Smart sensors that allow building performance to be monitored from a distance are helping facilities managers to keep properties in good working order.
Even before COVID-19 disrupted facilities management operations, traditional methods of keeping tabs on buildings were giving way to IoT remote monitoring systems.
Now, with employee safety and wellbeing a top priority, smart sensors are providing a host of valuable information to monitor building performance and flag any unfolding issues to offsite teams.
And they’re set to become more popular yet. The global market for IoT-enabled remote asset management solutions is predicted to grow from US$16.5 billion in 2020 to US$32.6 billion by 2025, according to market research firm, MarketsandMarkets.
“Covid-19 has given facilities managers significant food for thought about how technology can support them in their roles to keep buildings in an optimal condition,” says Mickey Rooney, Programme Director at JLL’s Integral business.
“Buildings have been mothballed and left unoccupied – but their energy performance and state of health has been never been more critical.”
The main benefit of such technology is the live nature of data capture.
“A faulty air-con unit or contaminated tap often risks only being detected at the next routine service visit,” says Rooney. “Remote dashboard monitoring displays real-time data that allows teams to identify issues at a much earlier stage, while some systems employ machine learning to automatically make adjustments and redefine maintenance plans. This, in turn, can help prolong the life of the costly appliances they service.”
With sensors collecting a building’s operational data and system alerts flagging risks, such as burglaries, gas leaks or poor air quality, it also frees up engineers to then take on more complex tasks.
“This really moves facilities management on from the simple back-of-the-toilet-door box ticking chart,” says Rooney.
Keeping an eye on costs
With more data to analyse and a growing number of tools on the market to crunch the numbers, facilities management teams are consequently able to understand how to improve operations, especially when buildings are under-occupied, and identify long-term cost savings.
The cost of lighting left on in an unoccupied building can be drastically cut through remote monitoring, Rooney says, pointing to one London office landlord that recently cut their energy bill by more than £280,000 a month.
“Sensors are often already in place, but without fail-proof remote monitoring, then a building can still be lit, despite it not registering as so,” he explains.
Equally, sensors aren’t just being used in office buildings. Many machines in manufacturing facilities and data centres are temperature-sensitive and at risk of overheating if conditions aren’t kept within a set range – something that smart temperature sensors can also address.
“Regardless of sector, all businesses can benefit from a regular drumbeat of data that they can analyse for insights rather than simply reacting when things go wrong,” says Rooney. “And as companies keep a watchful eye on costs, those constraints mean there will be more interest now.”
While investing in remote monitoring tools involves upfront expenditure, it’s not simply the domain of larger companies – many of whom have extensive real estate portfolios.
“Smart has often been shorthand for expensive but smaller more entrepreneurial firms are often able to adapt quicker because of their decision-making agility,” says Rooney. “There’s now a range of powerful and great value solutions to meet all budgets.”
Over the long-term, the return on investment, Rooney says, means that costs are rapidly offset by new efficiencies and help nip issues in the bud that if left unchecked would create significant expense.
Looking to the future
For now, real estate is playing catch-up with other industries such as the aviation and maritime sectors, where remote monitoring is more common.
Rolls Royce began trialling such technology in 2016, with a small crew of just 14 monitoring and controlling a fleet of vessels across the world, using interactive smart screens, voice recognition systems, holograms and surveillance drones.
“Both the maritime and aviation industries have already gone through great strides, but the built environment has been glacial and has lagged,” says Rooney. “Not all of the tech solutions can cross over into real estate of course. But the underlying theme of greater monitoring from outside the building’s four walls is definitely the direction of travel.”
Nevertheless, with the likes of 5G opening up new possibilities and the expansion of the IoT across residential and commercial properties, the slow uptake of the real estate sector may be about to change.
“Many people are now fully aware of smart tech in their own homes, from Alexa to Google Assistant and Siri,” says Rooney. “For commercial space, which comes with its own challenges around scale and security, an even higher standard will of course be needed but attitudes are definitely changing.
“In the coming years, sensors will be much more commonplace within buildings and facilities management teams will have largely moved on from manual checks.”