Challenges for the smart building industry

Challenges for the smart building industry

Q&A questions for Smart Automation Magazine with Yves Padrines CEO of Nemetschek:

  1. How would you describe the challenges for the smart building industry?

First and foremost, the smart building industry needs to reduce energy consumption, and needs to become more sustainable. Offsetting carbon footprints is no longer sufficient, we need to deal with the issues at source, however problematic and challenging they are. In fact, sustainability and the drive to achieve it should be underpinning every decision made across the construction value chain.

The buildings sector represents 40 percent of Europe’s entire energy demand, with 80 percent of this coming from fossil fuels. Of this, 28% is attributed to operational carbon emissions. If the industry is to achieve its target of decarbonising by 2050, then radical thinking is needed to both decrease the material and carbon footprints of buildings, while also dramatically improving building energy performance. The two are fundamentally intertwined – a building can stand for many decades after construction has finished, and so decisions taken today may have a direct and long-lasting impact on the environment tomorrow. This is one of the biggest challenge facing the industry right now.

  1. What specific role does Nemetschek play in the smart building industry, and what unique capabilities does the company bring to the market?

Nemetschek is eager to play a pivotal role in the digitalisation of the construction industry. Founded in 1963, the Group today offers solutions across the entire lifecycle of a building, from planning and design, through to the construction, and then through to operation and management, as well as beyond (i.e., retrofitting and optimisation).

What sets Nemetschek apart is its pioneering approach to digital transformation, with a commitment to sustainable practices and open industry standards, including OPEN BIM, to foster innovation and collaboration. It is also a prominent member of many leading industry associations, including buildingSMART (now NIMA in the UK).

Digitalisation in and of itself can only get you so far. Nemetschek’s company structure allows it to take a holistic approach to building projects, with two brands in the Operate and Manage space: CREM Solutions and Spacewell. These brands dovetail together to provide a full suite of complementary digital solutions encompassing workplace management, energy management and monitoring, and facility management.

  1. How do you see the smart building industry evolving over the next decade, and what opportunities do you see for Nemetschek in this space?

The buildings and construction industry has been historically slow to adapt to changing markets and new technologies. The pace of modernisation needs to accelerate dramatically if the industry is to achieve anything approaching true sustainability by 2050.

COVID-19 provided new opportunities in this regard, as it forced companies to adapt quickly, streamline operations, and embrace digital technologies to improve the efficiency, speed and profitability of operations. Meanwhile, building owners and operators suddenly found that their priorities had changed almost overnight, and the old ways of doing things were no longer fit for purpose in a pandemic or post-pandemic world. Those genies are now very much out of the bottle, and firms that were forced perhaps reluctantly into modernising are now wishing they’d done so many years earlier. As one of the foremost companies operating in the smart building space, Nemetschek and its brands is uniquely positioned to help lead the way and shape the future of the industry.

  1. What role do you see digital twins playing in the design, construction, and operation of smart buildings, and how is Nemetschek working to advance this technology?

Digital twins play a crucial role in the construction lifecycle as they are an enabler for more efficient (and more sustainable) building design, construction and operation. The quality and completeness of building information are crucial factors for making informed operation decisions, steering towards an optimised performance and reduced costs. The operation phase of buildings – typically lasting over 60 years – is responsible for a substantial share of the consumed energy, CO2 emissions, occupants’ comfort, and more.

Today, the generated data across the lifecycle is overwhelming and decoupled – living in silos, hindering leveraging its value to its maximum potential. With the current advancements in data management in the AEC/O industry, there is great potential to advance the processes within the operation phase by leveraging the knowledge accumulated from planning to construction. However, this is only possible when the handed-over information is harmonized and well-connected.  

