What is an intelligent building?

Stemming from the late 1980s, when the first electronic devices were integrated into buildings, CRE Tech (Commercial Real Estate Technology) began to influence building operations and design. The concept has continued to evolve over the last three decades into a new form of architecture, one that is enhancing property function, value, and user experience. Today, we know this as the Intelligent Building.

An intelligent buildings is one that is driven, controlled and managed by a centralised IBMS (intelligent building management system) that optimises performance, efficiency and sustainability and is becoming a key driver in commercial property tenancy.

Through the use of accurate monitoring, sensors, controls and smart applications, a building becomes more intuitive secure, productive and cost-efficient.

The Internet of things (IoT) is a (usually cloud-based) network of physical devices, appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.

IoT applications can provide significant cost and efficiency advantages for commercial properties, delivering analytical insight into the performance of a building.

With an IBMS, a building can flex its resource expenditure in accordance with occupants’ usage. Utilities such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) are intelligently and automatically controlled. Include lighting in this and the building management system typically represents 70% of the building’s energy usage. Having an energy management system like this installed enables building operations to run smoothly and efficiently, and promotes a greener property.


What can an intelligent building do?

IoT and IT infrastructure have culminated in the creation of intelligent building management systems. With data analytics, managers can engage in valuable predictive maintenance, continually keeping track of performance and operational activities. Predictive maintenance allows one to identify faults within equipment that might need repairing or replacing, before they’ve had an impact on building occupants. The building becomes self-monitoring and more self-sufficient.

A transition to an intelligent network will ultimately future-proof a building, as systems can be re-configured and updated in accordance with society’s movement towards increased digital enhancements. But its success is dependent on a landlord’s understanding of how a space is used, so it can be harnessed to its full potential.

  • Illumination control - lighting can be turned on, off or dimmed according to time of day, the level of external light, or occupancy sensors, providing more efficient energy usage. Some systems will also detect failure of lamps and fixtures.

  • Electric power monitoring and control - electricity usage can be monitored granularly, enabling the targeting of waste and inefficiency as well as, potentially, incentivising users to be better managers of their own consumption.

  • Telecoms management - centralised communications control isn’t new but, by wrapping it into an IBMS, comms management can be made more efficient through a single system interface.

  • Room control - access control, room booking management, conferencing and audio/visual technologies can all be administered by modern smart buildings solutions.

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) - Much like with lighting and electricity management, smart HVAC is able to monitor, report on and control the energy consumption of a building’s heating and cooling systems. They are also usually equipped with air handlers, which mix air from the outside to help maintain interior air quality and minimise energy required to regulate internal temperature and humidity. And modern intelligent systems also monitor indoor air quality, measuring, warning against and countering toxins and pollutants.

  • Water control and conservation - smart water solutions rely on data and IoT sensors to pinpoint leaks and improve water management.

  • Fire safety - intelligent fire systems automate the entire process of handling a building fire, from sensor fault monitoring, early smoke/fire detection, notifying emergency services, building evacuation.

  • Control of the buildings mechanical systems - using IoT connectivity and data analytics, smart building systems monitor the health and performance of mechanical equipment, uncovering issues and faults that can harm a building’s performance.

  • Security automation - alarms and security in smart buildings is a topic that can apply to many building systems - from air quality to to burglar alarms. An important aspect of the rise of IBMS is the need for information security. Smart buildings are at risk from hackers, so strong security features are increasingly important.


The advantages

Easy to maintain a high standard without the need for multiple managers

The addition of wireless technology can simplify everyday tasks and reduce personnel costs significantly. For example, sprinklers can activate lawn sprinklers when the weather is dry. Or staff can be notified when soap dispensers run out in the bathroom.

Similarly, safety and maintenance equipment can be monitored remotely without the need for weekly/monthly visits from maintenance staff, thus reducing costs further and fostering predictive maintenance.

