Put your building to work: Smart approaches to better business results

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The following article is sponsored by Honeywell.

Pop quiz: What is a building? It’s not a trick question, but if you’re used to describing buildings with simple words like “structure,” “roof” and “walls,” it’s time to update your thinking. 

The problem with these traditional definitions is that they imply buildings are static structures — dead assets comprised of four walls, concrete and rebar. They don’t acknowledge the fact that with technology advances, buildings can be much more than depreciating assets. Instead, buildings can be substantial contributors to organizational missions. The key is knowing what’s possible, and how to bring buildings to life. That’s where the concept of smart buildings comes in

While the idea of smart buildings isn’t exactly new, the possibilities enabled by smart buildings are rapidly expanding, thanks to widespread connectivity coupled with the capability to process large amounts of data. A smart building uses advanced sensing, connectivity and big data analytics to dynamically shape its environment to an ever-changing context inside.

No longer is the conversation solely about achieving higher energy efficiency and greater comfort for occupants.  Now we’re pushing the boundaries of how we interact with our buildings, enhancing the experience for individual occupants, while unlocking new sources of value for building owners. From airports to hospitals to shopping malls, buildings are vessels for experiences, and smart buildings can help make those experiences better, ultimately contributing to organizational missions.

Architecting better experiences

For example, think about building experiences in the context of waiting. What if smart buildings could help create a world with less waiting? For airports — often a source of stress and tension — this could mean creating an entirely different experience for travelers. 

Consider the possibilities: A traveler’s smartphone knows the traveler has an upcoming flight. That smart phone could direct a traveler not just to the airport, but directly to a parking spot reserved in that traveler’s name — a spot dynamically assigned to the traveler based on knowledge of the traveler’s personal departure gate. And, once it’s time to pay, the traveler need not pull out a credit card on the way in or out of the garage — that will happen seamlessly, behind the scenes. 

The traveler’s enhanced experience could continue inside the airport, with the airport knowing the moment a traveler walks through the front door, and building technology helping ensure TSA checkpoints are staffed to ensure travelers get through quickly, eliminating the internal “will-I or won’t-I make it” worries that plague so many travelers. Instead, the traveler is at ease — and maybe even has extra time for a leisurely walk through the concourse to look at retail shops, or order a meal. It’s a win for the traveler, and the airport.

Quantifying intelligence

As technology advances, these smart building scenarios are endless. Quantifying smart, however, is more challenging. Humans have IQ tests, but the equivalency for a building has been a little less defined — albeit important. Organizations measure outcomes, so if the building is playing an active role in these outcomes, it ought to be tracked and measured, too. Such efforts have historically been more qualitative and subjective, until now. 

The Honeywell Smart Building Score™ aims to provide a quantitative framework for evaluating this intelligence by providing a measuring stick for determining a building’s IQ. Such efforts are necessary because they not only provide a starting point, but also can help establish a path for helping a building become even smarter. 

The score evaluates a building based on three defined categories that comprise smart building technologies—safety, sustainability (or “green”) and productivity. Using this categorical framework as a basis takes the guesswork out of building intelligence by providing a comprehensive assessment of the key technologies and systems in buildings. Buildings either have these technologies or they don’t—and knowing where they stack up provides valuable insights into where they can improve.

Real-world opportunities

The Smart Building Score has revealed interesting findings about where buildings today stand on the intelligence spectrum. Honeywell first applied the Smart Building Score methodology through a survey of buildings in eight cities across India, and found ample opportunities for the government, building owners and service providers to invest more in smart building technologies to better serve India’s rapidly urbanizing population and help create sustainable cities and infrastructure.  Since then it has been applied in China and the United States.

In the United States, Honeywell surveyed 500 buildings across seven major cities, including Dallas, Chicago, L.A., Atlanta, D.C., NYC and Boston, to see how infrastructure stacks up. The findings reveal valuable insights about opportunities to boost sustainability, security and productivity, producing a blueprint for making U.S. buildings smarter — and making them work for better business results. 

For example, the research indicates that overall, U.S. building intelligence is low, with the average smart building score coming in at just 35. Intelligence by industry varies widely, also — with airports, government offices and hospitals leading that way at scores of 50, 46 and 45, respectively. High-rise residences and private offices, in contrast, rank lowest, with each scoring 31. Education (40), hotels (38) and retail (36) fall in the middle of the pack. 

Drilling down, the research also shows that safety is a big priority for most building operators, but opportunities remain to improve building intelligence in the areas of productivity and sustainability —though everyone agrees in their beneficial nature.

So where does this leave buildings? Again, it all comes back to opportunity: opportunity to improve understanding of what it takes to make a building smarter by helping identify the gaps in a building’s systems and identifying the right mix to improve sustainability, safety and productivity. And with a clearer baseline on the “smartness” of a building, organizations are in a better position to make informed decisions on how they can optimize their infrastructure to better achieve their goals. 

That means top line growth, better patient outcomes, higher student test scores, fewer safety incidents — the opportunities and scenarios run deep, because no two buildings — or organizations — are exactly alike. The technology is here today to help buildings truly work for a business.