What opportunities and challenges do smart buildings bring, and what do they mean for FM?

by Brianna Crandall — November 8, 2017 — U.K.-based building services and engineering consultancy BSRIA recently launched its new Smart Network with an inaugural meeting and workshop in London. BSRIA established the Smart Network to enable its members and other building services professionals to meet and exchange ideas and issues that emerge from the profound changes being brought about by smart building technology, including addressing such questions as:

  • What does the Internet of Things (IoT) mean for building automation?
  • How will it affect different types and sizes of building?
  • In what ways can HVAC systems become smarter and how far is this already happening?
  • How do we get the most out of the potential smartness of our buildings?
  • Are smart buildings easier to manage or more complicated?
  • What does the smart world mean for building maintenance and facilities management?
  • What kind of security risks does the smart world bring and how do we best grapple with them?

A definition of “smart”

While there is no universally agreed definition of what “smart” means, whether for buildings or in any other context, BSRIA prefers to see smartness as a continuum, or a series of “stages” broken down into at least 10 levels, which can be summarized in the “BSRIA Smart Building Pyramid:”

  1. Mechanized;
  2. Programmable;
  3. Connected/communicating;
  4. Capable of interpreting information;
  5. Finding exceptions/anomalies;
  6. Recommending actions to problems;
  7. Taking preventive action;
  8. A self-improving system;
  9. Identifying new goals;
  10. Drawing on information and insights from the wider world.

Most building services and devices today can probably be found at levels 1-5 of this “pyramid,” although this can be expected to change rapidly, says BSRIA.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) meaning that almost every device inside and outside of buildings can be given a degree of “intelligence” and linked in to the Internet, and with cloud computing offering almost limitless power to collect and analyze information about every aspect of building services, smart buildings are rapidly moving from a niche area into one that will impact everybody who lives or works in buildings, says the organization.

Inaugural workshop

Central to the BSRIA Smart Network launch was an interactive workshop, with almost 50 BSRIA delegates, in addition to BSRIA’s own professionals, entitled: Workshop on the Opportunities and Challenges Presented by Smart Buildings and the Changes They Require.

The workshop focused on three major questions:

  • What opportunities do smart buildings present to your organizations and to building services generally?
  • What challenges or threats do smart buildings pose and in what respects?
  • In what ways will your business and the building services industry in general need to change in order to address these challenges and to make the most of the smart buildings revolution?

Key themes addressed in the workshop are summarized below.



All companies involved in smart buildings have the potential to use smart building technologies to improve their brand image and use that brand image to help to shape the development of smart buildings, points out BSRIA. Initially this branding benefit will be most evident when an organization is targeting people who are “smart aware,” especially the Millennial generation.

Companies that use smart technology in the buildings that they occupy can also use this to promote their own brand, especially where the technology can be presented as socially or environmentally beneficial, for example in reducing energy consumption, combatting pollution, or improving the quality of life of its customers and employees. Buildings need to “walk the talk,” and that brand, image and reputation are essential.

Building design and organization

An improved design process is both a benefit and a requirement of a smarter building. The data provided by smart systems regarding energy consumption and environmental quality can be used to plan the optimal use of the building.

For example, seating plans can be arranged to provide the most comfortable conditions. It may even be possible to group individuals with similar provisions.


In most organizations, the great majority of the costs typically relate to people. If a smarter and better managed building leads to improvements in staff productivity and in staff retention, then this is likely to lead to real improvements to the bottom line.

Human resources (HR)

Where smart technology provides a more comfortable environment, and where the environment can be personalized to a degree, for example by providing occupants with individual controls, this is likely to improve job satisfaction and morale.


Smarter security systems can enhance security in a number of ways. Smart sensors and smart CCTV can provide more accurate indicators of the location of people in a building, which can help identify intruders and also assist in evacuation and rescue in the event of fire or other incidents.

Integrating security systems with other smart building systems can provide further protection.



HR departments will need to attune themselves to attracting the appropriate range of talents to develop or implement or support the new systems. The challenge will lie partly in understanding the precise mix of skills needed for each role and partly on the fact that there are likely to be skills shortages where demand is growing.

For example, the skills required from an engineer are likely to evolve. Some may require more information technology (IT) based skills, while others may become relatively deskilled.


Henry Lawson, senior market research consultant, BSRIA, stated:

Smart building technology raises understandable concerns over data security and cybersecurity. All Internet-connected devices are at least potentially hackable in ways that can not only impede their functioning — which for some building services could compromise safety — but also cause more widespread disruption, or serve as a gateway to hack into more sensitive data and systems.

There is also a lot of resistance to storing any data in the cloud, especially where this is a public cloud platform. This is partly related to fears of their data being held offshore. There are also concerns over data availability if there are problems with Internet connectivity.

We need to remember that while intelligent buildings are typically also connected buildings, the one isn’t either necessary or sufficient to achieve the other.

Changes needed


Those managing facilities need to be fully trained not just in the workings of smart technology, but to understand why it matters, and in the consequences of its not working.

There will need to be deeper and more permanent collaboration between FM and those with IT skills, whether they are internal or external. This is likely to incorporate some practices that are already well established in the IT domain, such as change requests.

“Teething” problems always occur with any new products — then they hit a plateau of productivity, points out BSRIA.


New training schemes, certifications and qualifications need to be defined, for both those involved in delivering a smart building, and those who will use it.

The wider urban and social context

A smart building needs to take full account of the smart city environment, making use of smart city infrastructure such as district energy networks.

With the population likely to continue growing in many urban and suburban areas, the planning process should incorporate standards and guidelines for smart buildings.

Henry added:

Smart building technology will impact on almost every aspect of building services and will not just affect the way that these services are delivered and consumed. The whole process of designing, building and commissioning a building needs to become more connected so as to ensure that the most appropriate smart solutions are selected, matching the client’s priorities, ensuring that they are correctly installed and commissioned. There also needs to be a degree of flexibility, given the rapid advances that can render what is smart today, outdated tomorrow.

The end customer needs to be educated as to what levels of smart functionality are available and as to what business benefits they will bring and at what costs.

Smart buildings also increasingly exist in a smart city environment, which both raises opportunities — for example in improving a city’s energy and environmental performance — and potentially adds to the risk and complexity.

However, given the technological, economic and social momentum behind the smart revolution, such issues are unlike to impede development in the medium – long term.

Understanding human psychology and what makes people tick will be just as crucial to the new emerging smart buildings world as understanding the technology itself.

The next BSRIA Smart Network event will be held on January 18, 2018, in Bristol. Visit the BSRIA Web site for more information.