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Smart Building Benefits

by Benchmark

Smart buildings and increasingly smart cities are grabbing many of the headlines at present, and with good reason. Today’s commercial organisations understand the value of ‘big data’, and how it can be used to introduce efficiencies across a wide range of business and organisational needs. It is a rare company or organisation that does not want to be more efficient, and in modern security systems we have much of the capability to offer such services.

When the subject of smart buildings and smart cities comes up, it is very easy to consider such technologies as very separate to the solutions on offer from the security market. Our focus has always been on the prevention of crime, the mitigation of risks and the management of incidents when they do occur. As vital as these tasks might be, the reality is that the security industry is arguably selling itself short.

Intelligent buildings, streets or cities rely on one thing: data. The collection of accurate data, in real-time, is essential to the decision-making process. If that data is inaccurate, untimely of based upon suppositions, then any smart environment will inevitably fail. As such, smart systems are data hungry.

However, it’s not just a case of collecting as much data as possible. The value for end users comes from having accurate and credible data which can be actioned. It is too easy to think that all data is vital. For many applications, certain data will be important, but when this is transferred to a smart building scenario, it cannot be actioned.

There is an IT industry term: GIGO. This stands for ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’, and it is very much true in smart building applications. Integrators and installers looking to branch into the delivery of smart site implementations need to understand that ‘Garbage’ does not solely refer to inaccurate or outdated data. It can also include data which, while accurate and credible, simply cannot be actioned effectively.

If you consider security solutions, they are effectively data collection and analysis systems. Because of the nature of security and risk mitigation, the systems are designed to capture accurate real-time data, and often to verify that data. The data collected is usually relevant to site and building status, and therefore can be exploited to achieve many intelligent building goals.

Relevant data

Considering the various technologies involved in a complete security solution, it becomes possible to understand the vast range of data that is being captured.

Access control systems capture and process data about who enters (and often who leaves) a building. It is also possible to track people around a site, knowing who is where at any given time. This enables definite occupancy data to be captured, along with easily searchable records of who is on and off site.

Access control records can contain much more information that a user’s identity and access permissions. Supplementary information can include qualifications such as first aider, H&S trained worker, fire marshal, etc.. They can also link specific individuals with assets, tools or other items to enhance management.

Access control data can be used to manage intelligent tasks based upon specific individuals being on site, or non-specific individuals from certain access groups, or persons with defined qualifications, or even based upon occupancy levels, expected personnel or vehicular flows, or controlling processes dependent upon whether rooms, departments floors or buildings are either occupied or unoccupied.

Because access data is often used for muster reporting, payroll and security, the data has to be accurate and delivered reliably in real-time. As such, it adds an important data element to truly smart buildings.

Even within the security industry, the potential for exploiting the data captured by intruder detection systems is not always appreciated. Data that identifies users is predominantly based upon setting and unsetting of the system, or the implementation of configuration changes. However, if you consider the status information gathered by alarm systems, it does offer a number of benefits when creating an intelligent building solution.

For example, areas and partitions can be identified as armed or disarmed, and zones with or without motion can be identified in real-time. Also, the status of doors and windows can be monitored, with the opening and/or closing of portals being able to trigger actions. With secure wireless options available, this allows the use of contacts on a wide range of items as well as entry/exit points or windows.

Cupboards and drawers can be monitored, as can cabinets, fridges and freezers, storage boxes and even mobile assets with the use of accelerometers.

Whether using external or internal detection, contacts, shock sensors, or peripheral devices such as temperature or humidity sensors, the power of intruder-based systems is the ability to create double-knock scenarios, timer-based actions and advanced logic rules. The latest intruder alarm systems include a plethora of additional features and functions, many of which can be applied to create smart events.

In recent times, advances in processing power and the increased use of GPUs to manage off-loaded data processing has seen the potential for capturing and exploiting data from video surveillance systems grow in an exponential way.

Video surveillance data offers a number of diverse benefits as it allows visually detectable information to be exploited without the need for human intervention or verification. While CCTV was predominantly a reactive technology, today’s video surveillance solutions are proactive thanks to the increased use of IVA and AI technologies.

Video surveillance offers data which can be processed for a very wide range of status reports. These range from simple events such as motion-based triggers, through a whole range of intelligent analytics triggers, through to site status reports based upon occupancy, flow, entry and exit times, condition reporting, etc..

As the use of GPUs increases, so a number of video systems also offer object recognition based upon deep learning algorithms. These can differentiate specific objects, even though they might of a similar size and shape, and display the same behavioural characteristics. Adding another layer of possibilities, the development of deep learning technologies ensures that the potential on offer from video surveillance in smart buildings goes far beyond security.

In essence, any data that can be visually captured can then be processed as a part of a smart building solution. Data can be collected about moving or stationary objects, appearing or disappearing people or items, speed and direction of flow, size and shape of objects (or object classification), dwell times, behavioural trends, anomalies and exceptions, coloured objects, etc..

Increasingly, rules based upon multiple criteria can be initiated, either at an edge device or at a central management software platform. The information can be pulled from any of the security system technologies, and as a result can provide significant benefits in a smart building implementation.

The right implementation

It is important for integrators not to think in terms of a smart building controlling every single function via an integrated solution. Few building owner/occupiers want that. Many will already have legacy systems that perform certain building management tasks, and will be more than happy with how these function.

Additional smart functions which exploit the data being captured by the security system can be added incrementally, delivering proof of concept for the end user. As their requirements grow, so additional elements can be introduced. In many cases, the customer will not have thought about how they’d like to utilise data from the security system, often because they don’t realise the potential available from the system. For integrators, the key to additional business lies in ensuring users appreciate the power and flexibility of modern solutions.

The options range from general site management, such as managing power when a department, floor or building is vacant or opening car park barriers when management are on site, through to very specific tasks such as alerting staff if occupancy in a public area reaches a predefined level, or directing delivery vehicles to a certain loading bay.

Through a combination of system features and functions and logic-based rules, advanced automation and building management actions can be established with relative ease. Not only does this enhanced the return on investment for the customer, but it also allows the use of additional budget from other cost centres. This in turn ensures systems can be created which exceed the user’s expectations.

The only barrier to adding smart functionality is users’ appreciation of what is possible. Unless they are made aware of what can be achieved, they may well assume that the security system only acts to deliver security. Their lack of understanding may be due to previous experience with older technology, or even down to a previous integrator or installer not explaining all of the options.

In summary

End users are increasingly investing in smart technologies to create intelligent buildings and campuses. Such investments are easy to justify as they add business efficiencies, and offer an enhanced return on investment. Few realise that their security system could offer many of the benefits they seek.

For many integrators, the additional business that offering smart functionality will bring is essential to future growth. However, unless the functionality is sold to the customers, they are unlikely to fully understand just how flexible their systems really are.

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