Why now is the time to embrace IoT
The growing use of Internet of Things devices in the built environment has led the industry to ask: Will it actually provide businesses with real benefits and efficiencies or is its value yet to become apparent?
With the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) well underway, smarter and safer ways to plan, build and operate assets have come to market. Over the past two decades, the definition of the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved; however, fundamentally it refers to the connectivity to the internet of objects that generate data in order to make the data available and connectable.
Society is already filled with IoT objects, from mobile phones and smart watches to remote security systems, lighting in our homes and even baby monitors. IoT is here to stay, but what does it mean for the construction, facilities and asset management industries?
According to Rogier Roelvink, customer strategy director at Oracle Construction and Engineering, there is an inherent conundrum associated with IoT devices in the construction and property industry.
“On the one hand, manufacturers forge ahead with providing connected devices and in some cases there is no longer an unconnected alternative available,” he says. “Connected devices are touted to have great benefits for businesses in and associated with construction and property, but can stated benefits like ‘early warning’, ‘remote monitoring’ and ‘continuous data collection’ be quantified within an organisation to the extent that they warrant change or investment?”
Smart buildings and assets
A facility with connected devices can make buildings and assets ‘smart’, providing immediate notification of assets, systems or elements of the building that are not fit for purpose. Critical systems and assets can be connected to the internet and if they are underperforming, or even off-line, stakeholders and contractors are sent alerts and work order requests with the aim of minimising disruption and optimising operational costs.
In most cases, however, it is difficult to attribute direct and immediate cost savings to internet connectivity functionality. “Areas to consider for a business justification to invest in IoT devices could, for example, be to focus on risk avoidance and reduction, reduced down time and disruption, all of which could potentially be quantified,” says Roelvink.
Another reason why the construction and property sectors are still sceptical about IoT devices is down to the constant and ever increasing influx of data, information and records. In other words, data overload in the construction industry (which spends less than 1 per cent of its value on technology).
“The construction and property industry simply do not know what to do with the data and how it can support productivity and efficiency gains and reduce safety incident and risks,” says Roelvink.
“There is, however, great potential with the advent and introduction of more IoT devices in construction and property, especially when combined with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics.”
AI and machine learning
AI and machine learning offer valuable insights into performance when combined with IoT devices and analytics. In simple terms, machine learning and AI automate data analysis and formulate corrective courses of action.
For example, sensors, access systems data, room temperature and energy use can all be combined to determine whether a floor is still occupied at 6.30pm. If everyone has left, the building management systems will be automatically instructed to turn off the lights, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), switch the security system to night mode and activate the alarms.
“No longer will these operating parameters be either set for predetermined times at facility commissioning or conducted through a ‘manual’ action,” explains Roelvink. “Now the facility accommodates to the user needs, providing a better user experience while optimising energy efficiency and without compromising on security.”
Combining multiple, seemingly unrelated data sets will significantly increase insights into performance. Considering HVAC performance data along with weather patterns and space occupancy might provide predictions on how HVAC assets would perform under certain circumstances. Furthermore, by running variable scenarios, historic data could be used to forewarn of adverse situations and even suggest suitable actions.
Imagine if a facility could ‘learn’ to recognise the work patterns of its occupants to the extent that, in the lead up to the end of the financial year, an extra cleaning shift is automatically scheduled for the kitchenette to accommodate for the longer hours being worked – or the arrival of the cleaners could be delayed so as not to disturb the staff.
“Technology, based on analytical insights derived from AI or machine learning, can advance assets and systems to have learned to the extent that it is able to ‘automatically’ take pre-emptive action when parameters change,” says Roelvink.
Challenges to overcome
Roelvink describes the three main challenges faced by the construction and property industries as:
- Technology: AI and machine learning are not yet commonly available or accessible and most IoT devices’ connectivity functionality is fairly limited in its ability to provide useful insights or be shared across platforms and systems.
- People: Digitisation, future delivery and operating models have not yet been sufficiently articulated by industry or organisations, partly because those within the sector are yet to see the full potential of IoT technologies.
- Process: Many industry processes stem from a time before digitisation and have not yet been considered for wholesale change.
Just do IoT
AI and machine learning are subject to continual advances, which means the technologies will soon be available at a lower cost. In order to benefit from IoT devices and analytics, Roelvink suggests that organisations:
- Collect data: AI and machine learning will only be useful to an organisation if the technology can ‘learn’ from historic data, and detect patterns and outcomes within it. Data should be collected consistently in a structured manner.
- Embrace change: People and organisations are inherently sceptical of change, yet to reap the rewards of IoT it is critical that individuals accept change as the only constant and start to think outside the box.
- Accept the challenge: The status quo is a reflection of the past; processes, regulations and work practices currently in use are based on historic events, activities and improvements. Technology provides an opportunity to redesign today’s practices, a chance to move away from incremental improvements to whole-scale step changes.
Roelvink also has a word of warning though. “When embarking on an IoT programme, security and privacy has to be paramount,” he advises, “or any perceived economic advantages from IoT devices could be at risk of being diminished by the damage that malware attacks could do to the business.
“Security must be considered from end-to-end when deploying IoT devices,
including endpoint security, security of communication between endpoints,
management and monitoring, data distribution and secure storage.”
 The term Internet of Things, according to Wikipedia, is attributed to Kevin Ashton in 1999 then at Proctor & Gamble
 according to McKinsey & Company’s “Imaging Construction’s Digital Future” construction industry spends less than 1% of its value on technology