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One of the biggest line items on your balance sheet could be your building

If you're sitting in a conventional office right now, take a moment to consider your surroundings. It's more than a place to plug in your laptop. Your building is a massive system of systems. And chances are, it's one of the largest expenses on your company's income statement.

The National Science and Technology Council in the US estimates that commercial and residential buildings consume 1/3 of the world's energy. In North America, for example this translates to 72% of the electricity generation, 12% of the water use, and 60% of non-industrial waste.

Consider another fact. If worldwide energy use trends continue, buildings will become the largest consumer of global energy by 2025―more than the transportation and industrial sectors combined. Not to mention that up to 50% of the electricity and water that is used by these buildings could be wasted.

What is your building trying to say?
While green buildings are constructed using sustainable materials, smarter buildings are designed to run more efficiently and, more importantly, communicate with and about their various systems.

With the unprecedented proliferation of smart sensors and control systems over the last decade, many buildings have the ability to measure, sense and see the exact condition of practically everything in them. But these systems operate independently, through a mix of vendors, and with different protocols and transport mechanisms. They also advance and mature at different rates. Understanding a building from a holistic point of view requires collaboration between facilities and IT organizations at new levels and creates the need for new transformational skills in organizations or businesses.

The only thing we're going to be limited by is our imagination. The solution for Smarter buildings has a lot of power, and the more rules we develop the more productivity we can drive. Bob Maroo, Manager, Global Process Optimization, Real State Site Operations, IBM


Graphic: What makes a smarter building? Systems that talk to systems.


What makes a smarter building?

What is a smarter building?
Learn more (YouTube,00:02:17) about how Johnson Controls and IBM are collaborating to bring smarter solutions, including instrumentations of buildings and the interconnecting of their systems for greater intelligence.

In our own backyard: a smarter building at IBM

The ability to collect, analyze and sort building data quickly is critical to the real-time energy and performance optimization of a smarter building. Look at one of IBM's own projects. This one involves a 3.3 million square foot manufacturing site in our Rochester, Minnesota location.

To begin, over 250,000 sensor points had the potential to report information. But as it turned out, not all were of critical importance and only about one third of these sensors, or approximately 80,000 data points, changed often enough to be deemed necessary to look at on a routine basis.

The team quickly realized that only twelve percent changed status often enough to be sampled for performance and energy optimization. And even just twelve percent meant 2,150,000 points of information were collected and needed to be resolved on a monthly basis. To help solve the dilemma of what to do with all of this data, we implemented the IBM Intelligent Building Management (US) solution in partnership with Johnson Controls. This was in addition to building enhancements that had been implemented over the past seven years, such as improving the insulation and the roof material. Even after year-over-year success, this solution helped the team achieve an incremental eight percent energy savings on the equipment monitored.


Which of the following energy and environment management activities is your company currently investing in to support green innitiatives? Source: Crossing the Sustainability Chasm: Strategies and Tactics to Achieve Sustainability Goals.


Four walls to support sustainability goals

Smarter buildings can reduce energy consumption by as much as 40% or more. Then there is the correlating lower maintenance costs that go along with efficient use, costs that could be lowered an additional 10 to 30% . But how do increased energy conservation programs help improve overall sustainability?

According to a joint survey between Gartner and TRIRIGA, an IBM Company (US), 91% of organizations that successfully achieved their environmental and energy management goals invested in facility energy efficiency. This same survey identified that a majority of those organizations that achieved their goals invested in three high-level tactics to reduce energy within facilities:

  1. Introduction of operational improvements to reduce maintenance downtime and cost.
  2. Investment in building retrofit programs to improve efficiency of existing assets.
  3. Implementation of space management programs to increase facility utilization.


Only a third say their buldings are environmentally responsible; 27% of office workers say buildings adjust environment automatically based on occupancy; 14% say their buldings use renewable energy sources; 65% would help redesign workplace to make ir more environmentally responsible; Cumulative time spent stuck in an elevator or waiting for one in past 12 months: 125 years.

No building is an island

A smarter building doesn’t stop at the four walls that surround it. It’s important to consider how a smarter building can interact with and be effected by its surroundings, or its externalities.

ex-ter-nal-i-ty [ek-ster-nal-i-tee]noum. plural -ties; 1. The state or quality of being external; 2. Any action that has cause or effect on the operation of a building.

The externalities around a building are variables like current weather predictions, emergency system notifications such as AMBER or SILVER alerts, demand management from utilities or transportation or traffic events. Add to this the fact that building are now being considered future full potential sources of co-generation power plants, reservoirs for water, even roof top farms. So smarter buildings are not just data sources, They also need to be intelligent two way communicators with the externalities around them.

With an estimated one million people around the world moving into cities each week, new urban growth is driving demand for buildings and energy use. But this means there are that many more opportunities for buildings to play a bigger part in a smarter planet—a system of systems that tells us what we can do better both inside the building and out.

Smarter buildings index: IBM has compiled the results of the survey into a Smarter Buildings Index that ranks efficiency in each city on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the best.