Smart building tech has come a long way since pneumatics. Technology is redefining the occupant and owner experience by delivering greater convenience, cutting energy consumption, reducing operating costs and strengthening safety and security. From the emergence of Big Data to the Internet of Things (IoT), innovation is enabling buildings to run smoother and greener. Yet, like any disruption, it doesn’t come without some growing pains.

    Conventional wisdom has long held that a dollar saved is a dollar earned. Smart building innovation, though, flips that calculus on its head, forcing us to reconsider the economics of lifecycle planning. What if a dollar spent today can help save $10 tomorrow?

    This isn’t a foreign concept in other walks of life. In fact, the entire insurance industry is predicated on this very principal. So, if we accept the notion that proactively investing in our own wellbeing offsets the cost of our healthcare in the long run, why shouldn’t the same apply to the health of our buildings? 

    To be clear, this is quite a departure from the status quo. Even today, building maintenance is a fundamentally reactive endeavor. If an HVAC unit or water boiler breaks down, a technician is dispatched to evaluate the problem and carry out repairs. The drawbacks to this approach are two-fold: first, it costs significantly more to repair an already-broken asset than to proactively take corrective measures to keep it from reaching critical mass. Second, by waiting for equipment to fail, operators incur costly and easily avoidable unplanned downtime.

    Reactive maintenance is quickly becoming an outdated practice, thanks in large part to the rising ubiquity of IoT sensors and ability to monetize data with software applications. Sensors are not only deployed at a greater frequency but also provide greater capabilities than even several years ago. These sensors coupled with software applications help building owners use the gathered data to drive actionability that can improve efficiency and operational performance as well as provide new capabilities like inform capital planning. Investment in distributed networks of intelligent, connected sensors allows building owners to do more than they could with lifecycle buying. What’s more, building owners can extend asset life by adopting proactive maintenance strategies and running systems in the most efficient manner possible.

    Of course, this presents a basic question for lifecycle planning: Is it more cost-effective to invest in the system with a lower price tag, or the one that runs longer and better, albeit at a slight premium?

    For most forward-thinking building owners, it shouldn’t be hard to pick out the better ROI.

    As smart buildings increasingly become the norm, it’s exciting to contemplate a near-future of not only greener, more efficient structures, but purpose-built spaces designed around the flow of everyday life. The same sensors that detect leaky valves can also glean deep insight into the relationship between a space and its occupants, paving the way for entirely new kinds of buildings that empower people rather than stifle them, as many of today’s offices all too often do.