How Smart Buildings Deliver Lower Facilities Management Costs

By: Taylor Short on April 15, 2016

First, a disclaimer: A “smart building” is only as smart as the people operating it. It’s not as simple as buying a new piece of software, running some wires and poof! Your building becomes magically intelligent.

Smart building technology integrates various building systems and sensors to deliver data to a central hub for analysis, but the true genius is in how people identify patterns and respond with an appropriate process.

I spoke with two smart technology experts to define what a smart building is and learn how facilities managers can implement a strategy that delivers lower costs and improves the occupant experience.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Click on a link below to jump to that section.

What Is a Smart Building?

Technology: Required Connections and Smart Building Components

People: Who Needs to Be Involved When Implementing Smart Building Technology?

Processes: Use Data to Take Action

What Is a Smart Building?

To define what makes a smart building smart, let’s use the human body as a metaphor. Our skin and eyes relay information about pressure, temperature, light and our external environment directly to our brain. There, our mind integrates the data and makes decisions.

A smart building’s integration works in a similar way:

1. The building systems, such as HVAC, lighting or sensor systems, collect data.

2. This data is relayed back to the building automation system (BAS) or building

management system (BMS), which often serves as the central control center.

3. The BAS and analytical software identify trends in the data.

4. Facilities professionals use these trends to determine what action to take.

Michael Moats is the senior marketing director at Siemens, which offers smart building technology and integration services. Paul Oswald is president of Environmental Systems, Inc., a systems integration firm that helps companies set up smart building technology.

Both Moats and Oswald define a smart building as an integrated building that adds value to an organization.

“A smart building is really an integrated building,” Moats says. “You used to have a lot of disparate systems, but now you can pull data from just about anywhere in the building.”

Integration allows users to keep an eye on multiple systems at once in order to make informed decisions and quickly react to issues. Depending on the company’s purpose for the building, the integration of systems and how users handle problems can vary.

Oswald says that purpose is determined by the company’s goals: Do the executives want to reduce energy costs? Do they want to increase sustainability? Is security an issue?


Siemens Desigo CC BAS users can view 3D floor plans while programming heating and cooling systems to reduce energy costs

Moats and Oswald say high-level discussions about business goals can help reveal how the building can assist in reaching them. All companies and buildings are unique, so having clear goals in mind will dictate which smart building components are needed.

Now that we’ve covered what a smart building is, let’s take a look at the roles of technology, people and processes in a smart building strategy.

Technology: Required Connections and Smart Building Components

Every building is a snowflake, Oswald says. Not all buildings, especially older ones, are equipped to collect and transmit data to a centralized system. Enabling that ability is the first step in a smart building strategy.

There’s a couple of fundamentals your building must have:

Data instrumentation: A building must have devices or assets that produce data, such as digital HVAC units or even a smart electrical meter.

Connections: The company needs a way to connect these data-producing instruments so that data is sent to a BAS for analytics.

“After that, you’re off to the races, and [the strategy] gets very tailored to what each client needs for their objectives,” Oswald says.

Organizations can integrate just a couple systems—or many, depending on their goals. The diagram below shows a simplified view of how the systems integrate and deliver data to a central hub: In this case, a BAS with analytics.


Diagram showing common smart building components

Integrating systems can require connecting specific assets, such as lighting fixtures, HVAC units or video surveillance systems, to digital controls that draw data. It can also involve mounting sensors to measure foot traffic or detect intrusions.

Smart building components and functions can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Smart Building Components & Functions

Fire safety and security components

✔ Emergency evacuation ✔ Intrusion detection ✔ Building access ✔ Fire safety systems ✔ Security cameras ✔ Time integration

Energy and comfort components

✔ Power and electrical systems ✔ Water supply ✔ Air conditioning units ✔ Heating units ✔ Ventilation systems ✔ Lighting

“The integration platform is what allows you to bring those systems together in one location,” Moats explains. “Then it’s coupled with a data analytics engine, and you start getting into the actionable information that shows you how to better manage your facility.”