In the same vein, an intelligent building operates at peak efficiency most of the time, reducing wear and tear on the building and equipment, lowering the amount spent of costs and repairs over time.

Greater control over security and integrations

Access control promotes a safer environment for occupants. This can be adapted to limit entry to various areas of the building, with integrated surveillance and CCTV system as a result of the convergence of security and IT.

Operational costs savings and lower utility bills

Fault detection and energy management systems permit the more efficient management of resources. With sensors, systems can be operated according to occupancy levels and energy demand, regulating energy usage and eliminating waste. The long-term saving opportunities of an IBMS arguably outweigh any high upfront installation costs.

Increases property value

A 2012 survey reveals that energy efficient commercial buildings and commercial buildings with green attributes demonstrate a 2-17% increase in resale value, plus 9-18% higher occupancy rates.

A study by CommScope has revealed that two-thirds of respondents consider indoor wireless connectivity as ‘essential’ for employees, and the survey also suggested that implementing a dedicated in-building wireless system could increase a property’s value by up to 28%.

Green and sustainable

Increased sustainability and green initiatives is a given with an intelligent buildings since it takes every opportunity to minimise waste, reducing their impact on the environment. In addition, many operate using only renewable energy sources such as solar power.


The disadvantages

Network security

Vulnerabilities within the intelligent building system could increase the risk of cyber hacks, and with remote connectivity malicious attacks could be made without physical access. However, with comprehensive and tight web security, including secure password gates, these vulnerabilities are mitigated. Similarly, application security screening can be used to identify vulnerabilities in software and code before implementation.

Loss of jobs

As mentioned above, the need for several managers could become obsolete, as sensors and trackers carry out tasks that would have otherwise been fulfilled by a designated employee.

Costly to implement

The initial implementation cost of an intelligent building management system is a high upfront investment that may succeed the budgets of most small businesses. However, the long term cost savings are sure to outweigh any initial investment and the return on investment is therefore

Increased complexity

The culture shock to employees could impede on productivity in the early stages, as people take the time to adapt and understand the systems. However, again, this is an early compromise and investment that will see a bigger return on investment long term.

Vendor lock-ins

With all cloud-based services, vendor lock-ins can be a cause for a concern, and a lock-in is usually associated with the most popular, desirable services. But ensuring your perform thorough research before hand into where your data is sorted, how it will be exported should you choose to leave, and what that process involves will stop you from having to face any nasty shocks should that day come. If this is going to be a long-lasting relationship, we suggest doing your research beforehand to make sure you’re in the hands of the most suitable, competent vendor.


What does it mean for landlords?

High quality tenant attraction and retention

The future workforce not only expect, but need to be in a constant state of connectivity to perform at their most productive. With millennials and generation Z set to account for the largest proportion of the workforce in years to come, environments need to adapt to reflect their expectations.

Employers are therefore seeking out properties that are conducive to the most productive working styles of the next generation.

Millennials value flexibility, with 74% expecting flexible working schedules. Generation Z grew up in midst of a technological revolution and are the first generation to know no different, so it’s vital they have access to the most up-to-date technology to nourish their creativity and allow them to perform at their best. Growing up during climate change, their values are different that their millennial counterparts who are more concerned with non-traditional working patterns.

Unlike their millennials counterparts, they place a firm emphasis on environmental impact more than any other cohort.

With many modern day workers motivated and attracted by workplace culture and environment, a building that promotes agility, sustainability and customisation will be one that is attractive to successful, thriving enterprises.

Efficiency and sustainability

Intelligent buildings owners demonstrate an inherent responsibility for sustainability - with discernible results.

Various types of sensor presence are able to track features such as motion, air pressure, light, temperature, and water flow, providing more information about the object, adjusting to serve the needs of the user. Through smart applications and wearable devices, the building is fit with knowledge of occupant whereabouts, so that empty rooms using redundant energy can switch off their electricity supply.

