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This Unseen Smart Technology Could Form The Core Of Your Building’s Return To Work Strategy


Before the pandemic hit, landlords and occupants were being drawn to emerging proptech, from tenant experience apps to property management systems. Then, everyone left the building.

As building occupancy levels return, all the factors that technology was starting to target before the pandemic are still important and have grown in number. Tenant focus on building health and efficiency is heightened, accompanied by pressures on owners to consider indoor air quality and energy savings amid new hybrid workplace models.

One technology used by many of the world’s largest facilities to tackle these fundamental aspects of running a building is fault detection and diagnostics software, said Alex Grace, vice president of sales and business development at technology company Clockworks Analytics. FDD has long been a necessary tool in buildings with critical spaces, such as hospitals or pharmaceutical laboratories, as well as large facilities like colleges and universities, he said, but is gaining more attention in commercial real estate post-pandemic.

“FDD is now proving essential to CRE as people return to the workplace,” Grace said. “Before, CRE gravitated to tools that are highly visible to occupants, but they realize FDD is the foundational technology to run healthier building systems. It doesn’t matter if you have the coolest tenant app on the market if your buildings are plagued by comfort and maintenance issues.” 

FDD software works by plugging into existing building systems, running analyses on thousands of points of HVAC data, and prioritizing the most critical issues in near real time. More hardware isn’t necessary; Clockworks installs a software gateway within a building to connect to the existing building automation systems, sensors and meters. Without this intelligence, Grace said, building managers don’t have a way to tell an occupier a building is safe.

“If you care about indoor air quality, you can’t just install technology and walk away,” he said. “Mechanical systems degrade. Dampers stick, sensors fail, and an issue with a small set screw can throw off your entire ventilation system’s ability to bring fresh air into the building and effectively exhaust indoor contaminants. Large portfolios with thousands of air handlers will see healthy buildings register many ventilation issues over time. Without the aid of building analytics, it can be almost impossible to find the needle in the haystack.”

Providing The Connection

During periods of remote working, the ability to operate centralized, remote monitoring was particularly important, Grace said. Large institutions with fewer people on-site valued the ability to know energy use and equipment were constantly monitored, allowing those on-site to focus on the highest priorities.

Clockworks’ technology has been designed with scale in mind. Thousands of data points can be extracted every few minutes and sent to the Clockworks cloud, which creates a digital model of each piece of equipment. The analysis engine continuously monitors all zones and equipment for inefficiencies. The aim is to help busy facilities teams diagnose problems quickly and make proactive maintenance decisions.

“Large, modern buildings have a tremendous amount of data in them,” Grace said. “Until now, facilities management teams that run portfolios have been fundamentally reactive to problems — a call comes in, they get to work. Today, maintenance can be far more proactive. It’s not a question of ‘if’ a piece of equipment will fail, but ‘when’. A client once said that until now, they had been looking in the rearview mirror, but Clockworks allows them to look through the windshield.”

Grace highlighted how proactive maintenance is particularly important in relation to indoor air quality, which is quickly affected by frequent ventilation and humidity issues. Across the more than 400M SF that Clockworks monitors, the team can see that roughly 20% of air handling units and 10% of zones within a building have at least one mechanical or controls issue affecting indoor air quality at a time.

“If you manage a portfolio, you’ll have thousands of zones across buildings,” Grace said. “The biggest challenge facilities management teams face is scale. Preventative maintenance best practices recommend making almost 1,000 HVAC checks a year, something few companies can hold true to.”

Beyond Air Quality

FDD software goes beyond monitoring indoor air quality. During the pandemic, many offices stood empty, or near empty, but not all facilities management teams were able to adjust energy use for occupancy levels. Using diagnostic software a landlord or occupier can identify areas where energy use could be reduced.

“The perception is that there’s a trade-off between saving energy and improving indoor air quality, but across the 198,000 zones we monitor across the world, we see that clients who improve indoor air quality save money,” Grace said. “Clockworks users have completed 1,783 tasks to improve indoor air quality, which resulted in $1,173,159 in annual energy savings.”

FDD software can also be used during capital planning by giving visibility into avoidable costs. Proactive maintenance, carried out before equipment breaks, Grace said, will cost less than buying new equipment and can be factored into budgeting. He also highlighted how teams can act far more efficiently, which is becoming more important as there is a growing facilities management labor shortage. 

“Using FDD software, you can make sure the right team is in the right place at the right time, not just waiting for a call to come in,” he said. “We have clients that say a third of their facilities management staff could retire tomorrow. Analytics can play a role in diagnosing problems, to help staff spend less time troubleshooting and more time fixing.”

Undoubtedly, the amount of technology present in a building is going to increase as more tools emerge. The need for FDD software might not be something that tenants easily understand, Grace said, but as normal building operation continues to resume, it is essential to avoiding unforeseen comfort, maintenance and energy issues. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Clockworks Analytics and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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