While companies differ in the components they decide to integrate, Oswald says that HVAC and lighting systems are common starting points, as they make up more than half of the energy consumption in commercial buildings.

Now for a real-world example of all these systems working together: Let’s say a company is implementing a smart building strategy to lower energy costs. They would first start with integrating HVAC, lighting and door access systems, add some sensors to particular areas of the building, then connect them to the BAS for centralized control.

A facilities manager could then determine the times when the building is at peak occupancy and program each system for maximum efficiency:

Steps for Maximizing Building Efficiency

HVAC system

• Program by time to shut off as occupants leave the building each day. • Program to begin cooling the building just before occupants arrive.

Lighting system

• Program lights to turn on in response to occupant movement.

Door access system

• Program door access system to recognize employees using a badge to enter building after hours, which could turn on the AC and lighting just in their work area.

The ability to program systems to only be active when needed reduces energy consumption while keeping occupants comfortable and able to work when they need to. In this way, the building can drive the business goal of reducing energy costs.

Other external data can be used to increase efficiency, Moats says. For example, weather and forecast data can be streamed into the BAS so operators can respond to changing conditions, such as turning heaters on earlier to counteract a cold snap.

Some buildings even have integrated parking management systems, which can assist drivers in finding a parking space.

People: Who Needs to Be Involved When Implementing Smart Building Technology?

Technology is just a tool—the users must make decisions based on the data it provides and use a process to take action.

“The truth of the matter is, for smart buildings, the people and processes are critical,” Oswald says. “Are the people who are operating the building properly trained on the systems? And are they taking advantage of the features and functions?”

The facilities manager is a critical person in this process, as they often have the best knowledge of the building’s capabilities and business goals.

A facilities management system (CAFM) typically includes CAD drawings of the building. Moats says managers should ensure the drawing is accurate and up-to-date, especially for older buildings.

Depending on the types of components the organization needs, Oswald says several other people and departments should be involved in the smart building implementation process:

Senior executives: Executives have business goals in mind that will inform what components to include and when, as well as budget limitations.

• IT department: Because smart buildings integrate multiple systems together, it’s important to have the IT team involved in discussions from the beginning.

Energy and sustainability groups: Larger companies sometimes have separate energy and sustainability departments. If cost reductions are a major goal, these groups can help develop an action plan.

• Loss prevention teams: For companies that want to implement security components, a loss prevention team can advise the facilities team on the best profit preservation strategies.

Processes: Use Data to Take Action

The process is the final piece of the puzzle. It refers to any action taken based on the data generated by smart building technology.

With multiple systems working together, a facilities professional can quickly respond a range of factors, from weather shifts to emergency situations.

In case of a fire, the facilities manager or another operator is able to centrally control all of the systems needed to take quick action.


Actions taken by various systems in the event of a fire. (Source:

In the example above, the fire safety, building automation, security, lighting and other systems collaborate to:

• Alert and direct occupants out of the building in a safe manner

• Use the video system to ensure complete evacuation

• Begin combating the fire before emergency services arrives

In the example below, an employee requests building access after hours. An on-site security officer can view a video feed of the employee as they approach the doorway and verify their identity.

The security officer can unlock the door and temporarily disable the intrusion detection system in that area. If programmed to do so, the BAS can activate the HVAC system, lighting and video surveillance along the employee’s path.


Actions taken by various systems for after-hours access. (Source:

These systems collaborate to:

• Allow security personnel to authorize entry

• Facilitate a safe and comfortable environment

• Track the employee to maintain continuous security

Again, the details involved in establishing these types of integrations depends on company goals and budget. Many smart technology integrators and providers (including Environmental Systems, Inc. and Siemens) are available to consult with facilities managers to create a smart building strategy that best meets your needs.

Next Steps:

Visit our CAFM and EAM pages to learn more. Some CAFM and enterprise asset management software (EAM) is able to connect to a BAS for increased integration possibilities.

• Call (888) 234-5163 for a free consultation with our team of software experts to narrow down the options and create a short list of facilities and asset management systems.