Smart environments: what do they mean for FM?
Our buildings are moving into a new era – evolving at a rapid pace to accommodate for new technologies and the modern day requirements of workforces.
Each new development or retrofit now involves so-called smart capabilities that are connecting building inhabitants like never before. Technology has instigated this building evolution; however, the influence people have is proving just as important, with behavioural change widely viewed as a decisive factor that will make this transition a success.
So what is the ideal smart building?
“I think it is a micro-economic centre,” Preeti Bajaj, vice president, commercial transformation and smart cities, at Schneider Electric Australia, tells FM. “It is a place where people collaborate, they are productive and the role of the built environment is really providing all of the technology seamlessly to the people who inhabit and create in that environment – it’s that simple.”
Internationally, a building development like The Edge in Amsterdam has set a standard for what a smart building should boast in terms of technology, connectivity and sustainability.
In Australia, the uptake of smart environments is gathering pace, as developers like Mirvac prioritise the importance of these elements in their latest projects. In June, Mirvac will unveil its new headquarters in Sydney at 200 George Street, a building that is set to become one of Australia’s most advanced in terms of technology and sustainability.
Blurring of the lines
Meld Strategies, which specialises in the creation of smart built environments, works with the likes of Mirvac to develop and transition their assets through this evolution. Director Bruce Duyshart has observed a ‘raising of the bar’ across buildings and workplaces, which he says is leading to an emerging built environment that is smarter and more relevant to contemporary living.
“There are now a very broad range of different technologies and approaches that can be used to create points of difference and improvements in the workplace,” says Duyshart.
As technology continues to influence the workplace, Duyshart says there is a ‘blurring of the lines’ emerging between the traditional boundaries of a base building and its tenancy fitout.
“The trend is towards creating more of a symbiotic relationship between the two. If you actually want to get there it takes a bit more work upfront that is different from the normal design process,” he says. “This is because you have to holistically understand the design problem that you are dealing with and factor in a wide range of considerations on multiple fronts to create a more integrated and seamless outcome.”
“Ideally these environments have to be considered holistically over the lifetime of the asset.
Duyshart says the availability of data, and how it can be used, has become critical, as more stakeholders demand a better understanding of building performance.
“The need for equitable access to data is consistent across all of these different areas – cities, buildings and workplaces. In the right format and with regard to security and privacy, data should be more readily available and more easily shared than it historically has been,” Duyshart says. “That is one of the key challenges in front of us now.”
These factors have been considered as part of Mirvac’s fitout at 200 George Street, which features a closed cavity façade system, high level integration with base building services, individual floor measurement of utilities, energy monitoring, tenancy dashboard, living lab sensors, IEQ (indoor environmental quality) sensors and a smart tenancy app.
“We have done a lot of things at Mirvac headquarters so we can bring the performance of the building up to a greater level of transparency,” Duyshart explains. “But the great thing that Mirvac has recognised is what it is that we can actually do with our tenancy to get that kind of relationship with the base building. They are in a great position with the designer, builder and tenant in that building to implement that outcome, which you wouldn’t normally be afforded by the major tenant in the building.”
To deliver a smart environment Duyshart says technology is only a small part of the overall picture, with behavioural change and process development just as, if not more, important. In fact, Meld Strategies estimates that to effectively deliver a smart environment it is 80 percent to do with people and 20 percent technology.
“Ideally these environments have to be considered holistically over the lifetime of the asset. There is also a whole range of different drivers that have to be considered in the design process and a lot of the design and engineering has to be holistically thought of at the same time – not just in individual silos,” Duyshart says.
Big Picture FM consultant Graham Constable also regards people as the vital element in achieving an effective transition to a smart building environment.
He says the people who inhabit the buildings should always be the primary focus, but that there should also be room for error at this point to allow developers to learn which approach works the best for different tenants.
“People are going to just want to come to work because it pays bills and so on – they have outside interests. There needs to be a cultural allowance for the fact that people are very different,” Constable explains. “I think the technology is good – there’s a lot of focus on productivity and that sort of thing. [But] people are productive in many different ways – and not everybody is going to get an opportunity to work in these wonderful smart buildings.”
Constable believes the FM industry should consider an awareness-building program that prepares providers for how smart buildings will affect the profession. He says increasing awareness will add value to what a facility manager can provide in their role at smart buildings and workplaces.
“It is all part of education and learning, which I think is disaggregated at the moment – there is no real avenue for people to build a career in this sector. There is still a view that facility managers change toilet rolls, clean floors and so on, but it’s more than that – they really are making businesses work,” Constable says.
“You have property management, asset management and facilities management – they are all pretty disparate vying for their place and recognition. Really they are all part of the jigsaw puzzle… you can’t do one part of it without the other. The exciting bit for me is that I think it is actually going to make the industry realise they are one integrated business enabler.”
Constable believes that smart environments will provide the FM industry with an opportunity to develop new skills and competency levels, leading to a stronger appreciation of where the profession fits in the business value chain.
“It is clear at one end of the scale there are the high-end buildings being fitted as we speak with the technology, and then you’ve got the existing portfolio of buildings – some don’t even have BMSs. How do we get those existing buildings up to speed and can they connect with some of the modern smart buildings?” he says.
“I think it is going to shake the industry up quite a lot in the years to come. If you think of a smart building that’s got all of this data, about how it operates and what it gives that customer, or consumer experience for the users, in a way I think the FM industry is going to change overnight, albeit in a few years.”
As a result of smart buildings there is also an evolution in workplace planning taking place. Over the past decade, activity-based working (ABW) has proven to be the popular planning strategy for organisations. ABW is a strategy where employees are able to choose appropriate workspaces for the various tasks they undertake, instead of being assigned permanent workspaces.
Bajaj says workplace-planning strategies are already transitioning, particularly with high-tech companies, towards ‘activity-based clusters’ as smart environments emerge.
Bligh Williams, Workplace Space Planning Solutions’ (WSPS) workplace strategy director, agrees that the concept of ABW is changing along with our buildings. Due to changing demands, as well as the realisation ABW is a bad fit for certain organisations, Williams says many of WSPS’s clients are implementing agile strategies that focus on creating flexible and productive layouts.
“It is clear at one end of the scale there are the high-end buildings being fitted as we speak with the technology, and then you’ve got the existing portfolio of buildings – some don’t even have BMSs.
“Over the years we have gone from a traditional environment to a hot desking environment. Then hot desking became unpopular for the end user and we moved on to ABW – now that has supposedly become unpopular and we have moved into agile working,” Williams explains.
Williams, who has managed workplace-planning projects with clients like the NSW Treasury Department, says there have already been key lessons in the development of agile strategies.
“One [lesson] that a few of the bigger organisations have experienced is a sharing ratio of people to desk, or people who work for them,” says Williams. “Where a lot of organisations thought they could go and share four or five people to one desk – in some cases eight people to one desk – it has been a dismal failure,” Williams says.
Instead, organisations are now opting to use sharing ratios of closer to around 10 people to nine desks, Williams continues.
“We find that gives them a first step. If you are going to share at 90 percent that covers the holiday leave, the sick leave and the employees out working with a client,” he concludes.