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Remote HVAC O&M in the time of COVID

The sheer scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of the affected populations and the disruption to normalcy, has ensured that many legacy arrangements will no longer be considered robust enough, argues Prabhu Ramachandran, adding that tech- enhanced O&M solutions, which give CRE operations the option to be more flexible and agile, will become the norm

| | Apr 26, 2020 | 10:47 am
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An air of uncertainty has gripped the world int he wake of COVID-19. Entire nations around the world are living under lockdown, with social distancing and self-quarantine measures in place to limited the spread of the virus and to contain the threat. With more than one-third of the world’s population living in self-imposed confinement, ensuring that indoor environmental quality (IEQ) parameters adhere to the highest standards has never been more crucial.

A significant number of individuals infected by the virus remains asymptomatic for up to two weeks, forcing most facilities management (FM) operations to run leaner. Indeed, FM companies have the responsibility of safeguarding their workforces by deploying smaller onsite teams compatible with social distancing guidelines. Now, such limitations are creating an unprecedented challenge in the context of extracting optimal performance from embedded building automation.
HVAC systems, in particular, are key to maintaining indoor comfort, health and quality of living, and limitations on human intervention cannot be allowed to compromise their performance.

Fortunately, many of the most effective solutions to this challenge have already been witnessing a robust rise in
the rate of their adoption within the commercial real estate (CRE) industry. An emerging tech-empowered model of building operations is presenting the sector with the opportunity of deploying an alternative and innovative approach, in response to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. Remote operation of critical building automation, to deliver optimal asset performance without the need for onsite human intervention, is the need of the hour. A combination of IoT, connectivity and centralised software platforms has emerged as a fast-track enabler of this capability in these unprecedented times.

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE CRE INDUSTRY IN THIS HOUR OF CRISISExtraordinary circumstances demand a departure from established norms, and this is particularly true of the challenges the CRE industry is facing in the context of HVAC tech and solutions today. With the tides changing and priorities being realigned, property managers and CREs will have to focus on solving the immediate pressing concerns, especiallyresulting from the precipitous disruption to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Being able to operate remotely and to optimise outcomes, despite diminished workforces and resources, demand innovative tech-driven interventions. Such solutions have the additional crucial advantage of enabling the agile, predictive and responsive operations needed right now. In particular, remote operations of BMS/BAS systems, optimising HVAC performance for occupancy and counter-measures for affected spaces, as well as enabling better measures for front-line workforce– with real-time HVAC performance data, so they are better preparedto attend to criticalissues and eliminateunnecessary physical presence – are
going to make the difference between flattening the curve of infection rates and bearing the brunt of rapid escalation. Remotely executed operations, enabled by a combination of centralised platforms and mobile apps, can helpmitigate the need for physical staff, while maintaining optimal IEQ.

In response to the black swan event that is the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRE industry has shown a great enthusiasm for technology as a means to pivot operations rapidly and effectively, to address fundamentally altered requirements. Broadly speaking, the advantages that centralised IoT-enabled platforms and mobile apps offer building owners and FM teams in tackling the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak are as follows:

Operating key HVAC functions remotely: Real estate operations around the world are acknowledging the remote monitoring and control capacities of BMS/BAS operations. With CRE businesses having to adopt remote working arrangements for as many functions and employees as possible, taking a cloud-enabled approach to managing HVAC operations is one of the ways of reducing the number of must-have onsite staff. Real-time performance data collated by IoT technology is also allowing real estate operations to optimise the performance of their HVAC systems based on occupancy, to ensure the best IEQ profile and to minimise operating cost.

Contact-less engagement: By enabling HVAC systems through cloud-hosted application program interface (API) integrations, teams in charge of maintaining ambient environmental quality can exercise mobile and contact-less control. Besides limiting the number of onsite staff, while still mitigating disruptions to IEQ, contact-less engagement also extends to the occupant’s use of building assets. For instance, no-touch elevators that feature contact-less switches were already being touted for their hygiene advantages, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Given that contact with high-touch surfaces is one of the main ways in which the virus is infecting people, long-term confidence among tenants is sure to be enhanced through a more widespread adoption of the technology.

Dynamic and proactive operations: One of the ways that a leaner onsite workforce can be optimised during the current crisis, is to limit the need for human intervention in mundane inspection and set routines. Leveraging real-time performance and environmental data, gathered by deploying IoT technology, to keep digital twins of properties and assets updated, allows such repetitive tasks to be completed remotely via mobile apps. The limited number of individuals deployed onsite can then be preferentially assigned to critical operations and maintenance tasks, which do require specialised human intervention to be optimal.


The sheer scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of the affected populations and the disruption to normalcy, has ensured that many legacy arrangements will no longer be considered robust enough. Tech-enhanced O&M solutions, which give CRE operations the option to be more flexible and agile, will become the norm. Real time transparency into portfolios, paired with the ability to control operations remotely, will become a must-have capacity for CRE businesses. The solution that best fits this need are IoT- and Cloud-enabled systems that reduce dependence on human intervention, while enabling predictive operations and remote real time control.


Prabhu Ramachandran is Founder & CEO of Facilio Inc. He may be contacted at prabhu@facilio.com.

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