A smart building is intuitive and proactive in its energy expenditure, only using what needs to be used. Accurate and intelligent monitoring can control energy use and lighting. An intelligent building can eliminate redundant energy, for example turn the lighting off in unoccupied zones, and and only use heating to suit the preferences of the occupant. Wearables promote an ‘always on’ connectivity between occupants and the building, so lighting, heating and ventilation

Utilities can be tracked via 15 minute intervals with intelligent solutions, allowing for management of costs and elimination of wastage.

In a similar vein, smart buildings actually the capacity to house more workers through flexible working solutions. For example, Deloitte, residing in The Edge, Amsterdam make significant costs savings by having 2,500 workers, and only 1,000 desks, assigning desk space only to those who need it on the day. Otherwise, collaborative working spaces or zones are assigned depending on the occupants’ schedule. This significantly reduces the costs required for office space, desk, computers whilst encouraging internal collaboration. According to Gartner Group, eliminating 100 workspaces can save an organisation more than £1 million per annum.

Predictive maintenance

Machine learning and IOT deployment enables predictive maintenance which can increase cost savings and reduce downtime. Intelligent monitoring and automatic tracking can alert building managers before faults occur, reducing the need for costly ‘last minute’ intervention, and thank to predictive maintenance, parts can be replaced rather than entire machine, reducing costs and disruption to tenants.

Data extraction and data analysis are becoming essential tools to conducting business, both for building owners and building tenants.

These benefits are closely aligned with the priorities of building and property owners. Owners who want to increase tenant satisfaction and loyalty build and nurture relationships with users and stand out above competitors, and attract high quality, reliable tenants.

To identify the type of IoT application you need, an owner/landlord must first define what the company needs, whether it’s increased efficiency, greater differentiation or new sources of revenue.

CRE owners will need to use a framework to pinpoint economic value evaluating all aspects of building optimisations to be more attractive to tenants.

Safety and security

IoT enabled buildings are highly secure thanks to their constant state of connectivity and intelligence.

Landlords can improve the safety of building occupants through heightened security systems and real time data visibility, facial recognition system. The rapid pace of innovation is putting pressure on landlords to provide the best facilities to concur with the expectations of the calibre of tenants they want to attract.

Building technology is at the centre of modernity and innovation and a new wave of enterprises are leveraging the benefits that are integral to business performance, and fostering a secure, happy working environment for the users.

An investment into smart building technology could see you improve not just tenant relationships but user relationships with design management and amenities.


What does it mean for occupants?

Interconnectivity isn’t just changing the way buildings operate, but how occupants interact with them.

When we look at the tenants day-to-day within an intelligent building, we can see how digital architecture goes beyond cost reduction and energy saving. The basis of an intelligent building promotes the propagation of technology in other areas such as wellbeing, productivity and job satisfaction.

A modern and intuitive work environment

Infrastructure of a smart building can support the expectation for seamless technology at our fingertips, enhancing every aspect of the occupant experience.

From high speed data and internet, interactive media, AV capabilities, and well-being trackers, commodities that are attractive to tenants and improve their day to day working life.

For The Edge Amsterdam, talent attraction is easier than ever since workers from across the globe are attracted to Deloitte partly because they want to to work in the building.

Space management means lagers teams can make use of limited space ‘plug and play’ workstations, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD), remote working, and promoting internal and external collaboration with teams around the globe. No longer restricted by environment. The building is essentially a powerful tool that promotes modern working expectations, satisfying the most effective working solutions and solves problems before they arise.


Thermal comfort issues are no longer a problem with the introduction of apps connecting users to the building. Indoor air quality and temperature are at the individual occupant’s perusal with the help of apps that connect users the the building. These can be configured to adapt with the movement of the user.


Those who work from home at least once a week were 48% more likely to rate their job a “10” on the happiness scale, with 10 being the highest.

The modern day worker is busier than ever, with more working parents than ever before, and an increase in the proportion of working women.

