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Get smart: Campus environments demonstrate the power of IoT

IoT connectivity has helped transform buildings from largely static structures into “living vessels” rife with opportunities to help meet organizational needs, as we have previously discussed. These sorts of building transformations are happening today in a wide variety of sectors, including higher education. The very concept of a university involves the notion of an institution designed for advanced learning and instruction, so why should the buildings themselves be exempt from a university’s box of teaching tools?

Universities are often all-encompassing institutions, providing not just educational programs, but also serving as homes for students and workplaces for a vast array of roles, from instructors and maintenance staff to researchers. University buildings are many times critical to supporting the needs of these roles, and enabling the very collaboration required between those who work, learn and reside within them.

Those who frequent campus environments seek optimal learning conditions to advance their short-term and long-term goals, and they do not typically expect significant interruption due to building-related problems. However, many may be unaware of some of the core and emerging issues that campus buildings are often expected to address today, including:

  • Rising energy and operating costs;
  • Space efficiency and the ability to expand and grow;
  • Managing daily occupant and outside visitor experiences;
  • Improving student experience and educational outcomes;
  • Connecting large facility teams and campuses that can be widely dispersed across geographies;
  • Ensuring safety concerns are minimized; and
  • Protecting against potential security risks.

Add issues associated with aging infrastructure and tightening budgets and the resulting picture can be one of stress, but also opportunity. With the right connectivity in place, thanks to the promise of IoT, educational institutions can not only maintain more effective learning environments despite these challenges, but can also use buildings to their advantage, putting their infrastructure to work.

Lesson in opportunity

At a foundational level, the basic ingredients for “bringing campus buildings to life,” include integrated building management technologies that incorporate data analytics and IoT sensors to monitor the performance of equipment and services and keep systems running optimally to help promote factors like comfort and security. IoT connectivity can also provide a runway for deriving additional value from buildings — it’s often simply a matter of knowing where and how to apply connectivity.

The use of connected technologies to address critical building systems can help serve as a roadmap for universities around the globe and influence how different types of building users may be impacted:

  • Students, teaching staff and campus visitors. Educational institutions should seek to provide building users with the ability to easily shape their experiences, so buildings operate at all times as comfortable and productive learning environments.
  • Service providers, including building operators and service technicians. Universities should seek to enable service providers to foster more intelligent campus operations through integrated systems and interfaces to help make management and maintenance more efficient and streamlined.
  • Contract managers, including interior designers and IT managers. Through a connected upgrade process, universities can better give contractors access to real-time, actionable information, so buildings can optimize their high performance while contract projects are underway.
  • Real estate managers. Connected campus buildings should seek to provide insightful data that will allow real estate managers to better understand and manage facility space constraints or potential expansion opportunities.

One example is Monash University, based in Melbourne, Australia, which sought to enable its campus buildings to more intelligently and automatically alter its internal environments based on the needs of students, staff and other key stakeholders. With the right systems in place, Monash is now using connected technology to help more efficiently manage the buildings on its Clayton, Victoria campus, and as a result turn them into veritable “living laboratories” and teaching tools for students and staff.

This transformation has largely centered on establishing “cognitive buildings” — essentially, making the buildings smarter by adding the right connected technology to capture desired insights to help enhance learning environments for optimal educational outcomes. Applying this connectivity is also expected to help the university better align with building operations in an effort to reach its goal of net zero emissions — or carbon neutrality — by 2030.

Data-driven gains

To better address university stakeholder needs and help realize a vision of turning campus buildings into “intelligent contributors,” a building-blocks approach often helps to establish the right technological foundation, followed by adding layers of applications that can help fully bring buildings to life.

People typically do not like to operate in vacuums, so why should a building? Implementing a scalable, integrated building management platform is helping Monash and other universities tie together building systems and operations, capturing data to provide a better read on how students and staff are using and navigating campus buildings. With these insights, universities can create spaces that better match expectations and usage patterns — essentially helping to make them more comfortable for those who use them, and often more energy efficient to help save on operating costs. Data-driven displays for building operations teams also often further empower more informed decision-making in areas such as security management and building equipment performance.

Taking a building-blocks approach also includes implementing app-based technology, so students and staff can have enhanced control over how they move through campus buildings and experience their surroundings, directly from their smartphones. Such apps include the ability to rate spaces and report issues, providing a path for users to express their pleasure or displeasure, so the university can see where they may need to make improvements or where problem areas might exist. Bringing students and staff into the connectivity improvement processes provides enhanced transparency and gives stakeholders more ownership in making their learning environments optimal spaces for productivity and success. No more just complaining to facility management. Knowledge is power.

Future planning

Universities are seemingly under constant pressure to make capital improvements to attract top students and faculty, increase performance/national rankings, build research capabilities and drive revenue. These pressures often come with the reality of reductions in government spending, tighter compliance regulations, a lack of capital funding, aging buildings and other pressing factors.

To address many of these challenges simultaneously, more universities are starting to look to IoT connectivity. With these “brains” in place, a building can directly contribute to an organizational outcome by helping to better serve students and faculty on a university campus and effectively become a proactive experience enabler and problem-solver that help get ahead of the future before it happens.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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