IoT-based compliance and safety
The decade of smart buildings is upon us as digital innovation transforms the spaces we live and work in through an ever-expanding suite of technologies, and with it comes the solution to our compliance headaches. Smart buildings promise to make it all simple with IoT and cloud, make it all cheaper with low-cost hardware, and make it all more productive thanks to better software.
However, housing providers are asking questions such as, “what strategic objectives are served by this technology, can we harness it effectively, and do we need in-house capacity?”
What should smart buildings tell you?
The killer app for smart buildings and IoT is safety and compliance. There are significant push-and-pull factors that will drive adoption rates of this technology for safety and compliance.
Housing providers are already familiar with many of the push factors. The Grenfell and Hackitt reports have led to an overhaul of compliance and safety obligations and higher workloads, while budgets have been going in the opposite direction as teams are required to do more with less. All the while, a rapidly-ageing population is driving increased demand for services and accommodation.
Among the pull factors, the dramatic reduction in hardware costs over this decade will make it possible to retrofit large portions of estates with intelligent technology. Innovative models such as ‘compliance as a service’ will offer housing providers impressive returns on investments and attainable scale. In the background, whole organisations are applying digital transformation processes to the rest of their businesses, creating further impetus for transforming safety and compliance with IoT.
In a post-coronavirus world, one of the new realities is that conventional compliance testing visits could represent an infection control risk. Having teams travel from site to site to conduct tests, especially when visiting residential care or independent living facilities, is no longer going to be accepted as good practice. The health and safety risk presented by this practice will drive housing providers towards IoT for safety and compliance. Adopting smarter buildings addresses the need for digitisation to quickly avoid potential liabilities.
The reality is that buildings can now be expected to report on themselves, affordably and reliably. Switching your processes to a digital system that’s capable of automatic remote testing could reduce visits to your properties by 90 per cent over five years. Manual compliance is a seven-step process, whereas a digital process shrinks this to just a single step, the repair visit; everything else can be collected, organised, affirmed and alerted using IoT and cloud solutions.
Where do we start? The end, of course.
The challenge is to develop high-quality design and development processes for projects. These ensure that your organisation gets the most bang for its buck and avail yourself of technology that is future-compatible. We therefore encourage our partners to start at the end.
Compliance has become so embedded that its first principles are frequently forgotten. What are the teams trying to achieve? Beginning by outlining that end goal allows teams to work towards the best technology to automate and improve the process. Spending time with those teams to map their current processes and set those against the ‘end’ generates good project specifications and high-quality outcomes.
For example, an emergency lighting process aims to catch failing or defective units before an emergency and ensure their timely repair. This is achieved by complying with regularly time tests across the entire stock of units, often done by manually triggering them and noting performance (data entry). A solution that provides adequate reassurance on compliance as well as fulfilling your process and legal obligations needs to map onto these actions.
We generally come across very similar sets of common problems among our customers – we call them FMMs, or frequently made mistakes, and there are usually four of them:
- The kid in a sweet shop – Having a little nibble from every solution on the market without a strategic goal in mind leads to poor results and indecision. It can hamstring progress for years.
- Not knowing thyself – IoT solutions are a toolkit. If you don’t know your processes, you have little chance of selecting the right tools for the job.
- Square peg, round hole – it’s always tempting to get a sensor to do a job it wasn’t designed to do. This path rarely leads to the right outcomes.
- Lack of standards – it’s tempting for housing providers to trust the experts but in many cases, they will need to pick and stick to standards. For their comms (LoRa, NBIoT, 2G and so on) or their platforms, it will be essential to set the standards for vendors and stick to them.
Getting your buildings to report on themselves will be a critical task in the coming years. You don’t need to buy every sensor on the market to do this. There are a lot of sensors out there and, at best, you only need about five per cent of them. When you map your processes, overlay your new IoT workflow(s) and assess it against the job to be done.
A major temptation is to reduce the investment but that risks only implementing a solution that does half the job. We frequently see that the RoI on projects isn’t pro-rated; you either get the full RoI or you get very little of it. Doing half the job probably still involves 90 per cent of the resources but you are the proud owner of the worst of both worlds!
You already have a huge compliance workload and it’s only going to get bigger. A smart building can automatically test itself and inform you of non-compliance. It is possible to create your desired automation, set up the conditions for it to succeed and then go and demand it from vendors.
Cian O’Flaherty is the CEO of Safecility.