How AI will turn smart buildings into smarty-pants

Smart building managers know that AI is coming to help make their buildings more adaptive, not just automated. However, many managers don't use the data sets they already have to feed the AI monster. (Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence in smart building management will become a necessity in coming years to make buildings more adaptive and not just automated, according to a new survey of smart building tech facility managers and other end users.

The survey by analyst firm Omdia of 248 facility, security and IT managers of smart building tech, along with senior executives, found that 87% said they believe AI will become a “necessary element of smart-building management.”

However, Omdia estimates that just a small portion of global Building Management System (BMS) platforms today rely on AI analytics for smart buildings. The firm tallied the AI analytics portion of the market at $257 million in 2019, just 10% of the global $2.5 billion BMS platform market.  Omdia also tabulated that the market for connected smart building equipment, including sensors and related embedded gear, was many times larger, reaching $12.3 billion in 2019.

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“There is both belief in AI and investment in its solutions for smart buildings,” noted Thomas Barquin, smart building senior analyst for Omdia, in a statement. “AI is considered the natural way forward and should help increase operational efficiency and effectiveness as these solutions continue to develop.”

He said that AI is gradually starting to play a role in smart buildings but has “immense potential to make smart buildings truly smart and adaptive, rather than just automated.”

Today, a smart building management system can lock down entrance doorways during off hours, reopening them during operating hours.  With AI, potentially, the system could automatically open doors for entry during off hours if a fire or other emergency were detected in a portion of a building.  A sophisticated AI system connected to motion sensors would even direct firefighters or police to where victims or perpetrators were located in a facility.

In a more everyday example, a smart building temperature control system today will know to turn on air conditioning at a certain time in advance of the building’s opening, to allow tenants to arrive at work with a comfortable temperature. With AI, a system could potentially monitor real-time weather forecast conditions with added information from sensors indicating if it will be cloudy on a large glass building face, thus lowering the need for AC.

“We’re only just scratching the surface of what’s truly possible” with AI in smart buildings, said David Green, another Omdia analyst, via email.  “The capability of AI, in terms of what systems can analyze, learn and re-apply, is likely more advanced that the average end user is ready to implement or invest in just yet.”

“AI is definitely an incremental cost-add, as the industry and end-users continue to learn with the addition of each new application at the time,” Green added. “The exciting part about AI is then the snowball effect, the more that connects and feeds into the system, the more powerful and beneficial the outputs or cost-savings can become.”

As data scientists widely understand, effective and reliable AI insights come from developing enormous data sets to allow proper machine inferencing. The Omdia survey found that 77% of building managers already keep data generated from sensors in their facilities, but 42% don’t analyze the data to identify variations and patterns to improve building operations.  AI may become a factor in that analysis in coming years, in a similar way that AI is now used online to analyze for customer preferences for buying decisions and music choices.

In addition to findings on AI, the Omdia survey found, not surprisingly, that the most influential factors in the deployment and adoption of smart building technologies is to realize long term savings and to cut energy usage and costs. Improving security ranked third and the fourth focus of smart building managers was on “creating a more comfortable environment for customer and employment retention.”

Barquin said that human-centric focus “is becoming a prevalent business driver in the industry, influencing investment decisions and smart building strategies in some verticals such as office buildings and obstacles.”

Survey respondents also said that the biggest challenge they face for implementing IoT and smart building tech is the prevalence of legacy systems in existing non-resident buildings.  That concern is tied into another challenge that respondents identified—lack of interoperability of software. Fortunately, the market for connected equipment has shifted away from proprietary to open protocols over the past decade, as Omdia has seen in multiple industry surveys and research.

Omdia  found that 74% of respondents are mostly in favor of using BMS platforms, while 69% favor equipment-as-a-solution technology to reduce up-front costs. The survey results are available to Omdia subscribers.

RELATED:  Healthcare emerging as key market for smart buildings

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