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The Smart Building Symphony

Solving the Design-Build-Operate Divide with Ontology-based Digital TwinsSolving the Design-Build-Operate Divide with Ontology-based Digital TwinsBuilding technology needs to be carefully curated and orchestrated to create a smart building

About Rob Huntington


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I have recently been expanding upon an analogy used to describe why so called ‘Smart Buildings’ are so difficult to deliver.  Interestingly, this analogy appears to have become increasingly fitting after been shared and discussed.  This article will expand on the makeup of an orchestra and how it applies to each contributor to a ‘Smart Building’.  In summary, it is important to acknowledge that we can’t keep following the same procurement model and be expecting a different result and there perhaps is a missing entity in the process.


What appears to me to now be well understood is that the inability to deliver a smart building is more a people problem than a technology problem. Often a client’s vision for a smart building is difficult to realize as their requirements slowly but surely dissolve in each step of the procurement process. In the end, it is often 'specialist sub-contactors' who are many times removed from the client who make the technology choices for the building. In the end, whilst during construction a combination of 'smart' systems may be deployed, there is often no one responsible for ensuring that these technologies are stitched together to create the fabric of a smart building.


This is where the 'orchestra' analogy has been used. In this article I will breakdown the analogy and the different aspects of it and explain the importance of:

       The Composer

       The Conductor

       The Musicians



       The Performance


The Composer:

A composer - (Latin compōnō; literally "one who puts together").  What is an orchestra without a composer – without the musical score, there is nothing for the orchestra to perform!  This is really the beginning of the process.  A ‘Smart Building’ must also begin with a set of directions for the specialist sub system providers and clearly articulate the interoperability of the systems to achieve clear outcomes.  The complete ‘Smart Building Score’ may appear complex and perhaps daunting as compared to just looking at the design for an individual sub system however thinking about an orchestra, typically the conductor is the only one with the ‘full score’ and is responsible for directing and coordinating the individual elements of the orchestra who each have their own version of the score as it pertains to their part of the performance.


The Conductor:

In the context of the Smart Building, conducting is the art of directing the building systems simultaneous performance to achieve outcomes.  In addition, this direction should begin from the outset of a project, prior to the services designs and before sub system providers are selected.  Specifically, I am talking about the ability for the direction to apply also to design engineers.  This is often where the dilution of a clients smart building vision begins.  It appears to be increasingly difficult for consultants to include new ways of working, namely integration, into the traditional siloed approach to services design.  Allowing the conductor to act on behalf of the client in an end-to-end fashion - during the design, procurement, delivery, commissioning, warranty and maintenance process will ensure that gaps are filled & overlaps avoided to maximise the efficiency and ensure outcomes are realised.


In an orchestra, the role of a conductor is to unify the orchestra, to set the tempo & to shape the sound of the ensemble. The conductor also prepares the orchestra by leading rehearsals before the concert, in which the conductor provides instructions to the musicians on their interpretation of the music being performed.  This is not unlike what the role may be during construction, ensuring that everyone knows their role and that the outcomes of the smart building are delivered in harmony.


It is important to note that it is uncommon and perhaps impossible for the conductor to direct the performance and play an instrument in the orchestra at the same time.  This speaks to the importance of the conductor being independent and their role being a one that is dedicated and not a hybrid model where they are also responsible for the delivery of a sub system.


The Musicians:

In an orchestra, each musician is talented in their own right & has mastered their instrument of choice, but you can’t expect to bring together a group of musicians who have never played together before, blindfold them, block their ears, ask them to perform together & expect anything but noise.


Comparing musicians in an orchestra to providers of 'smart systems' in buildings. Like the musicians, each system provider is talented and capable in their own right but without someone to lead the combined performance, all you hear is noise. In an orchestra, the conductor unifies the performers and prepares the orchestra for their performance through rehearsals.



It may be beneficial to consider applying an ‘audition’ process when it comes to the selection of sub system providers…. This step is essentially the tender negotiations.  Making sure sub system providers are interviewed and understand their interpretation of the smart building score.  Whilst tender interviews and negotiations are common with main services contractors such as Mechanical and Electrical, often the specialist sub system providers who are the providers of building technology are shielded from this process and usually the successful contractor holds their own set of negotiations with their subcontractors.  Usually these are cost driven discussions where the contractor looks to secure the best deal to maximise their own profit on the project once they have been awarded, noting that often this is when the contractor has the most leverage when it comes to negotiating with specialist sub-contractors.  Ensuring there is a process whereby specialist sub-contractors can be interviewed directly before contracts are awarded despite the contractual arrangement is possibly the most important part of the procurement process which is currently lacking.


Introducing this process would ensure that the conductor can assess that specialist sub system provider and their technology will be enhance and not detract from the overall performance.  Identification of providers who may have delusions of grandeur and perhaps may be better suited as a ‘solo artist’ can take place during this phase and enable the conductor to ensure that the provider understands their role in the overall performance.



This phase would typically consist of a series of ongoing workshops that take place for the duration of the conduction phase of a project.  Often these rehearsals would begin as a group, ensuring there is complete alignment and understanding of what will be required come the day of performance.  As time goes on, these workshops would break down into smaller ‘sections’ to allow more targeted ‘practice’ and really allow each section to perfect their performance.


Practically, the rehearsals would include a test or laboratory environment whereby different sections come together early earlier enough in the timeline so that any issues or gaps can be identified and rectified.  This is highly important when you have integration elements such as physical integration via a Integrated Communications Network/Building Services network/Base Building Network


The Performance:

After following the processes described, the smart building will be ready to perform!  The audience who in the case of a smart building will be a variety of building users such as tenants in a commercial building, shoppers at a retail precinct or perhaps guests at a hotel who will arrive to experience what the building is able to deliver in the way of unique and deliberate journeys and experiences.


As an example, as we enter the ‘new normal’ it is likely that there is going to be a focus on contactless transitioning through buildings.  This use case is a great example to highlight what a smart building will facilitate and the combinations of technologies that will all need to combine to achieve the journey.  It is likely to start with a Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) which allows a user to enter a carpark ‘ticketless’ and eventually leave the carpark ‘cashless’ with a tenant application looking after entry and payment.  As the user enters the building, the ability for their smart phone to become their ‘digital key’ for the building and enable seamless transition through the variety of base building and tenant security systems alike.  This may include locked doors, speed gates and destination control for vertical transport noting this are all different systems provided by disparate providers, but all connected physically and virtually to create a seamless transition.



So who is the 'smart building conductor'? This could be a technology consultant/architect/integrator or an MSA/MSI, but perhaps we should not focus on the 'who' but the 'what'. What they need to do be involved in the process from beginning to end, developing the clients strategy, working with consultants to ensure design reflect the vision, being involved in tender negotiations with contractors and their specialist subcontractors to ensure they understand the intent of the strategy and being there at the end to ensure full and complete integration is achieved to deliver on the outcomes in the digital building strategy the client had in the beginning, noting this engagement may span several years.



About Rob Huntington

Rob Huntington has more than 20 years’ experience in delivering Commercial HVAC & Automation solutions. Having completed his refrigeration apprenticeship in 2006, Rob quickly became drawn to the digital control of commercial buildings which has more recently evolved into specialising in Building Services Networks.


Rob is highly experienced with all facets of an entire buildings digital ecosystem and his experience includes a thorough understanding of the interoperability of all systems in a building (not just individual systems) & how they interact with one another. As the emergence of connected devices continue to evolve, Rob's experience and expertise extends beyond OT & into IT to support the active hardware and structured cabling that allows all connected devices to communicate securely and reliably in a building


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