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Building Automation

Requirements for Modern Buildings - The Cloud Platform Becomes the Standard Trade of Technical Building Equipment

Brain, building middleware, operating system for buildings, building operation system, digitization platform, cloud platform for buildings, smart building platform, digital twin - there are a variety of words and terms circulating in the market at the moment, but what are we really talking about? One thing is certain, the old information technology structure of buildings no longer meets today's requirements.

In this article, we highlight the current requirements for modern real estate and present a proposed technical solution to meet these requirements in the long term.

 

8 Min.

Requirements for Modern Buildings

Based on numerous conversations, attending conferences, observing articles in magazines, and sifting through social media posts, the requirements for future building stock can be outlined:

On the one hand, building owners want to get closer to users, and to be informed about the goodness of their properties. They want to know about the actual use and performance of their buildings. On the other hand, they want to optimize buildings and increase operating efficiency. Real estate should become more sustainable because it plays an important role in the energy system of the future. All in all, the future viability of real estate is crucial. This is the only way building owners can respond flexibly to future demands from users and tenants. All this serves to secure long-term value stability, the natural interest of every asset owner.

The Requirements in Detail

Current developments in the wake of the Corona pandemic are increasing the pressure to use space as efficiently as possible. Whether optimized leasing or alternative forms of use - information about the actual use and the behavior of the users enable optimizations to improve the utilization of space.

The quality of the space provided has a direct influence on achievable cold rents. Certain aspects, such as healthy indoor air and comfort, are becoming increasingly important. But at the same time the costs and the energy expenditure for this are to be kept as small as possible. It is therefore important to know what quality is achieved at what cost. The operating efficiency of buildings is a variable to be determined and subsequently improved.

Efficiency is always in the area of conflict between benefit and expense. One approach is to increase the return on real estate. Value propositions of real estate include comfort, good indoor air quality, hygienic (hot) water, and other energy services such as process heating or cooling (for example, for sterilization in hospitals or for cooling food). Another approach is to reduce the effort with which the benefits are achieved. This includes, in particular, energy consumption and the personnel and materials to operate the property.

When it comes to reducing resources, facility management plays a key role during operation. The aim is to optimize the process chain with digital methods: predictive maintenance, digital order processing and awarding, standardization of service specifications, digital checklists as aids during order processing and as later proof, etc.

In addition to optimized FM processes, there is a need for operational optimization of energy systems in buildings. Scalable analyses should automatically identify the optimization potential and help to exploit it. Advanced control algorithms - incorporating weather and usage forecasts, simulation calculations and mathematical optimization - could thus make the continuous operation of buildings more efficient.

The reduction of the holistically calculated primary energy consumption in real estate operations (including the processes around a property) has a direct impact on sustainability. On the one hand, this is an important aspect against the background of CO2 pricing with rising CO2 prices in the future. On the other hand, penalties for property owners with portfolios that emit too much CO2 are no longer a far-fetched scenario. On this point, I was inspired by reading an article calling for Manage-to-Green instead of Manage-to-Core. According to this article, Manage-to-Green could be an investment strategy in itself, see „The new Manage-to-Core is called Manage-to-Green” by Jens Böhnlein, Global Head of Asset Management at Commerz Real (as of September 30, 2020).

In addition, it can be assumed that user requirements for spaces and their usability will rise as the digital affinity of future generations steadily increases. Recently completed lighthouse projects, also in German-speaking countries, are reinforcing the smart building trend. The future viability of real estate will thus be determined in part by its connectivity and the presence of necessary interfaces. In the course of this, there is increasing talk of digital readiness or smart building readiness.

The overarching requirement is the value stability or value growth of portfolios. We are convinced that this can only be promoted by taking a holistic view of the aspects mentioned above.

Movements in the Market

There are numerous isolated solutions on the market - offered by established companies, corporate spin-offs, proven PropTechs and young start-ups. Accordingly, all of the challenges mentioned can be addressed with methods that are already available. To illustrate this, I give a few examples, without claiming to be exhaustive:

  • Area utilization analysis with corresponding heat mapping can be found in the scope of services of modern luminaire manufacturers as well as retrofit offerings of sensor manufacturers with their platforms.
  • Software solutions support the performance assessment of buildings - by modeling the target state and comparing it with the actual state.
  • Classical building automation systems, using the respective building control systems, make it possible to observe the operating behavior and draw conclusions about thermal comfort and comfortability.
  • The upheavals in facility management can be well understood through podcasts that illuminate the innovative edge of the industry. For example, there are now offerings such as cleaning on demand or condition-based maintenance of HVAC systems. Retrofittable sensor technology for elevators makes their maintenance much more efficient.
  • Planners of technical building automation, contractors and other players offer services for the energy optimization of buildings that improve the energy operation of the property, sometimes in a savings contracting model.
  • Providers of weather forecast-based controls and self-learning algorithms (keyword: artificial intelligence) can sustainably improve the continuous operation of real estate.
  • Regarding the "Environmental, Social and Governance" (ESG) goals, extensive consulting offers can be acquired from the established players, some of which are moving in the direction of the associated challenges with their own products.
  • The range of smart-building and smart-district apps with diverse services, including access, locker, people-finder, space and workspace booking, incident management, community applications, is growing.

