The Internet of Things in Facilities Management: An Explainer

December 19, 2017

By Leah Grout Garris

The term "internet of things" — often referred to as "IoT" — has taken over discussions about the future of managing and operating commercial buildings. But what is it, exactly? And what are its benefits for facilities managers? Here's a closer look at what IoT can offer:

How IoT Works

The internet of things uses an Ethernet network to connect separate building systems and devices to both the network and each other. Each device has its own IP address and integrated sensors, which allow it to connect to the internet, communicate with other IP-enabled devices and systems on the network, and gather and share the data it collects.

The device can then make adjustments automatically — without human intervention — to increase energy efficiency, improve safety, track maintenance and enhance comfort. Its data is also accessible at any time, so you can see what's happening with any system on the network.

Examples of IoT in Facilities

LED lights offer a good example of how IoT relates to facilities operations. When a lighting system connects to your building's network, every connected fixture — whether it's in an office, restroom or lobby — can gather, send and receive data about how the fixture is functioning. Internet-connected fixtures can also track lighting levels, usage, etc. Benefits to facilities managers and occupants include:

  • Remote management and troubleshooting, with the ability to pinpoint a specific fixture to manage or troubleshoot — even if you're not in the building. This frees you up to work on other projects outside the building without worrying about a system malfunctioning. It also helps facilities managers zero in on the exact fixture that's causing problems, so they don't have to spend time trying to determine where the issue is coming from.
  • Real-time notifications about lamp burnouts and other maintenance issues, so you know when a fixture needs attention without having to manually check it every week (or more often).
  • Individualized control for occupants. By using phones or computers that are connected to the network, specific fixtures can be dimmed, brightened or turned off or on, as desired, without having to involve the facilities team.
  • Ability to receive data from other connected systems and react accordingly, without intervention from the facilities team. For example, the IP-enabled access control system to your building could detect when you enter after hours and tell the lighting system to turn on lights in your area.

Connected lighting systems are just one example. Everything from HVAC and surveillance systems to elevators and restroom fixtures can benefit with the right IoT system. Here are just a few examples:

  • Trash bins connected via IoT can indicate when they're full, so there's no need to manually check them every day.
  • HVAC systems that are part of the internet of things can gather and communicate data about temperatures, humidity levels, mechanical problems, maintenance needs, surges in energy usage and more to pinpoint problems early. When temperatures start to deviate from preferred settings or when something begins to malfunction, you'll know about it right away.
  • Automated restroom dispensers and fixtures connected to the network can collect data about usage, supply levels and potential problems, and send notifications about which fixtures or dispensers need attention.

Moving to the Internet of Things

If you decide to embrace IoT in your building, the transition won't happen overnight. It requires an investment in devices and systems with the capability to support IoT, plus an Ethernet network that has enough bandwidth to accommodate these new devices and systems.

Security is also a consideration. Connecting more devices to the Ethernet network increases the risk of security vulnerabilities and data theft by unauthorized users who may hack into the network. For this reason, it's important to invest in devices that offer adequate levels of protection.

But once implemented, the internet of things will automate daily responsibilities, turn data into actionable tasks and possibly provide a return on investment in a relatively short time. In a survey of over 300 facilities managers conducted by Schneider Electric, roughly 90 percent of respondents expected to see a return on IoT investment in the next three years.

If you want to be an early adopter of these technologies, now's the time to prepare for your building systems to connect to your network.

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