For example, a design team might feel empowered by the use of a digital twin to enhance collaboration throughout the planning process; but what happens when an engineer on the ground needs to substitute materials, and has no way of recording this change within the design team’s model? Or perhaps a building is being sold after reaching the operational phase, but the sale is held up by the purchaser’s lack of access to information regarding all phases of the building’s development. The fix? Utilising data-driven workflows and open standards that provides all parties with immediate access to the information they need, regardless of where the project sits in the overall lifecycle. In addition to optimizing processes in the short term, the digital twin provides a number of long-term benefits. For one thing, conclusions drawn from the accumulation of data can be used to inform future design choices. Maybe a correlation is established between employee productivity and exposure to sunlight; this could help inspire renovations or the design of a new workspace. And what about comparing the unique cost of specific design choices? By evaluating costs against outcomes through the use of digital twins, developers can learn new strategies for improving building efficiency while lowering costs related to specific phases of the lifecycle.

  1. With the increasing emphasis on sustainability, how is Nemetschek approaching the challenge of creating more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly smart buildings?

The energy crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced building owners and operators to adapt quickly to new circumstances, and ensure that buildings are as efficient as they possibly can be. Some of the most exciting new developments coming out of the pivot to digital are in the form of AI-powered solutions. For instance, Spacewell’s Dexma energy solution uses AI to provide data-driven energy intelligence, drawing on a vast array of variables to provide actionable insight and detect inefficiencies, an order of magnitude faster than ever before. As a result, companies can leverage automated energy data monitoring to minimise energy consumption in their facilities, in some cases by up to 20%. Not only does this reduce a building’s carbon footprint, but with energy prices likely to remain high for some time, this also has a considerable impact on the bottom line, while also insulating companies to some extent against future energy price volatility.

  1. What are the key benefits that smart building technology can offer to building owners, managers, and occupants?

Smart building technology is often pitched at building owners, and it’s true that they stand to benefit substantially from the building of the future. However, the most successful solutions are the ones that make everyone’s life easier, and a building more pleasant to be in for all its occupants. Integrated Workplace Management Systems for instance enable best-practice FM process automation, with apps for end users, cleaners and technicians. Tasks are triggered via the IoT, enabling dynamic services based on actual occupant activities and feedback.

Building maintenance can also be streamlined. Smart technology allows the lifecycle value of buildings and installations to be optimised through a multi-year maintenance plan and budget. Nemetschek’s software for facility maintenance allows users to align maintenance activities with their strategic goals, based on actual asset conditions.

Data is the key here. By measuring what is actually happening in a building at any given time, assets and operations can be constantly optimised, as well as reducing energy costs throughout.

  1. The trend towards digitalization is impacting the entire building lifecycle, from design and construction to operations and maintenance. How is Nemetschek leveraging digitalization to drive innovation and efficiency throughout this lifecycle, and what benefits is it delivering to customers?

Nemetschek’s digital offering covers every stage of a building’s lifecycle, with innovative solutions provided across our brands to cater to every building of any type. Many solutions on the market can lock you in to proprietary technology, which traps customers in an ecosystem whereby they are at the whim of the capabilities and limitations of the manufacturer. The digital world is all about communication and connectivity, and smart building technologies need to reflect this. As strong advocates of open standards and collaboration, Nemetschek believes that it’s more important to build bridges rather than building fences.

This goes beyond our own offering, which is dynamic rather than monolithic. We drive the topic of digital twin with a group-wide business unit, and also constantly invest in promising start-ups to close gaps or use synergies to provide more holistic solutions for buildings across the value chain.

  1. With the growth of smart cities, how do you see the role of smart buildings evolving in urban environments, and what opportunities do you see for Nemetschek to contribute to this transformation?

Digitalisation and sustainability go hand in hand. The connected building is only the start, and ultimately, we are working towards the connected city, with data at its heart. With the continuous collection, leveraging and re-use of data, we can create a holistic view of a building – and later – of an entire complex, a neighbourhood, or even entire cities. Even years after a project has been completed it is possible using digital tools to see which material was used where, and this transparency helps to facilitate the recycling of raw materials on a scale not seen before. Improving the sustainability of the buildings industry requires a shift in mindset, of course, but the tools are already available today to create a brighter and more sustainable tomorrow.

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