Smart Buildings Virtual Conference panel discuss ‘wake up call’ for sector

On 13 October 2020 BCIA President Terry Sharp chaired a panel discussion for the Smart Buildings Virtual Conference. Joining Terry on the panel were BCIA Vice-President Graeme Rees of Schneider Electric, Mike Brooman of Vanti and Jamie Finnan of TR Control Solutions.

Discussing the themes of effective management of buildings during lockdown and how building management might look in a post-COVID world, the general consensus among the panel was that the lockdown period marked a ‘wake up call’ for the property sector and that we should take this opportunity to ensure commercial buildings are better prepared in the event they are left empty for a long period of time again in the future.

Jamie Finnan initially raised the argument that many building management systems (BMS) are perhaps not working in quite the way some facilities managers and building owners believed they were. There is something of an assumption that a BMS will magically take care of the running of a building, whether it’s occupied or not, and Jamie believes that lockdown has exposed some of the disconnect between building control systems, occupation and comfort.

Graeme Rees echoed this and drew attention to the number of unoccupied buildings that still appeared as though they were fully open for business during lockdown because they still had all of their lights on. In contrast, building managers with secure remote connectivity in place were able to make immediate adjustments and scale everything back to a more stable pattern based on little or no occupancy.

Greater engagement

For Mike Brooman, this underlined the need for greater engagement at all levels, between building controls specialists, facilities managers and landlords. Facilities managers with the ability to self-serve without the need to call on systems specialists were able to respond very quickly as they had the controls to put their building into setback modes or vacant modes easily. Clients without that level of integration had to call out different specialists in various disciplines. With an already heavy workload there were inevitably going to be delays in getting the required work scheduled. The same problem would also present itself when people start returning to work and they need to recommission the control systems and bring them back online.

Moving the conversation on, Terry speculated about the changes the panel members were seeing in live BMS environments today. Jamie observed that organisations who have made their building controls simple to use were having more success. Jamie added to this point by suggesting that where there is greater inclination to improve a building’s efficiency internally then the BMS becomes less of a background operation that nobody is aware of and that the organisations that tend to make these improvements enjoy greater engagement with their facilities and controls teams.

Terry noted that much of the emphasis of building controls this year, for well documented reasons, have centred on improved ventilation and airflow. Graeme agreed, and underlined the importance of remembering that energy conservation and CO2 reduction were still the long term objectives of building controls. In the short term, however, Mike believes some building owners might be required to go back to the beginning in terms of design and to allow for more fresh air, as reassuring both employees and visitors that your internal space is safe has taken on much greater importance. Mike also stated a need for tighter integration and believes that the simple ability to switch to ‘vacant’ mode will become an essential tool for building managers.

Flexibility and agility

Flexibility and agility of building controls are also vital according to Jamie, especially in these modern times when a building’s use can change very quickly in a short period of time. Jamie also believes that going forward, if there is greater communication between facilities managers and controls specialists then that will show that some lessons have been learned. Graeme was in full agreement, suggesting that a building’s eventual use could be very different to what it was in the design stage some three years earlier, and that the ability to tweak and adapt our buildings is important at any time, not just in situations like we have found ourselves in this year.

Mike finished by predicting a polarisation in attitudes among landlords, and that in 10 years’ time it will be easy to spot those who are only concerned about saving money and those who look to engage with specialists and ensure their building can offer what is required by tenants looking for high quality commercial space.

In conclusion, Graeme summarised that this was indeed a wake up call and that we must now use the benefit of hindsight to improve the level of control we have in our buildings, and that by making the invisible visible, everybody knows where they are starting from and what they need to do.

To watch the whole discussion click here