A World Green Building Council (WGBC) study uncovered evidence that the health and wellbeing elements of office design have a real impact on productivity and wellbeing of the people who work there.

We see this already at the Edge, Amsterdam, and Capital Tower, Singapore. At Capital Tower, Singapore, for example, occupants have the luxury of an in house gym, hair salon, and medical centre. Similarly, The Edge enables workers to be connected to the building via a mobile application, which prompts them to take midday workouts in the office gym and allows employees to place orders for fresh ingredients from a list of recipes available via touch screen, to then have the ingredients delivered straight to them before they leave at the end of the day.

The popularity of corporate wellness programmes is on the rise, and calls for a range of commodities for employees, in an attempt to combat absenteeism, employee turnover and improve overall job satisfaction. A smart environment is conducive to this mindset, since the entire experience is customised, and promotes a higher sense of wellbeing. All of which is said to improve business efficiency.

Room sensors gather data based on how employees interact with the building and use this to shape the individual experience. We expect to see a working environment where the office car park records your arrival and assigns you a space, the Espresso machines remembers exactly how you like your coffee, and your desktop is geared up and ready to go from the moment you step foot in the office.

But at the same time, the future workforce will have the autonomy and flexibility to choose when and where they work. With the power of the cloud, collaboration from whenever and wherever is a normality, promoting a future of remote jobs, global talent acquisition and increased scalability.


Examples of intelligent buildings

UAE - Al Bahar Towers (solar shading system)

The exceptional design of Al Bahar Towers is complete with intuitive architecture that reacts according to the position of the sunlight, ensuring occupants stay as comfortable as possible in the exhausting heat of Abu Dhabi. The building has an intelligent skin, comprised of umbrella-like modules, controlled by the building management system. These open and close depending on the position of the sun, and the amount of shade needed. Smart thermostats track how many people are using the building at any one time and control the lighting in accordance, minimising waste and reducing utility bills.

Singapore - Capital Tower (Wireless LAN)

Capital Tower, Singapore, is fully integrated with an intelligent building management system, and its very own wireless local area network (LAN).

The IBMS with IoT application aims to please every occupant at every juncture. From low emissivity glass windows, to variable air volume boxes for optimal indoor air quality, Capitaland's designers aim to improve occupant experience whilst maintaining efficient, sustainable and eco-friendly properties. Other intelligent features include high-speed lifts that provide live news and stock market updates, and a state-of-the-art car park guidance system.

Hong Kong - Mansion ZCB (Zero carbon)

Mansion ZCB in Hong Kong is the first zero carbon building, connected to the local grid and producing its own renewable energy on site. Through efficient structural design, every effort has been made the minimise waste and lower carbon construction practices, as well as the pioneering technology which enables the building system to use waste cooking oil to generate power. It is hoped that the technologies of Mansion ZCB will inspire others in construction and architectural realms to consider the adoption of green and low carbon elements.

Australia - Legion House (Sustainable and Heritage listed)

Hailed as one of the most sustainable buildings in the world, certified by The Green Building Council of Australia with a 6-Star-Green - Office v3 Design rating. The building is complete with several sustainability initiatives from dual fuel generators, a tri-generation system, and biomass gasification.

Netherlands - The Edge (Deloitte HQ) Amsterdam

The Edge behaves in accordance with its occupants' needs.

There are no such thing as assigned desks or parking spaces at The Edge. An app connected to each individual occupant uses number plate recognition to find the user a parking space, and assigns workspaces based on their daily work schedule.

Deloitte’s Amsterdam HQ is equipped with 30,000 sensors and has enabled a reduction in electricity usage by 70%. The building produces more electricity than it uses and for that reason it has received the highest ever BREEAM sustainability score of 98.36%. Flexibility runs through the veins of the architecture, as the building reacts to members as they move through the building, adjusting to their HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) preferences.

And if that wasn't enough, users have full use of a gym which recycles their energy expenditure back into the running of the building.