Hands up if you’ve ever experienced the frustration of flying blind with reporting because up-to-date information has been hard to track down. Maybe you’ve had to had to try and track down some crucial piece of paperwork last seen in the office of someone who has left the company… how much time did it waste?
It’s bad enough when the document in question involves some aspect of HR or financials – but it’s even worse when it relates to an essential part of your whole office building like the specifications for the electrical systems.
Buildings are an enormously complex collections of parts, and every single element has its own set of paperwork, from specifications, supplier and certification information through to warranties, maintenance details and sometimes a trouble-shooting guide.
Why design may not deliver in operations
Paperwork being mislaid or not properly collated as a comprehensive set of documentation is a factor that can mean buildings do not perform as they should, as the Shergold and Weir “Building Confidence” report noted.
The report highlighted the need for better documentation practices at the design and construction phase, and better handover of all relevant documentation to building owners and managers.
The digital building manual suggested by Shergold and Weir idea also aims to ensure improved accountability, traceability and transparency.
There is some progress towards this with the use of digital Building Information Modelling [BIM], which can capture all the essential design, specification and deliver information in a digital model.
What BIM does not generally do, however, is capture the actual day-to-day operation of a building. For example, it might show the expected energy use of a chiller, but it won’t show whether the chiller is using that amount of energy once a building is occupied.
Buildings need to evolve with the times
That information really matters, because the whole property industry is increasingly moving towards high-performance, energy-efficient buildings. On a big picture level, there has been an intergovernmental commitment to low-carbon, low-emissions and energy efficient buildings to achieve a net zero built environment. You can read more about that in ASBEC’s Low Carbon, High Performance report here.
On the individual building scale, the value of a building and its attractiveness to tenants is increasingly tied to its NABERS rating, which is based on actual energy use, not predicted use.
Nowadays, a project team will often commit to delivering a building that is designed to perform at a specific NABERS Star rating, particularly when the asset is for a state or federal department that has an energy-efficiency requirement for its office space.
Modelling during the detail design phase is used to predict performance, measurement during the commissioning phase proves the modelling, and monitoring and verification afterwards during occupancy show whether it got achieved.
But these are often entirely separate processes, using separate digital platforms and packages, which is both inefficient and can result in what building energy experts call a “performance gap” — where buildings just don’t perform as they were designed to.
Taming the digital babble
With so many separate systems and human complications including occupants, it can be a real headache finding out whether a problem is caused by the design, a defect, the tenants, the FM or malfunctioning equipment.
At the same time, there’s a growing number of devices and systems being added into smart buildings – apps that summon lifts, software platforms that monitor and report on any solar PV installed in the building and functional devices like IoT-enabled audio-visual and communications systems.
Across a portfolio that challenge is multiplied by the number of packages, platforms and individual providers such as Siemens, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Phillips and others who are associated with each specific system or piece of equipment. Each has its own language, data location and data protocols.
And the different sources don’t necessarily integrate or speak to each other. It’s almost like a deconstructed data sandwich where every part is in a different kitchen.
Fit for the future
“A Digital Twin is the way asset owners can drive digital transformation of their buildings,” Willow CEO and Co-Founder Joshua Ridley says.
“They bring together all the essential elements of the built world, including occupants and day-to-day conditions, in a dynamic, secure and integration-ready way.”
The twin is the foundational information architecture, and completion and commissioning is just the beginning. As the building comes to physical life, the twin continues to accrue, manage and synthesise data from building systems in a way that allows asset owners and managers to have an immediate and up-to-date source of information.
This detailed level of integrated insight helps with strategic decision-making that can improve building operation and add value, for example, what adjustments can be made to improve tenant comfort or save on energy use.
Unlike traditional building documentation and management processes, where information can be scattered between different departments or individuals, a Digital Twin combines it all together in one secure, cloud-hosted place.
Which also means details can be accessed by any authorised person, any time, day or night from anywhere in the world.
So, for example, if there’s a spike in the air conditioning system’s energy use that is nothing to do with weather conditions, but the person who knows all about the system is away at a conference, they can access all the relevant data and details from wherever they happen to be and help address the issue promptly.
It also means no-one needs to scurry around looking for the right files and information before decisions can be made about maintenance or repair.
Ridley says that making building documentation and operational information smart is essential.
There are multiple layers of benefit for all key stakeholders – owners, asset managers, facility managers and even occupants, and we’ll be exploring those in the near future.