Going Remote: How Building Managers Can Ensure Smooth Operations from Afar

By Byron BeMiller

Thanks to the Internet of Things, the merging of low-power wireless connectivity, cloud-based processing and data analytics have transformed the commercial real estate industry.

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During the past few months, the world has quickly shifted from relying on in-person exchanges in our daily lives to a more virtual reality filled with remote learning, working and communication. For some industries and organizations, this transition has been relatively simple; it’s a matter of having employees bring their laptops home and connecting to Wi-Fi to ensure activity continues to move forward without missing a beat. For other businesses and employees who need physical access to job sites and offices to ensure operation continues to run smoothly, this shift has been more challenging to navigate.

Maintenance workers and building managers—to name a few—rely on going into work daily to ensure operations are functioning smoothly, whether that be through monitoring for water leaks, monitoring for conditions conducive to Legionella bacteria, or ensuring the building remains at a comfortable temperature. But while some organizations scramble to figure out how they’re going to adhere to this new normal, others have been utilizing technology all along, which gives them the ability to monitor buildings from afar, making this a more seamless transition.

In our new normal, facility managers are being faced with challenges around meeting regulatory and employee health concerns prior to re-opening offices. Enforcing distancing at individual workspaces and in conference rooms, ensuring thorough cleaning of the entire facility and staggering work shifts are all activities which must now be managed.

By utilizing a new breed of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, commercial real estate buildings are able to arm property managers with the necessary tools to monitor various aspects of a building remotely. These solutions not only support day-to-day operations but also deliver other long-term benefits, including reduced maintenance and operating costs with minimal infrastructure and maintenance investment. But how?

Long-range, low-power technology connects sensors to the cloud, which enables the real-time communication of data and analytics to property managers. This data becomes immediately actionable to enhance efficiency and productivity throughout buildings, and to alert managers to act quickly in more urgent situations. Additionally, the protocol offers an efficient, flexible and economical solution to real-world problems in rural and indoor use cases, for which cellular and Wi-Fi- or BLE-based networks are ineffective.

While some companies use building-management systems (BMS) to monitor and manage properties, this approach requires significant investment and physical integration across an infrastructure. On the other hand, IoT connectivity solutions that enable sensors to connect to the network in a cost-effective way, with long-life battery-powered operation, make collection of data easier and less expensive than ever before. Specific use cases for building managers include:

  • Safety: Smart sensors deployed throughout buildings can monitor and report a range of issues, which can in turn ensure tenants are safe. Issues include the proper function of fire alarms, dangerous chemical leaks throughout industrial buildings and the structural integrity of a building following a natural disaster, like an earthquake. Furthermore, proximity-sensing badges, people counters, contact tracing and predictive cleaning solutions will all be important factors in allowing people to return to physical workplaces.
  • Security: To ensure buildings are secure for tenants to occupy, a long-range, low-power badge system can be deployed that controls building access. Additionally, sensors can detect motion throughout a building, whether that be the opening of windows or doors when they should be closed. In this case, building managers can close the entry points using a remote control, without needing to step foot onsite.
  • Maintenance: Sensors can help reduce maintenance costs by using predictive analytics and on-demand services to identify immediate problems, as well as identify long-term needs. For example, elevator monitors can detect early signs of failure, trash cans can notify operators when they’re full, and water flow can be measured to detect early water leaks.

The merging of low-power wireless connectivity, cloud-based processing and data analytics have transformed the commercial real estate industry. It has shifted the need for building managers to be onsite in order to gather data throughout buildings, to making essential—and possibly critical—decisions remotely, without any human intervention that will help maintain smooth operations. This approach has proven more valuable than ever before as we continue to adapt to a different way of living.

Byron BeMiller is the director of product management in Semtech‘s Wireless and Sensing Products Group and the head of the LoRa Alliance’s Smart Building Working Group. BeMiller is the former VP of sales at TrackNet, an IoT solutions provider that was acquired by Semtech. He holds a BSEE degree from the University of Illinois and an MS in Management degree from Georgia Tech.