Digital transformation to navigate climate change impacts

By David Walsh, founder and CEO of CIM
Monday, 26 September, 2022

Digital transformation to navigate climate change impacts

Climate change is wreaking havoc with the management of large buildings and critical infrastructure. Whether you’re trying to reduce carbon emissions and operating costs in a shopping centre, airport, office building or museum, or keep systems in a manufacturing facility operating at their peak, it’s critical to maintain reliable and effective control.

But as the extremes of weather continue to grow further apart — stifling heat and humidity interspersed with periods of increased cold weather — it becomes harder to manage building conditions in a cost-effective and environmentally conscious way.

The key to navigating these challenging waters is to move away from disconnected systems and take a holistic view of all building operations. The digital transformation of property operations is a powerful enabler to achieve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets, reach net zero, as well as manage rising energy costs and the impact of harmful carbon emissions.

Thinking in multiple dimensions

Successful digital transformation programs don’t operate in just one dimension. For a large complex building, it’s important to maintain visibility over all operational and environmental elements, learn from historical trends and understand the future impact of decisions and actions.

This relies on having access to the right insight-rich data in order to make adjustments in real time rather than waiting for tenants or patrons to raise complaints or simply to meet ESG targets and government mandates. The ability to use internal, external and historical data enables you to use predictive analytics. You can ask questions such as, “What can I expect if building occupancy increases by a third when the weather is 25°C?” or “Is the plant and equipment in my building operating at times of day when they don’t need to?”

Using analytics tools and machine learning, building owners and managers can quickly analyse the data to gain insights that can inform decisions. The conditions inside a building are directly impacted by the external climate. Combining data from a range of sources enables facilities managers to anticipate conditions and make adjustments ahead of time.

Rather than trying to cool a building when external temperatures are peaking, it may be more effective to initiate cooling systems earlier. For example, if the external temperature is expected to peak at 40°C at noon, initiating the cooling of an office building at 3:00 am may be more cost-effective and result in lower carbon emissions than trying to lower the temperature at 8:00 am, when the temperature is already rising.

Response is data driven

Thinking in each of those dimensions — internally, externally, historically and predictive — relies on having data and that enables you to understand how all the elements inside a building interact. Digital transformation is not about extracting some data and slapping a pretty dashboard in front of it.

Successful digital transformation in the built environment is about using data to connect disparate systems and services to enable better decision-making. The time for ‘gut feel’ decision-making is over, as data becomes more readily accessible.

In order to prepare for the impact of climate change on the management of large buildings such as shopping centres, office towers, museums or airports, we need access to quality data and tools that allow facilities and building managers to make sound decisions that ensure patron and tenant comfort and safety. That same data enables building and portfolio managers to make sound decisions that enable them to achieve their ESG targets, improve their sustainability credentials and maintain their regulatory obligations.

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