than a regular building, as we know it?

Pennisi: Smart buildings allow you to be a lot more proactive in nature — for example, you can go from having a piece of equipment that's on a regularly scheduled maintenance to more automatic, with systems that learn as the building changes. You go from subsystems to integrated systems. And, like I said, you're largely going from a “cost-out” model to more of an experience and performance model where you're looking to have the facility help fulfill the mission.

Hower: What does it mean for organizations, and why should they care about how smart their buildings are?

Pennisi: When looking at budgetary constraints, it’s common to justify the costs of installing smarter technologies by framing them as productivity solutions — such as taking a large capex investment. However, getting a building management or access control system updated and converting it into an operating expense may not necessarily require a large budget.

But there’s also productivity and efficiency that help to justify it. You can use technology to help people get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of needing to have somebody there who's constantly entering access management records and having all these readers and panels and everything else, we can reduce the amount of hardware that your system needs.

Frank Pennisi
<p>Honeywell VP Frank Pennisi</p>

We can centralize your ability to be able to manage these access controls, and put people location devices or Bluetooth devices near these doors so that you don't even need cards, your phone will substitute for your card so you can walk in and out of the of the door.

If you have the ability to know where people are, you have the ability to start doing things like conference room scheduling, or increased comfort, or way-finding and navigation as extra services.

Hower: How can smart technologies help make buildings greener?

Pennisi: Energy efficiency is a very large portion of what we do at Honeywell. In fact, if you were to install Honeywell products today on everything in the world, you would reduce emissions and increase efficiency by an estimated 15 percent. We think we can drive an additional 15 percent in savings as buildings get smarter and start learning the habits, and start turning off when people aren't in the room, optimizing to various people's comfort predictions.

Hower: Can you tell me more about Honeywell’s new measurement scale for smart buildings?

Pennisi: Many people have attempted to define “smartness” qualitatively. We define it quantitatively, with the Honeywell Smart Building Score. It essentially grades buildings on three things  how green it is, how safe it is, and how productive it is –on a scale of 1 to 100.

We surveyed 500 buildings and the average score in America on a scale of 1 to 100 was 35. We looked at, "What systems and infrastructure do you have in place today? How distributed is that system and infrastructure? How often is it used?" and, "How often does it stay up and maintained?" Over time we'll probably evolve that building score further to include, "How are you improving experiences of people in buildings?"

Hower: How can smart building impact a business?

Pennisi: A McKinsey Internet of Things Study showed that there's a lot of potential for smart buildings to save money and drive growth for businesses. It can increase productivity and increase profit. Honeywell estimates this to equate to about $500 billion of potential savings on a worldwide basis, and about $200 billion in the United States. That’s the potential if smart systems could be put in place so buildings could better support the missions of the facility.

For example, one reason why doctors can't see more patients in a given day is because, when they finish with a patient, the janitor has to come in and clean the room and get it cleaned up for the next patient to come in. Simply having the ability to do some people and asset tracking on those facilities and scheduling activities more tightly and efficiently is one really good example of how you can increase productivity to improve the overall experience: patients are doing better, doctors are doing better, hospitals are doing better.

Hower: What is Honeywell doing to help usher in this new era of smart building technology?

Pennisi: We provide a number of the subsystems today, and the area that we're seeking to get more into is related to the infrastructural items to create a platform and build applications to start tying these systems together. The Honeywell Command Wall, for example, was launched by our building solutions group.

It's an example of a large Google Maps-like interactive screen that actually shows indoor footprints of a building. It ties together various systems like comfort control, fire and security, allows for more efficient and better incident management. For example, if there's an alarm, you have the immediate ability to zoom in and see, "Okay, what's the temperature in the area? Is there something going on from a fire perspective?" Zoom with a video and say, "What's going on with the people or the area?"

The Google Maps-type interface means you use your two fingers to pinch in and zoom out; touch screen, figure out what are these things that are going on. Guards now have the ability to jump onto this system with less training and an easier-to-use interface.

Hower: How does this all plug into the overall kind of concept of making our cities smarter?

Pennisi: Think of it this way — a city is a large collection of buildings, so you've got to make sure the buildings are more intelligent to be able to make your city smart.

If there's one thing I would want to leave you with it's just that today, a lot of buildings right now are just dead assets, sitting out there — and there's just so much more potential if you were to be able to take these buildings and make them smarter with the right technologies and infrastructures and solutions. When that happens, you’re able to put your buildings to work, so they’re acting as truly intelligent contributors to your organization.