Asset owners are therefore faced with a range of services that is almost impossible to keep track of. In addition, the technical topology is by no means standardized. The individual solutions promise remedies for single or multiple requirements. In addition, smart buildings today are designed on a case-by-case basis, but ultimately the resulting systems are once again individual solutions. Those who want to keep their portfolios holistically stable in value should not only look at new construction, but also at the existing stock - after all, the aim is to make all buildings fit for the future and more sustainable.

From a technical perspective, implementing the above-mentioned value propositions requires a holistic solution that covers various terms: building middleware, building operation system (as an extension to the building management system - the classic building control system), digital backbone, digitization platform, brain, smart building platform or digital twin.

But what does this required trade that brings things together consist of? What is its technical design? Is it part of the building services? And can it be connected to the building from the outside?

The Cloud Platform as a Standard Trade of TBE

We are convinced that this unifying trade can be described as a cloud platform for buildings. It must become a standard part of the technical building equipment and thus part of every building - in both new and existing buildings.

In Figure 1, we sketch the trade and simultaneously embed it in the topology of the building.

The basic functions to be performed include, first of all, data acquisition and storage in the form of a data lake. This contains all technical operating data, traffic data and movement data generated by technical building equipment. In addition, all important master data and metadata on the property should be available here. Furthermore, it must be possible to receive relevant documents, for example revision, manufacturer and maintenance documents as well as contracts, and to make these available to the respective interested stakeholders.

In addition, a digital twin of a property and the entire portfolio is required. This can be based on a semantic structuring of all data in the data lake. It can be made up of various components of physical or process origin and in this way digitally map reality. For example, components of the technical building equipment and maintenance processes can be modeled in the digital twin.

Another important basic function of the cloud platform for buildings is to give all stakeholders targeted access to selected data. Data protection and data security must be fully guaranteed in the process. Extended services of the standard framework defined here can include analysis algorithms, control algorithms or process engines. In this context, open interfaces are an essential component of the cloud platform so that they can be integrated independently by relevant stakeholders.

As already mentioned, the data of all technical building equipment is part of the cloud platform for a building. The HOAI with cost group 400 can be used as an existing standard. This groups the TBE into different trades, and the above-mentioned new components can also be grouped under this.

How is the Data of the Individual Trades Integrated into the Cloud Platform?

The classic building automation trade (cost group 480) is of particular importance here: depending on the level of equipment in the building, particularly with regard to building automation, the technical systems are sometimes more, sometimes less, combined and automated. Building automation is therefore the first point of contact for data collection. In reality, however, I am not aware of any case in which building automation fully brings together all relevant trades. Accordingly, other trades must be integrated locally. This can be done via IP-technical integration by means of so-called edge devices. For this purpose, an industrial PC is integrated into the building and connected to the technical network of the property. If a property does not have the necessary technical facilities, the existing technology can be upgraded with the help of gateways. If the existing technology is also too old, the application-oriented installation of additional retrofit sensor technology is an option - a market that is developing rapidly in terms of technology. In any case, it is now possible to quickly and cost-effectively record all data from the technical building equipment in a cloud platform.

 

How is Added Value Generated from the Data?

The data serve as a basis. All of the use cases outlined above as examples need it to varying degrees. Data is considered the oil of the 21st century, which must be refined in order to generate corresponding added value. This is done on the one hand through the platform's own functions, and on the other hand through the services of other providers who can access the data via the existing interfaces.

 

Cloud or On-Premises Data Storage? And: Cloud-to-Cloud Topology

In Germany, the topic of cloud is relatively preloaded. However, since asset owners, operators or FMs rarely only monitor one property, it quickly becomes clear that the data must be held on a higher level. With proper execution in terms of data protection and data security, I am convinced that there is no obvious reason for so-called local deployments. Consequently, the right place for the data and interface functions is the cloud. This is reinforced by the aspect that data refinement has to be done by the best algorithms to generate maximum added value. In this context, a single platform will probably never house all the optimal algorithms for a given use case. That is why I am convinced that the future belongs to a cloud-to-cloud or platform-of-platforms topology. In our graphical representation, the item "Third-party platforms and digital services" explains this.

 

By Whom and How is the Cloud Platform Used?

The cloud platform can be used by almost all relevant stakeholders in the lifecycle of a property. Direct use can take place via user interfaces (human-machine interfaces (HMI) or user interfaces (UI), such as web front-ends or apps. User-side business intelligence solutions can directly access the data and functions of the platform via the interfaces. In addition, they can be used indirectly via third-party platforms and digital services that access the cloud platform via the interfaces and in turn offer their own programming interfaces and user interfaces.

 

Conclusion

Real estate needs a cloud platform to address the above-mentioned challenges in a contemporary manner. In view of the large number of existing buildings, both new and existing, there is an urgent need for standardization - also so that the offerings of different providers can be compared at all.

Cloud platforms for buildings are available on the market and should be increasingly used in the real estate industry.

The role of aedifion

With its cloud platform for buildings, aedifion GmbH offers this new trade as a vendor-independent and cross-vendor solution. We are active in a consulting capacity with regard to the digitalization of portfolios as well as the implementation of smart buildings and smart neighborhoods. In various research projects, we address a wide range of challenges, including the incorporation of existing buildings into the energy system of the future, the definition of comprehensive digital twins and data models, the simulation of technical systems and the future of building automation. We are happy to answer any questions you may have on these topics.

 

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