Are we “stuck in the middle” with our buildings?

Are the expectations of analysing data and driving a clear output being met? Or are we stuck between aspiration and reality?


Tim Barnes, Energy Business Development Manager at Synapsys Solutions gives his opinion

Many people and organisations are now more than aware that the assets and buildings that they have under their ownership generate data. This data has the ability to be collated, analysed and converted into actionable data. Information can be shared and used as needed, potentially by the building users, but also by building service companies, consultants and specialist subcontractors. With this prevalence of this data, are the expectations of analysing this data and driving a clear output being met? Or are we stuck in the middle, between aspiration and reality?

Solid foundation?

As in any form of business, decision making is founded on the application of intelligence gathered and a clear plan for the delivery and intended outcomes. For the most part, either (and hopefully) within the new build sector, but more importantly within the existing building stock, buildings and their assets can be a source of massive data. It is regularly reported that grasping this data should deliver operational performance improvements, energy & carbon efficiencies, productivity improvements for building users, and (most recently), contribute as part of a wider plan to the ongoing wellbeing of building users.

Despite this recognition of potential availability and probable value, how many organisations are actually moving effectively to deliver on this opportunity? It is certainly arguable that many, if not most, of the links in the building maintenance and operation chain, claim that their businesses are now poised to deliver added value offerings based on data acquired from a building or estate. However what is the reality? Are all the links pulling in the same direction – or actually delivering on the sales speak?

I think that many organisations, and their responsible parties, are stuck in the middle. They know the value of using present data better, but they see barriers. I have highlighted some of these below. These are legitimate concerns, and not, as the song suggests, clowns on the left and jokers on the right.

Overcoming hurdles

Whilst it is certain that a vast array of solutions exist to capture and analyse the data, why are organisations not capitalising more? Whilst by no means exhaustive, perhaps the list below sheds some light.

1. Cost

To harness the data contained in buildings, there will be a cost. Whether this is a capital expenditure one, used as part of a development or refurbishment, or an agreed operational expenditure, a cost will be faced to either install data acquisition devices, or potentially recommission systems to allow captured data to be liberated. The analysis of any data gathered will require some form of investment, be that human or through software.

2. Installed systems

With the vast majority of properties we walk into, past and work in, there may be some form of installed systems that could generate data that can be gathered and worked with. However, knowing or understanding what you have and if the systems are capable of some form of communication may be problematic. This may be due to building and asset age, lack of understanding or historic desire.

3. Expertise

Who will be best placed to either oversee or administrate the collation and analysis of data from assets and buildings? Is this an in-house or an external resource. Will there be clarity over the desired outputs and what can be achieved? Is there a shared purpose from the data collectors to the data analysts to the teams that will deliver a different approach to the buildings’ performance?

4. Expectation

Organisations may feel that they are ready to accept and analyse the data from buildings and drive decisive actions. But is the reality different to the expected or desired outcome? Organisations need to balance the anticipated outcome against the realistic situation.

#Internetofthings vs #internetofthingsbutnotquiteyet

Depending on which news outlet, technical publication or website you visit, the numbers of Internet of Things devices that will, and have, intervene in our day to day lives will increase dramatically. This march towards an ever increasing availability, and reliance, on intelligent devices is undeniable and cannot be challenged as fact.

But there is a consideration – are we really ready for it? Are we ready for it technically or financially? Are our supply chain partners ready for it? Is there resource to implement, oversee and drive a truly smart building?

This is where I think the challenge is present for us. On the one hand, we are bombarded by posts, articles and adverts all shouting about intelligence, connectivity, smartness and innovation. On the other, many organisations that could benefit from are not moving in that direction, many for the reasons stated earlier. So are end users and customers stuck in the middle? How do we move forward?

Iot1 copy

To a large degree, we are more accepting of smart at home than in the workplace. We have smart thermostats, subscription based software packages, apps that increasingly permeate our lives and are surrounded by increasingly smart technology. Can we take this acceptance further into our working environments? There is no doubt that applications such as Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around in various forms for decades – but I would certainly challenge the extent to which even a BMS is used or how far along the smart scale many BMS are.

Recent market research indicated that whilst the truly intelligent, connected building exists, they are few and far between (but increasing in number). Many new buildings are starting to appear on the smart radar. However the vast majority of buildings that exist now, and to a large degree are being developed, are still using an approach seen ten or more years ago. We cannot ignore the huge building stock that is as it has been for a long time. Unless a building is due for redevelopment or refurbishment, are all thoughts relating to optimisation or improved performance declined?

Smart buildings yes, smarter buildings now, yes please.

As an example of how buildings are evolving, I recently contributed to a panel discussion relating to the explosion in co-working space, and how that affects design, fitting out, letting and using the space efficiently. Market movements like this show how shifts in how people use work space necessitate a shift in how the space is operated. Understanding these trends and developments in more detail is paramount, and accepting that the evolution will happen.

Why can’t you make an existing building smarter, whilst planning for a smart building in the future? Building users, company employees and visitors should have their expectations over using and working in the space met in some regard.


At Synapsys Solutions, we are supporting our customer extract, manipulate and analyse their data. Our SIP+ platforms can be installed as a retrofit or as part of a new build, targeting nominated data sets for analysis, acting in a truly open protocol way. Our embedded drivers now support MQTT, an IoT enabling method for data sharing. By working closely with our customers, and understanding their needs, we are democratising the data that is present in their buildings now – pushing data to a wider audience and driving enhanced value.

An improvement can be made in terms of energy consumption, occupant wellbeing and productivity by using what you have now differently. Can you access meter or BMS data in the building, and review the data? Can you take that data and display it in a cost effective manner to support improved engagement with building users? If you can ,you should.

Some of the challenges that I mentioned earlier will need to be overcome, but at the same time a recognition that the implementation of a carefully constructed and delivered plan to drive as many benefits as possible. Providing some form of balanced approach is a requirement – let’s think to the future and what we could achieve with the space and technology at that time. But we can do more now with what we have. Organisations need to be made aware of this, and with a dose of realism have these aspirations worked towards by their supply chains.

It is time to make our current buildings smarter whilst planning for a smart building in the future.