The Smart Way to Smart Cities Begins with Buildings

**This piece first appeared in Smart Buildings Magazine on March 12, 2018.

In just the first few weeks of 2018, we’ve already heard much about the promise and opportunity of smart cities. We’re talking about them at every conference – from CES to the US Conference of Mayors and everywhere in between.

But there’s a tough reality stirring behind all of this fanfare – and it is that communities seeking to achieve truly smart cities have faced an almost overwhelming path that is riddled with confusing choices, individualized attempts and small wins.

Technologists, city planners, and city leaders are grappling with a tremendous number of questions and decisions as they eagerly try to leverage smart technology to improve government services, urban quality of life, sustainability, and more. What number and combination of sensors, beacons, and meters provides enough data to enhance quality of life? How many smart lights, smart parking spaces, smart energy and water meters constitutes a smart city? Put together, all of these questions are making city leaders second-guess whether and how to make investments in smart city infrastructure and technology.

One way to simplify the process is to start with one core element of every city’s landscape – its buildings. Because buildings typically are self-managed, they offer a good starting point – developing smart buildings will give rise to smart campuses, which will foster smart communities, and eventually smart cities. Simply put, smart buildings will create a scalable foundation for creating the elusive smart city, building by building, from the ground up.

And, much like what Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards did in the early 2000’s to advance green buildings, creating a clear industry Smart Building Certification System with levels – from smart to genius – will accelerate technology solution development and adoption, and spread best practices. Accepted, industry-wide smart building certification levels will, in turn, become the basis for smart cities certification levels, allowing leaders to truly understand and shape how smart their cities are.

Buildings across cities serve different purposes – they function as offices, apartments, hospitals, schools, and even parking lots. But across these uses, basic building infrastructure addresses the same needs as basic City infrastructure, including energy, water, trash, lighting, ventilation, broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity, parking, traffic management, security and emergency services  to name a few. Smart building certifications would validate efficiencies, savings and improvements across these areas, and point out where new technology and broader adoption could add more value.

Orchestrating smart services, systems, and information points is a large and costly challenge for cities. Buildings, however, can more quickly leverage savings and new revenue opportunities from smart-X solutions, and are better positioned to develop an overarching platform that allows different vendor solutions and different technologies, for both legacy and new applications, to communicate with each other.

For example, when a fire breaks out, a fire monitoring and suppressant system supplied by one vendor must be able to communicate with the HVAC system supplied by another vendor inside the same building. Without seamless communication between these systems, the HVAC system could make the situation worse by blowing air into the building, rather than sucking it out.

At a city level, these vendor integrations may seem more difficult – but community leaders can leverage and scale building-level solutions to help build the city-wide platform of the future. A common building-level IoT platform such as oneM2M can be leveraged to address communications and security requirements, and can be layered in order to provide complete interoperability that could be scaled to the city level.

At the same time, building-level cost savings from both new technologies and smarter solutions can be easily identified and captured, helping to propel solutions that go beyond buildings.  Standards and certifications that revise current requirements for building telecom closets, cabling and data centers could free up space that can be rented. Small cells, in-building distributed antenna systems, neutral-hosts, throttled broadband and in-building edge data centers can also create entire new revenue streams and opportunities for buildings.

For communities that recognize the value of taking a focused approach to getting “smart,” building certification standards will help bring focus, clarity and competition to the race for smart city technology. In the early 2000s, the US had this same conversation around green buildings. LEED certification provided a clear framework for measuring and monetizing sustainability, demonstrating the economic case for what were once considered as values-based environmental benefits.

Smart building is a microcosm of a smart city, and as we become a data-integrated, smarter world, we need our building standards to keep pace. New standards will be required, and existing standards will need to be modified. Suppliers, solution providers, and integrators, as well as broadband, carrier and enterprise networks, and wireless evolution suppliers, must work together with industry associations to develop and advance a new platform to measure and monetize the smart technology opportunities that define smart cities – one building at a time.

The technology backbone of the smart building is the same technology backbone of the smart city. By adding and integrating certified smart buildings, local officials and technology leaders can quickly form smart campuses, smart communities, and scale all the way to smart cities.

Harry Smeenk

About Harry Smeenk

Harry Smeenk is vice president of program development at the Telecommunications Industry Association.