Technology (Innovations for Education)

Intelligent Facilities

internet of things

PHOTO © ZHU DIFENG

Intelligent buildings, the Internet of Things (IoT); you’ve heard of them, but how are they impacting facilities at colleges and universities? Facilities managers may ponder this question, then place it on the back burner to be answered another day. As these new technologies progress, however, the power and versatility they offer campus facilities are growing at an exponential rate and can revolutionize elements of the FM’s job.

The IoT is largely utilized for network management—ensuring there is enough bandwidth to handle all traffic on a campus network—but there are new uses starting to come into clearer focus for the technology. Integration and analytics are two important processes the IoT can deliver in conjunction with intelligent buildings.

The Intelligent Solution

These uses of analytics and integration with the IoT are now spanning everything from ensuring a campus is safe and secure to managing elements of campus sustainability programs. Many institutions are realizing the value of the IoT in connection with connected, or “intelligent,” buildings. The potential of these buildings seems limitless for tracking energy use and the presence of students within a facility.

What is an intelligent building? In short, an intelligent building is one that relies on the automation of various processes to control everything from temperature, to lighting, to ambient noise levels. The automated processes responsible for controlling these elements are largely regulated using the IoT, a network of devices, sensors, and other physical elements that connect the physical world with the digital world.

While the definition provide a basic framework for what intelligent buildings are and how they work, it barely scratches the surface of how they may benefit the campus facilities department.

JB Groves is an instructor at Wharton County Junior College in Wharton, TX, and has been studying these systems from their inception and knows all about the power they offer. “We are currently in another iteration of the industrial revolution,” says Groves. “The power and cost savings these intelligent buildings with IoT can offer is huge and growing every day. Everything is now connected.”

Monitoring Made Easy

How does this connectedness benefit campus facilities managers? The most important element for many campuses is security. Intelligent buildings and the IoT offer many features that make safety and security easier to manage. Integrated fire and security systems use sensors and the Internet to monitor everything from occupancy to lighting in an effort to keep campus spaces safe. Even a connection to first responders can be made by an intelligent building system, saving time in an emergency.

internet of things

PHOTO © ZALFA PHOTO

THE FUTURE IS NOW. Intelligent buildings offer facility managers controls and information— including remote operation, monitoring, and data analytics—that may seem to spring from the realm of science fiction. Many facility executives have not yet begun to take full advantage of the opportunities intelligent buildings present. Reasons include existing systems in older buildings that do not permit interoperability, and retrofits that are not in the budget. Still, even small steps towards integrating basic building systems, without major financial investment, are moving facilities in the right direction for improved functionality, efficiency, and occupant comfort and safety.

Intelligent buildings and the IoT can determine space occupancy at any given time. “Foot traffic and WiFi traffic can be measured based on WiFi use, and that is important,” Groves states. Measuring how many people pass through a space or are in a space matters when it comes to installing security measures or creating an emergency plan.

Take, for instance, the lighting in a building. On many campuses, lights stay on all day, even into the late evening hours (if not all night). There are, however, ways to cut costs. Solar-powered halogen lights are one intelligent option, according to Groves, along with replacing LEDs with intelligent motion-sensing lights. “They go off in the middle of the night. If anyone walks under them they go on—it’s win/win for security and energy management. Colleges could save so much money with intelligent lighting,” he adds.

Don Guckert, a fellow with APPA as well as associate vice president for Facilities Management at the University of Iowa, notes some of the growing use of the IoT for facilities managers. He sums it up this way: “With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart building technology tools are emerging and being applied with increasing frequency in higher-ed facilities management. Fault Detection & Diagnostic (FDD) tools allow for building managers to maintain building performance within established operating parameters and to facilitate continuous commissioning.”

Along with intelligent lighting options, there exist intelligent windows that can control how much light is let into a building via sensors, lessening the need for excessive indoor lighting by maximizing the power of natural light. Many intelligent buildings are also able to sense temperatures in various spaces, and make adjustments accordingly. “Higher education facilities managers are now starting to mine and analyze the historic data from both building systems and work management systems to better understand and manage building systems performance and asset maintenance and renewal cycles,” notes Guckert.

Additionally, these systems are able to store data over time, allowing FMs and other facilities decision makers to analyze the data and make changes that promote long-term sustainability and savings.

Whereas a facility manger would walk a building and check for burnt-out lights or defective fire alarms, the IoT has that covered. Managers can perform these checks from anywhere, and in less time. There is also the ability to analyze whether or not certain building elements are necessary or working in certain locations. Rather than just discussing and arguing the merits, a facility management department can sit down and look at relevant data to see what is working and what is not.

Using Data

That is one of the advantages of the IoT—it allows facility managers and administrators to look at various data points and make decisions that will make sense, both financially and otherwise. This is where analytics comes into play. Institutions can look at real-time updated data to make decisions on things as seemingly miniscule as whether or not two or three lights are on in a room during the afternoon. Many small choices such as this can lead up to a big boost in sustainability, security, and savings.

With the potential cost savings and other advantages, why aren’t all colleges taking advantage of the IoT? JB Groves has a few ideas. “There is a gap in lots of skills and experience when it comes to intelligent buildings and IoT,” he says. “Training is so important, getting staff familiar with what it actually does and can offer.” The challenge with getting everyone on board comes from the fact that so many instrumental campus employees have varied technological backgrounds.

“Getting everyone onboard with intelligent buildings and IoT can be challenging…it depends on how open-minded your facilities staff is and their level of education about it,” Groves continues. “Getting the buy-in can be the hardest, but also the most important part of the process.”

In some cases, it helps to assemble a “technology board” that can explore and assess the benefits intelligent buildings and IoT technologies could bring to your campus. This would also be the place to discuss which elements of campus management (security, sustainability, etc.) would benefit most from IoT integration. Having subject matter experts give classes and presentations on the benefits of intelligent buildings for your staff or technology board can help win buy-in. Understanding the benefits are important, notes Groves, as well as understanding how to use the systems; the benefit of classes and presentations is two-fold.

Another strategy that can help is to collect use cases from other colleges and universities that are benefitting from intelligent building technology. Having detailed benefits and a visual of how those are being achieved can make quite a difference in departmental buy-in across the institution.

The IoT, with all of the recent press, is clearly growing in popularity and widespread use. Getting facility manager buy-in can greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of an entire department, as well as the campus at large. Where the technology is going is still being honed; the benefits it can provide buildings and campuses are worthy of giving it consideration, no matter what size or shape your campus takes.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

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