Facility Management Has “Enormous Potential”

23.11.2021 by Pauline Batzer

Window front of an office building

A few sensors here, a smartphone app there, and there is your smart building. Obviously not, of course. Professor Uwe Rotermund, managing partner of consultants rotermund.ingenieure, notes in this interview where connecting buildings with the Internet of Things (IoT) is often still problematic and why developers and facility managers need to rethink.

Professor Rotermund, How Digital Is Facility Management?

Compared with other areas we still have an enormous amount of ground to make good in digitizing buildings – even in the rudiments. Nine out of ten buildings lack an inventory of their technical equipment. We usually have to initiate one ourselves prior to a business organization. Managing usage data from the construction of a building to its use and operation is a big issue. There are also a number of technology silos such as building automation, Computer-Aided Facility Management or commercial systems. Maintenance planning or key management systems are infrequent but exist. We, for example, work with a hospital that uses up to 100 different systems in building management alone, yet there is seldom a data warehouse where all of the data from these systems converges. We mostly come across information technology that is significantly in need of improvement. Expressed positively, there is still enormous potential.

How Can a Building’s Digitization Level Be Recorded?

For our annual Facility Management Benchmarking Report we analyze all possible data of a building in our books. We already have buildings with a total floor space of more than 100 million square meters in our database. For office buildings the aim of digitization is not only to improve user comfort but also, above all, to reduce costs. There is an enormous bandwidth of heating costs ranging from € 1.50 to € 15.00 per square meter per year. It’s the company car attitude again: individual employees don’t feel responsible for energy consumption in an office.

How Can Facility Managers Countervail This Trend?

Energy consumption in rooms and corridors can be influenced and in part controlled automatically by the right sensor and actuator systems. If nobody is in a meeting room the system automatically turns the heating and lighting down or off. In addition to recording sensor data, networking should also include the central system. With today’s automation systems in larger buildings there is usually a master computer at an upstream control center. The interfaces could be tapped into via a data management system, but in two out of three buildings this potential goes unused. There is a data history that includes trend recording but operators have neither the time nor the personnel to evaluate it all. Automatic analysis that evaluates all data constantly would be a step in the right direction. With electrical maximum monitoring that at full capacity switches off electricity-intensive consumers automatically even AI would help to prevent spikes in consumption. There are many other areas in which AI would make sense, and the focus should not be on energy consumption alone but on all aspects of facility management.

How Can a Building Be Upgraded Into a Smart Building?

Retrofit technology is best suited for upgrading an existing building. It uses equipment that can be installed quickly and easily throughout the building. The right approach would be from the switch cabinets for the air conditioning and heating to the user interface to plan to replace automation equipment and add suitable system-compatible IoT sensor systems. Technologically a retrofit is easy to implement in, say, office buildings, laboratories, hospitals or data centers, where readiness to invest is usually greater than for residential properties. The cost of using IoT, sensor technology and connectivity is always worthwhile in relation to overall building costs. I need only to plan and implement it in a structured way and then use it.

What About Newbuilds? Can You Still Plan a Building Without Taking Networking Into Account From the Outset?

No, but organizational allocation is sadly often a hindrance. There are architects, planners and project managers and they each have views and interests of their own. Building information modeling (BIM), or planning a building jointly by means of a 3D model, is a good approach but everybody is still thinking along his or her own lines. In spite of BIM’s 4D to 7D applications an integrated approach is not always apparent. Yet we ought to be thinking in a solution-oriented way. For example, there is a planner for automation in a smart building. He discusses issues the future operator and user, but not always in an integrative way. For the later use of the building to be taken into consideration at the planning stage tends to be the exception, not the rule. Technical facilities are equipped with a large number of sensors and other data points but nobody asks who will be using the building. Will they be managing it themselves or will they have it managed? Each would have different data management requirements. And networking of trades is still far too infrequent. 

