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Could IoT Save Building Management Systems?

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Building Management Systems (BMS) or Building Automation Systems are the central control units that enable the monitoring of electrical equipment within predefined parameters and their maintenance. (Ref) BMS are most commonly found in the largest properties, around 15% of all commercial property. (Ref) Responsible for maintaining operational efficiency and/or occupancy comfort, BMS commonly control: HVAC, fume collection, steam systems, plumbing, lighting, electrical systems and fire safety. (Ref) Developed in the '80s as structures continually got larger, many BMS are now considered outdated, costly and create added complexity to the maintenance of a property. (Ref) However, with the constant development of IoT remote monitoring, sensor costs reduction and easier installation, the true potential of Building Management Systems can finally be realised in the modern smart building. (Ref)

Globally, the smart building industry is seeing huge growth, with USD 66.3 billion in 2020, estimated to be USD 108.9 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 10.5%. (Ref) Such strong growth can be attributed to the increased adoption of IoT BMS which is enabling commercial property owners to harness data that can optimise their users' experience. Damage prevention, early notification of damage and reduced requirements for physical maintenance, improve the relationships between tenants/ users and property owners. From a sustainability perspective, careful monitoring of building systems and potential damage can also reduce the unnecessary usage and loss of resources. On average, 30% of commercial properties' energy and water usage is wasted in the US. (Ref)

It's clear that IoT offers a solution to many of the issues that previous BMS have failed to solve, however, it is important to consider the need for low-cost, scalable and easy to install sensors for future BMS to become integrated into smart building construction. 

SaaS vs Legacy System

Why are Building Management Systems Outdated? 

Current systems are expensive to install and maintain 

Due to the scale and complexity of BMS, the US market has traditionally comprised of a limited number of large corporations that have dealt with the hardware, software and training. (Ref)  Initial installation costs average between $2.50 per sq. ft. up to as high as $7.00 in the US, meaning BMS remains too costly for most commercial properties to be deemed a viable solution. (Ref) A major contributing factor to these costs is the complex architecture of the hardware, with many layers of communication units, PLC's and gateways that were required in older systems due to the limitations of computational power. (Ref) Multiple individual units within the architecture also create much higher maintenance costs, as it often requires trained specialists to maintain specific units within the system. Most providers of BMS have maintained a managed service with their software, which has led to little development, unlike a SaaS model. Added running costs are often the result of highly complex software that requires coding and manual input, enabling providers to offer training programs as an additional service. (Ref) Though the running costs of a building can be reduced greatly through BMS, the ROI for the property owner can often seem less valuable due to the ongoing costs of maintaining the system. 

Difficulty measuring data

The ability to acquire relevant data from a BMS is crucial in improving both the occupancy experience and the energy efficiency of the building itself. However as mentioned above, with an outdated system and managed software there is often a high probability that legacy software will be locked into proprietary platforms. In many systems where open data communications are possible, these are still running in combination with proprietary platforms that can make clean data comparisons difficult. (Ref) With much of the hardware placed deep within the structure, it is often the case that relevant data cannot be obtained and it would be too expensive and challenging to consider updating any propriety systems for more accurate readings.  

Scaling is often impossible  

As many of the leading providers in BMS compete with each other, one of the biggest flaws in the system has consistently been down to the lack of compatibility. BMS providers generally work with individual properties rather than a portfolio, which can result in them being incentivized to make data inaccessible to third parties in order to maintain a competitive edge. This model prevents the ability to grow a network between properties and enhances the level of data recorded, which could improve both the experience of occupants and the efficiency of the property itself. The high costs of installing BMS also lead to the assumption that only a small proportion of commercial properties within the same portfolio will have a system installed. This only slows scalability and reduces the need for providers to develop better-connected solutions. (Ref)

IoT Smart Buildings

Sensors and cloud data can improve BMS

Maintenance costs can be significantly reduced 

Sensors now cost 70% less than they did 18 years ago and just like Moores law with the computer, we will continue to see the capabilities of sensors grow as they get more cost-effective to produce. (Ref) Upgraded BMS can also lower energy consumption by up to 80%. (Ref) However, the most significant reduction in costs can be attributed to installation and maintenance. Flexible sensors like LAIIER's solutions enable BMS to comprise sensors that can be easily installed like stickers and tape. Easy installation results in a significant reduction in training required for maintenance staff and the ability to detach and change sensors if damage occurs. An ability to integrate sensors into materials or apply them to the exterior of a surface enables the possibility for retrofitting. This enables older properties with no system or outdated BMS to be integrated into a cloud network. 

IoT enables data to be harnessed by the buildings themselves

Low powered networks like LoRaWan technology have enabled the future of smart buildings to be based on open source IoT. Where old systems restricted customers to limited data and costly means to analyse it, smart sensor integration allows BMS to offer limitless options to collect and learn from valuable insights and apply changes in real-time. The requirement for training in technical data analysis has been replaced with simplistic interfaces and an array of applications to monitor parameters. However, the most significant use of data is to feed AI. Enabling smart buildings to be feeding themselves with data allows for huge potential for rooms to become adaptable environments based on the comfort of the occupants. Temperature, humidity and light could be entirely adjustable beyond average parameters, but how these may change based on the number of people in a room at one time or the type of work they are doing. (Ref)

It is finally possible to scale beyond individual properties

As discussed above, with smart sensor technology becoming a low-cost and intelligent solution, the barriers BMS faced with scaling are quickly becoming less of an issue. The options are quickly becoming available to construct smart buildings with integrated sensors while being able to install the same technology into an existing portfolio. With solutions like LAIIER's Surface to Cloud technology enabling buildings to not only communicate locally but with other buildings within the same network, it's possible that BMS systems will not only increase efficiency within one structure but predict and diagnose failures within others. The ROI will not only be seen through decreased energy usage but in the overall efficiency, simplicity and prevention of damage and maintenance.

LAIIER's Severn sensor on a ceiling tile  

In their current form, BMS will likely become an obsolete technology. Restrictions around improvements, data collection and intranet-based systems do not offer cost-effective or intelligent solutions with room to scale. However, IoT sensors and building io offer a lot of potential for BMS to become efficient, low-cost and easy to use. LAIIER's technology offers a future where every surface of a building can obtain data, alter environments and interact with the cloud so our smart sensors can improve performance, lower maintenance costs and reduce waste. To find out more about our sensor solutions and their applications in other industries, sign up for our monthly newsletterFor more information on how we work with partners to develop scalable solutions. Contact us at 

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