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Overcoming tech obsolescence in smart buildings

Wed 9 Dec 2020 | Mike Hook

Overcoming technology obsolescence means we have to take building infrastructure seriously – and treat it as the true backbone of modern intelligent buildings – not as an add-on

The importance of technology infrastructure to today’s buildings, never mind the smart buildings of tomorrow, cannot be overstated. Connectivity, Internet of Things (IoT) services and the data they provide are transforming how buildings are managed and used – driving improvements in sustainability and occupant well-being, as well as helping to maximise the value of the building.

However, while progress has been made on all of these fronts, we are in truth only at the start of the journey when it comes to maximising the value of technology in the built environment. One of the key reasons for this is the issue of technology obsolescence. 

It is a fact of life that one day even today’s cutting-edge technologies will eventually become obsolete. Better, cheaper and/or more efficient technology will come to market, or maybe even entirely different approaches we haven’t even conceived of today.

While technology can evolve rapidly, a building’s total lifecycle is measured in decades, not years. There is an apt comparison to be made here. During the average Boeing 747’s 50-year lifecycle it will have at least six upgrades to accommodate advances to its electronics, communications and other systems. Even with the best will in the world, can we say the same is true of our buildings?

There is a fundamental disconnect here between what we want from our buildings and our ability to deliver on that demand for the long-term. How do we overcome that?

Building technology migration into buildings as standard

Of course, the challenge is that nobody really knows what connectivity and in-building technologies we will be talking about in 5-10 years’ time, never mind 50.

In the example of the 747, the plane is specifically designed to deal with this challenge. Ageing technology can be easily removed and replaced with minimal disruption – the engineers don’t have to know what technology is going to come years in advance, they have simply made the upgrade path part of the design.

This is the approach we need to replicate in today’s intelligent buildings. It is all too easy to fall into a ‘setit and forget it’ approach, and to make do with a series of partial patches and minor additions rather than designing buildings with truly future-proof infrastructure.

Ultimately, sustaining smart building systems over time depends on having a plan for migrating to new systems in the future. But too often we see disconnects between the design/build and the operation/maintenance phases of a project. Many of today’s buildings are built with relatively limited input from end users, and as a consequence, they are rife with technology compromises.

Thinking technology from day one

Instead, if we are to truly future proof buildings for the entirety of their lifecycles, we need to consider every aspect of how technology infrastructure is woven into buildings from the very outset of the design process. Even seemingly tiny details, such as the way the cabling is configured, can play a big role in a building’s ability to adapt to future technologies. 

Factors like this need to be considered as early as possible. Without proper consideration, a building will start its life well below its full potential and this will only diminish further over time.

These considerations need to include every stakeholder – developers, main contractors, end users, architects, design firms and technology providers. Before a shovel hits the dirt it is vital that these groups are on the same page in understanding that initial investments in an intelligent building infrastructure will result in more long-term cost savings and efficiencies and avoid lengthy, expensive retrofit projects further down the line.

Holistic delivery models, such as those offered by LMG, can go a long way to making this a reality. This seamless model overcomes traditional technology delivery siloes and ensures that the design, install, ongoing management, maintenance and technology refresh, reporting, quoting and billing of technology infrastructure is planned for from day one – not as an afterthought once construction is already underway.

The logical end point

However, if we look further ahead, then the ideal future-proofing mechanism actually involves a true as a Service (aaS) delivery model.

The aaS delivery model removes all risk of obsolescence while also reducing the cost barrier of technology upgrades and improvements. Regular refreshes of building technologies can be designed around the development cycles of the technology industry rather than lifecycle of the building – all paid for via an ongoing monthly OPEX model – charged on a per room or per desk basis.

Not only does this ensure buildings always have the most up to date equipment, it also takes away the risks, and the inertia, associated with CAPEX heavy, disruptive ‘rip and replace’ upgrades.

By committing to long-term aaS models, building owners and users can completely free themselves from not only the risks of obsolescence but also of technology siloes in buildings. By allowing a service partner to take full responsibility for a building’s tech infrastructure it will also be possible to deliver on the full potential of the IoT features and the data insights they can provide. 

Overcoming technology obsolescence means we have to take building infrastructure seriously – and treat it as the true backbone of modern intelligent buildings – not as an add-on. If we do that then we can ensure that building owners and occupiers can make better decisions on how to use their facilities, better serve occupant needs and lower maintenance costs – for the entire life of the building, however long that might be.

Experts featured:

Mike Hook

Executive Director


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