Comment: Techrupting Buildings

Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc, asks if digital retrofit is the next frontier for MEP.

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Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc.
Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio Inc.

As buildings are ageing, tenant/occupant expectations are fast evolving, and markets are getting increasingly competitive. Add to that is the growing focus on sustainable practices, both from a regulatory perspective, as well as from the point of realising significant financial savings due to energy efficiency practices.
Retrofitting buildings is being globally recognised as the only viable solution to help building owners, facilities managers and MEP personnel to transition massive old building stocks into an energy efficient ones. Whether from the perspective of saving energy and water, or driving continuous efficiency and sustainability across operations, building owners and FM are aware of the manifold benefits that retrofitting can enable.
However, despite its many known benefits, the apprehensions surrounding ‘retrofitting’ are palpable in any conversation with a real estate owner, facilities or MEP professional.  So why are building owners intimidated by retrofits? Some of the common reasons driving these concerns and preventing retrofitting from becoming mainstream include
1) The heavy investment required for full-fledged physical retrofit
2) The time and effort involved in installing physical retrofit solutions rendering a slow ROI
This brings us to the question that how can legacy structures quickly meet modern real estate expectations amidst these concerns? And the answer lies in new-age digital retrofit.

Digital retrofit: the cost-effective way to making legacy buildings smarter
The pain of high bills and assets reaching the end of their lifespan are primary reasons for considering retrofits. And to achieve this, the key driver is enhancing efficiency – by augmenting efficiency of operations, maintenance, workforce, and energy. We can boost the value of our buildings and make our built environment truly sustainable.
When we talk of retrofits, it conjures up images of heavy investments, tonnes of LEDs and hardware replacements, along with time, money and resource consuming complex processes. Digital and software-driven retrofits takes this edge off retrofitting. It offers the next frontier to modernise facilities without the hassle and investment of traditional retrofits by adopting technologies like IoT/AL/Cloud.
While the usual physical hardware retrofits are also essential for buildings, the industry now needs to look above and beyond traditional energy-saving plug-ins towards digital retrofits to drive continuous efficiency in daily operations.
Digital retrofit is to the building industry what Industry 4.0 is to the manufacturing sector, i.e., instead of incurring costs, time and manpower to replace all of your current machinery, one can apply specialist technologies in tandem with existing in-situ equipment, to allow the gathering of data which can then be used to inform decision-making in real time.

Multi-fold efficiency a reality with digital retrofit
So why is digital retrofit the ‘next big thing’ for the building, facilities management and MEP industry? It is because it allows them to achieve multi-fold efficiency, something that has become a must-have for building management. To be relevant tomorrow, buildings today need to transcend into effective structures that will stand the test of time, resources and changing human needs and expectations. They can no longer focus only on maintenance of facilities and machines, on occupant comfort and ideal temperature, or on sustainability, in isolation. They need machines, people and assets to be combined, and integrated in a way that involves all stakeholders in day-to-day operational efficiency.
Evolving to digital retrofit can quicken the pace of modernising buildings from an automation and retrofit perspective, enabling continuous efficiency across operations and across consumption of energy, manpower/resources, time and money, eliminating or minimising wastage.
Digital Retrofits along with software-led facility management ensure maximized performance with minimized investment.

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MEP as champions of automation and intelligent retrofit
The retrofit market has traditionally been localised automation centric. It has evolved over recent years into integrated building management systems (IBMs) as well as integrated facilities management solutions (IFMS).
Digital retrofit involves adding sophisticated software that helps club automation like BMS, with the facilities layer. It helps leverage existing data in buildings, uses IoT to turn idle data to insights in real-time, empowers buildings to faster response, and ensures a superior tenant experience with a smart unified software system. And as the key champions of automation, MEP stands at the core of this automation value chain, and can play a very significant role in enabling this transition to an integrated, digitised, and intelligent retrofit. With the engineering excellence that MEP contractors bring to the table, they are best placed to work with ESCOs in Dubai, to conduct audits, recommend a digital retrofit strategy, and help customers realise guaranteed savings and enable efficient buildings.

The next frontier: Extending automation retrofit into FM, sustainability and customer engagement
While better automation tech available today can make retrofit efficient with respect to time and cost (like wireless sensors, modern communication protocols etc., which makes retrofit easier), the way forward is extending automation retrofit into software solutions that bring in FM services, sustainability services, customer engagement services etc., into the same fold, helping buildings retain their value for the long-term.

Conclusion
Retrofitting is firmly entrenched on the global agenda. Digital retrofits can be one of the key building blocks for enabling smart buildings & smart cities of the future.

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