In the World of Smart Buildings, the Future Is Already Here

For facility managers, a building is more than a set of walls, floors and windows. It’s a living organism made up of dozens of overlapping systems, from the vents pumping cool air to the array of pipes and electrical cables tucked overhead and underfoot.

Increasingly, it’s an area where cutting-edge technology—chiefly the Internet of Things (IoT)—is being used to catch issues before they become a problem, reduce repair costs and lower utility bills. With real-time telemetry, facility managers can remotely identify a leaky vent or broken thermostat, then send a worker in to fix it before it even affects the tenant. And while MacDonald-Miller, a Seattle-based full-service facilities management company, was already investing heavily in smart building software, it needed a better way to integrate the innovations enabled by IoT with the on-the-ground people creating work orders and making repairs.

That was where Microsoft Digital entered the picture. Because MacDonald-Miller was an early adopter of Microsoft’s cloud-based IoT software and smart buildings platform services, the next natural step was to incorporate its enterprise resource platform, Dynamics 365. This would serve as the glue connecting analytics-based insights with physical actions—the kind of work done with a wrench, a pair of gloves and a hard hat.

“Insights gained through IoT and building equipment sensors sending huge amounts of data ultimately helps engineers prioritize what to repair,” says Rimes Mortimer, GM of applied innovation at Microsoft. “The system provides a recommendation driven by machine learning, then the engineers can make their own assessment and decide which issues they want their people to focus on in order to optimize for cost and productivity. The result is that you’ll have the right person with the right tools fixing the right things in the right order.”

Some of the tools used resemble the stuff of science fiction. Powered by Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform and leveraging new spatial intelligence capabilities, partner software and Dynamics 365 Connected Field Service, MacDonald-Miller’s engineers were able to use an augmented reality headset feeding them real-time data about a building’s systems, while also allowing them to record pertinent details about their site visit and repairs made. Picture this: You’re looking at a ceiling vent pumping out air that’s a little too cold. An IoT sensor connected to the vent sends data about temperature and airflow to your headset in real time, resulting in a 3D “digital twin” of the vent that you can analyze visually to easily determine what’s wrong and make the necessary adjustments. Finally, using voice commands, you can dictate what you’ve done and close the work order.

“Digital transformation is fundamentally about using IoT, big data and machine learning technologies to help your customers, your employees and your partners achieve more. It enables new ways to leverage technology innovation and unforgettable end user experiences, that can result in new value and business models, and in the case of smart buildings and spaces, ultimately industry disruptions,” Mortimer says. “At Microsoft, we believe that holistically smart buildings will enable more productive people—whether that means streamlining work for the employees of the company managing the building or helping tenants and occupants to use technology to find a parking space faster in the garage, an open workstation or a fellow office worker.”

“Our mission is to make buildings work better,” says Gus Simonds, president at MacDonald-Miller. “The Microsoft Digital team has provided thought leadership by envisioning the art of the possible to help us realize our mission by reinventing how buildings operate in the most efficient manner possible. Buildings are now able to talk to us in a more meaningful way, and our Connected Building Solutions team is listening.”

MacDonald-Miller’s customers are already seeing benefits. One client, Washington’s King County Library System (KCLS), worked with the firm to update the legacy infrastructure used to manage its 48 buildings across the Seattle metropolitan area. By switching to the cloud-based, IoT-driven system supported by Microsoft, it was able to monitor each building remotely and address issues proactively—sometimes even before they’d occurred. All told, it was able to save nearly $54,000 within 15 months following installation and reduce temperature-related service calls by 45 percent.

KCLS’s goal of improving sustainability also got a boost. Another set of Microsoft analytics enabled them to keep track of each building’s energy usage, providing insight into which properties were less efficient than others. KCLS was able to apply these insights to reduce overall consumption, lowering its carbon footprint and cutting down on its utility bills.

“With Microsoft’s IoT capabilities, customers receive better, more exhaustive intelligence about how a given space is being used, or how building equipment is performing,” Mortimer says. “For MacDonald-Miller, they are seeing how each system is using energy—and more importantly, fixing things that need to get fixed before they fail, resulting in a reduction of overall energy consumption and improved customer experiences.”

But for Mortimer, MacDonald-Miller’s transformation can’t be reduced to a single benefit, insight or efficiency. Instead, he describes it as a “microrevolution,” with Microsoft guiding the way as the company evolves and expands what’s possible. In the end, the smart buildings’ partnership with MacDonald-Miller will pave the way for entire smart cities, where IoT is built into roads, signs and streetlights—creating communities where data enhances the quality of life at every turn.

“The opportunities are limitless, and Microsoft is committed to empowering its customers to achieve more by accelerating their journey of transformation,” says Ramesh Siva, Microsoft’s vice president of digital strategy and innovation. “These technology innovations are redefining how businesses operate and enabling progressive societal change by making us more productive and giving us time back; making us safer and healthier; bringing significant environmental benefits; and helping us achieve more by augmenting and unlocking human ingenuity—and MacDonald-Miller is great proof of such a transformation.”

 

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