What is an Occupant-Aware Building?

An occupant-aware building makes informed decisions on the operation of its building services based on its users and the type of work being performed. For example, when the buildings’ sensors detect there are no people occupying a space, the building will reduce the electrical and mechanical support for a specific area until it becomes occupied again. When scheduling is included, as when there is a meeting in a specific location. The building will pre-cool or warm it, based on the number of people in attendance who responded to the RSVP. 

Additional operational load reductions can be found by linking building controls to other support systems such as lighting systems, data networks, and clinical workstations. While it may not be possible to have a Load-Zero facility due the critical nature of healthcare services, integrated automation allows for the chipping away of wasted loads to intelligently reduce the facility’s operational footprint.

The Benefits and Opportunities of Integrated Automation

There are growing opportunities for integrated automation to support human resources in their day-to-day responsibilities. Where facilities are monitored by occupancy sensors or indoor location services, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will automate the facilities’ scheduling on a predictive data driven model. Such systems not only allow to stay ahead of routine tasks such as ensuring a constant supply of paper in public restrooms but also reducing inefficiencies in the delivery of care such as by automating the patient discharge process. 

Once an Integrated Automation (IA) engine is deployed in an occupant-aware facility, the opportunities for improvement of service delivery are only limited by the imagination. For example a predictive maintenance engine knows how long a fan coil has been operating and the lifespan of its critical elements. Online account ordering and work requests enable a necessary part to be ordered before it fails and schedule maintenance personnel to perform the repair on a proactive rather than reactive schedule.

Anticipating the needs of a facility for its occupants and providing for them before human intervention is necessary is only one way operational efficiency can be enhanced to reduce operational costs and improve quality of work for the building aware occupants. Occupant-aware buildings can contribute to staff recruitment and retention as well by simplifying tasks and eliminating the mundane challenges facing the workforce. 

The Installation of Converged Information Systems

The development of an occupant-aware building however limitless in its potential, requires holistic thinking, strategic planning, and careful deployment of building systems. Where a decade ago systems were installed in isolation to each other, converged information systems, networks, data management, as well as physical infrastructure are mandatory in the creation of an occupant-aware building.

Pre-project programming is critical in the master planning to deploy integrated building systems and solutions. Where once an architect worked to identify the needs of the owner in space planning and rough order of magnitude budgets, the pre-programming team would include subject matter experts from all disciplines of the design and commissioning team.

Identifying the goals for the project and the criteria against which they will be measured is critical in the design management of the engineering team. Since any component of each system can and often does impact the outcomes of other previously non-integrated systems, the basis of design for each project must provide a greater level of detail than previously produced. To right set budgets as well as the programmatic impact, an integrated building requires an integrated team.

Effective program management is also critical in activating an intelligent building. Where the implementations schedule frequently takes years to complete, with large teams working in phases, keeping an eye on the original goals, the decisions made, and why they were made prevents design or field originated decisions from undermining the intent of the project.

As we continue forward into the internet-of-things age of digital intelligence, improving the operational efficiencies, acquiring building feedback, and promoting the ease of use of a facility are key performance indicators that are just the beginning of the possible. Our solutions to these challenges result in improved patient healing, staff wellbeing, and retention, greater workforce satisfaction, and reduced operational costs for the best possible quality of care, today and for generations to come.

Article written by Michael Witecki, Associate, Buildings Technology Group, WSP USA

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