Professor Uwe Rotermund is an engineer and consultant (rotermund.ingenieure) and a facility management expert for Lower Saxony’s Chamber of Engineers. He also teaches and undertakes research in the field of real estate life cycle management and facility management at the Münster School of Architecture. For 34 years he has gained experience as a manager, operator, planner and consultant. As a party, conciliation and court expert he is involved in many legal disputes as an expert witness and official expert.


Where Is the Trend Toward Networking in Buildings Headed?

For newbuilds the focus is currently on room automation. Users are to be able in their smart home when the sunshades roll out and how high the constant temperature is to be. In the past only the technician had access to the switch cabinets in the basdement and was able to control these systems. So involving the user is a positive development, but what is missing is a connection between these new technologies and the conventional building technology at the central switchboard. There are remote-controlled thermostats in rooms but they are not connected to the central heating. A few lighthouse projects exist, such as the Cube in Berlin or the Phoenix Contact Industry Solution Center in Bad Pyrmont. Here and there the operator or the developer may raise the issue, but it is far from being the standard practice.

What Is the Effect of the Current Trend Toward Sustainability?

Sustainability looms large in every sizable construction project, but in Germany certification systems have the disadvantage that their criteria are very rigid. The points system needs to respond more flexibly to considerations of, say, cost and digitization. Sustainability is, of course, a buzzword and everybody would like to construct a building that is as sustainable as possible. In operation I must make use of the opportunities that I already have. In the course of planning we always write an operating concept for our customers to work their way through. But at present very few construction projects have a concept of this kind even though sustainability could easily be incorporated into it. For air conditioning combined with a photovoltaic system for a single building, installation accounts for 15 percent and operation for 85 percent of the costs. That is the leverage effect. The decision in favor of a sustainable concept is made when the developer realizes that he can cut costs significantly.

Have Digital Technologies Changed the Facility Manager’s Job Profile?

The classical facility manager is a generalist who deals with organizing, discussing operating models, operating concepts, personnel management, coordinating service providers, determining personnel requirements and technical issues of all kinds. We must also qualify the juniors at university, but they too have different focal points, technical or commercial. Facility management ought to position itself much more strongly in university education as a trade in its own right as a majoring option for a master’s degree, for example. We are heading for a personnel problem in building automation for one, not to mention IoT expertise. In the long term we need a discipline of our own: digitization strategy and IoT communication planning in buildings. Yet architects, even architects in the making, are often interested only in constructing buildings. Next to nobody thinks about then managing them. This is what a digitization strategy for a building might be: start by thinking about how we can digitize the building, from construction to operation. What data is required and which systems do we need? That is the only right approach. First look at the processes, then at the data, and then choose a system – or the IT systems, including the system architecture.

What Future Trends Do You Foresee in Facility Management?

Artificial intelligence heads the list, with the following questions on the agenda. How can I evaluate the data collected, how do I make a building capable of learning? Then there is connectivity within the building. We should be making use of new technologies like NarrowBand IoT or 5G. System integration is a further issue, with seeing construction and operation as two sides of the same coin as key. We must, of course, convince the developers to plan smart buildings consistently, ad in the future integrating the smart building into a smart city will be an overarching issue.


Smart Building Management with IoT

Smart Building Management with IoT

Use IoT solutions to turn properties into intelligent, sustainable, safe and comfortable smart buildings that flexibly adapt to people's needs. This way, you create more value for operators, users and residents.

More about IoT in building management

Use IoT solutions to turn properties into intelligent, sustainable, safe and comfortable smart buildings that flexibly adapt to people's needs. This way, you create more value for operators, users and residents.

More about IoT in building management

Different buildings in bright sunlight.
Pauline Batzer
Pauline Batzer

Project Manager IoT

Since 2015, Pauline has been passionate about the variety of the IoT world. She has gained a lot of experience with the Internet of Things from different perspectives by working with customers, partners, and start-up companies. For the Telekom IoT blog she writes about technological trends, products, and innovations in the Internet of Things which are implemented in different industries.