The Evolution of Smart Buildings: Are Cognitive Buildings Fact or Fantasy?

Today's buildings have evolved beyond the four walls, a floor, and a roof. Experts across the globe clamor about the state of smart building solutions and the use of business information management (BIM), but a key question remains. Are cognitive buildings real or a fantasy? According to Dr. Claire Penny of IBM, cognitive facilities and buildings are a reality in today's world. They can transform how Facilities Managers approach essential asset management, interact with staff, ensure the comfort of guests, and increase utilization. To fully understand the issue, facilities management professionals need to understand what’s wrong with today’s buildings, the benefits of these buildings and how to transform smart buildings into truly cognitive beacons of human interaction.

What’s Wrong With Existing Buildings?

Existing buildings exist likely as automated buildings or smart buildings. Automated buildings became popular in the late 20th century and used technology to visualize key performance indicators for asset management and maintenance. Unfortunately, data was often left at the hands of outdated, energy-wasting systems, and automation was limited. Think of automated lights that shut off at daylight. That’s the degree of automation within this group. In 2000, the notion of smart buildings came into play. Smart buildings began to connect assets through IoT-enabled sensors to understand the consumption of energy in rooms. Those technologies offered primary data points for managing and lowering energy consumption. Unfortunately, they provided little in the way of optimizing buildings to include the most essential factor of all—building occupants and how they use the facility.

Benefits of Cognitive, Interactive Buildings Are Realistic and Actionable

Cognitive buildings arose in 2015 or slightly earlier depending on who is answering, and they approach building management from an occupant-centric style. These buildings sought to extrapolate the most unexpected of data sources—how occupants use and interact within a structure. Plenty of data exists, but over 90% of that data is never fully utilized. Cognitive buildings look to use all available information and understand how it impacts building occupants. The benefits of interactive buildings are extensive and include:

  • Improved guest comfort
  • Reduced disruption
  • Ease-of-identification of problems
  • Automated work order management and planning
  • Streamlined maintenance management
  • Predictive systems that reduce reactive maintenance
  • Analytics to uncover how a building owner can squeeze more value from the facility
  • Enhanced utilization of space
  • Integration with other software platforms to give building occupants a technology-immersive experience
  • Interacting with people to create the best space possible and increase satisfaction

How to Transform Your Facilities Into Cognitive Buildings

Cognitive building transformation begins with simple steps. Facilities Managers must first understand what data they do have right now. It is difficult to plan without considering existing resources, and even if such data seems hard to understand, start with it. Next, begin the process of identifying your core goals for improvement. Are occupants happy? Do you wish to increase foot traffic into your facilities? Are you aligned with your company’s ESG goals? What about the “brand” image?

Those questions reflect the basis for investment in cognitive technologies that leverage energy, utilization, guest feedback, and guest or tenant services data to create a better experience. It’s all about the customer experience, and depending on the use of the building, the experience may range from increasing tenant satisfaction to promoting better learning in students.

Additional steps to take include:

  • Retrofitting facility assets to track all energy-consuming systems
  • Using remote management to handle facility needs across a distributed portfolio
  • Taking advantage of augmented reality via 2D barcodes to understand current building conditions or move throughout the facility
  • Using a state-of-the-art computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that considers how maintenance and work order resolution will affect guest experiences.
  • Applying analytics to understand the consumption of resources, including space utilization.
  • Creating more considerable buying power through information sharing, such as the case with utility company incentive programs.
  • Integrating systems to ensure the full shareability and use of data from all systems, assets, and processes.

Take Action

The best-laid plans will fail without action. The first step to transforming your buildings into cognitive facilities begins by digging into your company and asking for your desired outcomes can help you navigate the process of evaluating technologies to improve your current environment and achieve your business goals. Cognitive buildings can help build brand value and offer the promise of lower total cost of ownership.

Eric Crabb

Eric Crabb