The impact of Covid-19 on intelligent buildings, and the way ahead

by Brianna Crandall — January 22, 2021 — Covid-19 has brought fundamental change to businesses, with impacts in virtually every industry — and the intelligent buildings industry is no exception, says the international not-for-profit Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). CABA commissioned global growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan to evaluate the sector’s key challenges and opportunities and to identify response measures that will help build resiliency.

The first part of that research, now available, focuses on immediate implications, key regulatory guidance, and forward-looking mitigation measures. It is the first of three modules, with the final two modules to focus on Technology Potential Evaluation and Future Readiness Assessment.

Ron Zimmer, CABA’s president and CEO, explained:

Early in the pandemic, organizations across the industry were seeing a profound shift taking place in their business, and they identified an urgent need to bring together actionable data, best practices, and lessons learned to take account of the changes under way. CABA’s Board of Directors and the Steering Committee for the project recognized that the findings that would emerge at three distinct stages in this research should come out as soon as they became available, so we are very pleased to be able to release Module 1 today.

Konkana Khaund, director of Consulting, Energy and Environment with Frost & Sullivan, stated:

The findings of Intelligent Buildings and COVID-19 illustrate that there are specific strategies that can be seized on to achieve resiliency during and beyond this historic pandemic. As the research is showing — and the experience of the pandemic is proving — there are distinct pockets of opportunity that the emerging future scenario could deliver.

The current focus on internet of things (IoT)-enabled sensors, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven building solutions, and cloud-based remote services represents the first area of opportunity. Each has become a crucial component of engineering control strategies both to meet workplace safety standards and maintain business continuity. This is happening against a backdrop of uncertainty for the commercial real estate sector — and forecasts that have had to be continually revised.

The coronavirus has also forced building owners and asset managers to evaluate requirements for system upgrades and space reconfigurations. These improvements have a key role to play in ensuring occupant safety and proper social distancing, despite constraints imposed by severe working-capital crunches. At the same time, companies are assessing long-term lease agreements and increasing remote-work capabilities.

Attention is turning to the technologies and services that support a phased workforce reentry, as well as to the key components and disciplines that must guide implementation efforts. These cross-cutting areas include:

  • Facilities management (FM)
  • Workforce productivity
  • MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) safe-start strategies
  • Building sensors
  • Healthy building standards
  • Standalone, equipment-level technologies and services
  • Federal, state and local government regulations

Imminent changes for building management are predicted. Future-proofing buildings to combat pandemics and natural disasters will be of prime importance for building owners and construction firms, with digitalization and remote monitoring of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems taking center stage to ensure indoor air quality (IAQ) and energy efficiency.

According to the report, convergence of intelligent building technologies will become increasingly significant. Networks of low-cost, wireless sensors that detect motion, occupancy, temperature, air quality, light and other parameters could enable multiple building systems to communicate with one another. More use cases supporting convergence are keenly anticipated, centering on technology innovation, service practices, equipment handling and occupant safety.

Finally, international healthy building standards such as WELL and RESET will take on heightened importance. Facilities managers and other third-party certification providers are working to ensure that accredited professionals can assess and certify the health performance of buildings against these new standards.

Konkana Khaund of Frost & Sullivan commented:

The COVID-19 pandemic has injected uncertainty into the intelligent buildings industry, even while it set the stage to accelerate some of the trends that were already definitively shaping this sector. Taken together, the findings highlight the critical importance of technology implementation to enable the right environmental conditions, mechanical improvements, process changes and above all ensuring health and well-being of occupants inside these buildings.

The following CABA members are sponsoring the study: Aircuity, Inc.; Automated Logic Corporation, Axis Lighting, The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited, Carrier Corporation, CyberPower Systems, Daikin Applied Americas, Honeywell International, Iota Communications, Kimberly-Clark Professional, KMC Controls, Legrand, National Research Council (NRC), Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), NYSERDA, Siemens Industry, Steelcase, UL and Yorkland Controls.

Additional companies still have an opportunity to fund Modules 2 and 3 and to shape the research through participation on the project’s Steering Committee, notes CABA.

Intelligent Buildings and COVID-19, Module 1 of 3, is available for complimentary download from the CABA website upon brief registration, along with the power point presentation and the associated webinar on the research given recently by Frost & Sullivan.

CABA is an international not-for-profit industry association dedicated to the advancement of connected home and intelligent building technologies. The organization is supported by an international membership of approximately 375 organizations involved in the design, manufacture, installation and retailing of products relating to integrated home and building technology. Public organizations, including utilities and government organizations, are also members.