What does prevalence of IoT mean for the construction and property industry? Will it actually provide businesses with real benefits and efficiencies, or is its value yet to become apparent?
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) in full swing, technology advances mean that new, smarter, safer and better ways have come to market to plan, build and operate assets. The Internet of Things (IoT) is pitched as one of those technology advances, but it’s something that has actually been around for almost two decades.
In that time, the definition has been subject to change. However, fundamentally it refers to a network of objects that generate data for the purpose of making that data available and connected to obtain insights for increased functionality, knowledge and connectivity.
Although threats of cyberattacks and concerns about privacy make IoT a potentially scary proposition, society is already filled with IoT objects: mobile phones, smart watches, remote security systems, lighting in our homes, and even baby monitors can all connect to the internet, demonstrating how IoT is here to stay.
But for the most part, these are all for consumer use. What does IoT mean for the construction, facilities and asset management industries?
The promise of IoT
There is an inherent conundrum associated with IoT devices in the construction and property industry. Manufacturers forge ahead with providing connected devices, to the point where in some cases there is no longer an unconnected alternative available.
Connected devices are touted as having great benefits for businesses in the construction and property industries, but can stated benefits like early warning, remote monitoring and continuous data collection be quantified within an organisation to the extent that they warrant change or investment?
Smart buildings and assets
A facility with connected devices can make buildings and assets ‘smart’. A device’s connectivity could provide immediate notification to managers if assets, systems or elements of the building are not fit for purpose. Critical systems and assets could be connected to the internet, and if they are underperforming or even off-line, notifications could be sent to the relevant stakeholders and contractors, leading to more immediate work order requests to minimise disruption and optimise operational expenditure.
In most cases, it is difficult to attribute direct and immediate cost savings to internet connectivity functionality. Areas to consider for a business justification to invest in IoT devices could be, for example, to focus on risk avoidance and reduction, or reduced down time and disruption, all of which could potentially be quantified.
Another reason why IoT devices are still looked at with some scepticism in construction and property is that the industry is currently experiencing a constant and ever-increasing influx of data, information and records. The influx of devices that can collect more and more data is leading to data overload, especially considering the industry spends less than 1 per cent of its value on technology. The construction and property industry simply do not know what to do with the data and how it can support productivity and efficiency gains and reduce safety incident and risks.
There is however great potential with the advent and introduction of more IoT devices in construction and property, especially when combined with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics.
Artificial Intelligence and machine learning
AI and machine learning provide valuable insights into performance when combined with IoT devices and analytics. Machine learning and AI in simple terms is probably best explained as automating data analysis and formulating corrective courses of action.
By way of example: sensors, access systems data, room temperature and energy use are all combined to determine whether a floor is still occupied at 6:30 pm or not; and if not, the building management systems will be automatically directed to turn off the lights, switch off heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), switch the security system to night mode and activate the alarms.
No longer will these operating parameters be either set for predetermined times at facility commissioning or conducted through a manual action; now, the facility accommodates to user needs, providing a better user experience while optimising energy efficiency without compromising on security.
Combining multiple, seemingly unrelated data sets can also provide insights into performance. For example, combining HVAC performance data with weather patterns and space occupancy might provide insights that could predict how HVAC assets perform under certain circumstances.
Furthermore, by running through scenarios, historic data could provide insights that are able to warn of adverse situations and even suggest suitable actions when conditions manifest themselves. Imagine if a facility could learn to recognise the work patterns of its occupants to the extent that it knows working hours are prolonged in the lead-up to the end of the financial year. The facilities management team could schedule additional kitchenette cleans to accommodate for users being in the facility longer or delay the cleaning shift so as not to disturb the users in their activities.
Technology, based on analytical insights derived from AI or machine learning, can advance assets and systems knowledge to the extent that it is able to automatically take pre-emptive action when parameters change.
The challenges currently faced by the construction and property industries are:
- Technology: AI and machine learning are not yet widely available or accessible, and most IoT devices’ functionality is quite limited in its ability to provide useful insights or be shared across platforms and systems.
- People: Digitisation, future delivery and operating models have not yet been sufficiently articulated by industry or organisations, partly because those within the industry cannot yet see the full potential of IoT technologies.
- Process: Many industry processes stem from a time before digitisation and have not yet been considered for wholesale change and re-visitation, i.e. processes are being enhanced and improved, however not necessarily questioned about their purpose and true functionality.
Call to action
While there are challenges, connected devices are not going to go away. AI and machine learning are continuously advancing, which means soon the technologies of AI and machine learning will connect with IoT and become available without having to incur great expense. In order for organisations to overcome the challenges to benefit from IoT devices and analytics, they should:
- Collect data: AI and machine learning will only be useful to an organisation if the technology can learn from historic data, and detect patterns and outcomes within it. Data should be collected consistently in a structured manner. (Technology)
- Embrace change: People and organisations can be sceptical of change. In order for organisations to reap the rewards of IoT devices and for people to achieve fulfilment in their roles, it is critical that individuals accept change as the only constant and start to think outside the box. (People)
- Challenge business as usual: The status quo is a reflection of the past; processes, regulations and work practices currently in use are based on historic events, activities and improvements. Technology provides an opportunity to redesign today’s practices – an opportunity to move away from incremental improvements to step changes. (Process)
A word of warning, though: when embarking on an IoT program, security and privacy have to be paramount. This means making sure that connected devices are secure and protect privacy so as not to expose the organisation to malicious outside influences.
Security must be considered from end-to-end when deploying IoT devices, including management and monitoring, data distribution and secure storage. Without security being the highest priority, any perceived economic advantages from IoT devices could be at risk of being diminished by the damage that malware attacks could do to the business.
Always look for capability improvements that could be achieved by enabling organisations to improve productivity, safety records, user/staff/client satisfaction to exceed current performance standards, and change the way the business is being delivered.
Work practices standardisation and governance is an essential element of successfully achieving improvements. Consideration can be given to the amount and type of data to collect on a construction project or in operating a facility that can be used to make sure that systems and processes are set up to capitalise on data captured realising measurable benefits in construction and operation.
About the Author
Rogier Roelvink works at Oracle Construction and Engineering as the ANZ customer strategy director. He has 19 years’ management consultancy experience across Europe, the UK and Australia. Rogier has a particular interest and expertise in strategic facilities management with a passion for informed decision-making. Rogier is actively involved in a number of industry associations and working groups to advance this industry, including as chair of the Facilities Management Association of Australia (FMA) Digital Technology & Information and the Members & Marketing Portfolio Groups.
The Oracle Cloud offers a complete suite of integrated applications for sales, service, marketing, human resources, finance, supply chain and manufacturing, plus highly automated and secure Generation 2 infrastructure featuring the Oracle Autonomous Database. For more information about Oracle (NYSE: ORCL), please visit us at oracle.com.
About Oracle Construction and Engineering
Asset owners and project leaders rely on Oracle Construction and Engineering solutions for the visibility and control, connected supply chain, and data security needed to drive performance and mitigate risk across their processes, projects and organisation. Our scalable cloud solutions enable digital transformation for teams that plan, build and operate critical assets, improving efficiency, collaboration and change control across the project lifecycle.