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Unified Control

A high-tech-enabled, futuristic, single-window visibility into a facility’s electro-mechanical portfolio is just what the doctor ordered for efficiently operating the built-environment in the “new normal” engendered by COVID-19, says Sanjeevv Bhatia

| | Aug 17, 2020 | 1:08 pm
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According to Statista (COVID-19: Economic downturn and recovery), economists are still unsure whether the pandemic will continue to push global recession to the scale of the Great Depression
or not. Unlike the 1930s, when the economic downturn lasted for 10 years, the hope is that this time around, the global economic dynamics and growth can be nursed to rebounding reasonably quickly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted the real estate status quo, necessitating facilities to run on a leaner workforce and tighter budgets. While the industry is expected to bounce back, the post-pandemic world will present it with a few major challenges and may never fully return to pre-pandemic conditions. What we are starting to witness is the ushering in of an era of redefined priorities. For building portfolio management to thrive in this new environment, it needs to quickly assimilate to this “new normal” and build operational resilience against future disruptions. In order to achieve this, implementing a centralised control centre is likely to become standard operating procedure for building owners and facility managers.

By definition, a command control centre is a secure room that enables data management, asset monitoring, performance evaluation, efficiency checking and energy auditing of buildings in real time. In other words, it is a high-tech- enabled, futuristic, single-window visibility into a facility’s electro-mechanical portfolio. But what relevance does this hold in the context of COVID-19?

In the pre-pandemic playbook, the functions of facility management were defined and delegated to specific departments. This was often built around traditional BMS systems, whose standalone capabilities to run a multi- family facility represented the default approach. Today, a ‘new normal’ requires facilities to concurrently align multiple operational aspects: lean operations, energy conservation, space management as well as cost-effective business models and optimised processes.

The response to these challenges demands contemporary solutions that transcend legacy models. Predictive operations of the sort required – where teams can anticipate and address systemic issues before they occur – is not possible within siloed and disjointed systems. Legacy systems routinely offered limited operational visibility, if at all, leading to inefficiencies and malfunctions going unnoticed to the point of major breakdowns, resulting in increased equipment downtime and high associated costs.

Likewise, traditional BMS/BAS systems are primarily designed for the automation of a single purpose or automation silo. Unified systems, on the contrary, can deliver multiple primary functions, while also enabling a considerable scope for interoperability. They can consolidate data across assets and devices in real time at a granular level and help operating teams gain a more nuanced understanding of their assets and processes.


The Middle East real estate industry has already implemented several novel solutions that deliver a seamless and vendor-agnostic integration of previously isolated assets, automation systems and devices. Unified systems enable cloud-powered collation and transfer of data, which can then be subjected to AI-powered cognitive analytics, to drive data-driven operations. This digitally enhanced model empowers consistent optimisation across all business aspects, with a reduction in errors and anomalies. What’s more, all stakeholders gain real time access to actionable insight, using intuitive dashboards with remote accessibility and operability.

These open protocol solutions are highly programmable for even more diverse intents and purposes than is apparent at first, including the ability to be customised for enhanced security
and superior user experiences. Leading facility managers are now incorporating ML algorithms to further empower this model with continual commissioning and predictive fault diagnostics. A one-stop-shop solution to control efficiency and achieve portfolio- wide optimisation of resources and processes also enables time-sensitive operations, contingency planning, and the optimisation of run-of-the-mill tasks, such as billing, reporting and communications.

Theoretically, a single operative at the command control centre can monitor, optimise and rectify assets across an entire portfolio. Additionally, the operative can remotely access the centre and notify on-site engineers of previously opaque issues, even down to a minor water leakage, thanks to seamless connectivity between IoT sensors, video analytics and alarm systems. The post COVID-19 pandemic scenario presents the Middle East real estate industry with challenges that are likely to evolve on a continual basis, at least for some time. In this context, command control centres will take on an especially crucial and critical role.

On a broader scale, centralised control is being explored and even adopted at airports, industrial environments, large- scale events and healthcare facilities. One latest, notable example is the collaboration between Dubai’s COVID-19 Command and Control Centre (CCC) and Smart Dubai to develop an innovative digital dashboard for real-time monitoring and prediction of virus transmission in the region. This data-driven system has been crucial in supporting the government’s strategies and decision-making process in response to the pandemic, by using assets embedded into buildings and the city’s infrastructure.

In the pre-pandemic world, such unified solutions were the exception. They signified high-performance building automation, often seen as assets that were not yet standard requirements. Today, with renewed priorities and changed expectations, a centralised control mechanism is making a compelling case as an indispensable must-have, whose implementation could play a central and contributory role in the real estate industry’s evolution to a new normal.

Sanjeevv Bhatia is CEO, Netix Global BV. He may be contacted at sb@sbintl.com.


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