Auckland has the opportunity to host smart buildings that are managed by data analytics and save plenty of money in power bills, writes Graham Skellern.

Leading professional services firm Beca has dived into the exciting world of artificial intelligence to ensure buildings and other infrastructure can be efficiently managed and operated in Auckland and other parts of the world.

Using a digital model and the latest cloud-based mobile technology, Beca has developed an advanced data analytics system — or continuous tuning service — that pinpoints sub-par performance in maintenance, air quality and energy use.

The system automatically collects and analyses millions of data points from the building, detects faults, and diagnoses issues including wasting energy and money using algorithms and rule checks based on engineering principles.


The building managers can view the performance and create actions by logging into an online dashboard, even on their mobile devices. These smart buildings using ground-breaking Beca technology can save up to 30 per cent in power bills and deliver a return on investment within two years.

"We are developing leading edge digital technology to remain internationally competitive," says Singapore-based Steve Perkins, a technical director in Beca's Global Building Group.

Steve Perkins.
Steve Perkins.

Perkins is involved with Beca's new Digital Innovation Hub, which was launched at the start of October and is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board. The hub in Singapore will enhance Beca's advanced manufacturing and smart cities consulting services by developing and delivering digital technology solutions to clients across Asia, New Zealand and Australia.

"The digital revolution is moving fast and there are many directions we can take to transform our clients' businesses, so we created the innovation hub to support our project teams," says Perkins.

"We created a workshop space fitted out with the latest in technology to allow them to explore and collaboratively develop new engineering solutions with key project stakeholders.

"We also have a group of experts who can collaborate at short notice and work with these engineering teams to guide them on implementing emerging technologies."

Beca's building information modelling system was installed in the refurbished Mason Bros. space in the Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct. During the refurbishment, asset information was captured onsite using iPads and then embedded back into the 3D environment. This included data from the supply chain, and linking essential documents such as manuals, commissioning information and warranties to specific 3D models.

The solution enabled the owner, Precinct Properties, to digitally manage the lifecycle of the building's plant and equipment with greater efficiency, transparency and accuracy.

Greg Lowe.
Greg Lowe.

Greg Lowe, Beca's chief executive, says the modelling system has huge industry potential because building management teams can use the technology to instantly raise work orders while on site. The technology also provides more accurate financial forecasting of maintenance needs and an unparalleled service for tenants.

"We see wide application of new technologies across multiple markets including industrial, buildings, infrastructure, power and water, government and advisory," says Lowe.

Beca first introduced its building tuning service to Victoria University in Wellington.

Between January 2016 and March 2018 the university saved $84,000 and a sustained energy reduction of 30 per cent. The ongoing data analytics service was a fraction of the energy savings it delivered — the payback came in 1.3 years — and the service is now being delivered in six of the university's buildings.

Beca is providing data analytics systems for 90 per cent of the buildings on Singapore's Nanyang University campus. It is also the smart building consultant for the advanced 130,000sq m manufacturing complex in the new Singapore Jurong Innovation District.

A participant in the Smart City conversation with Auckland Council, Beca is piloting conversational artificial intelligence (chatbots) to help local government increase public engagement, reduce costs and create better outcomes for communities.

Beca calls it co-creating with "hyperlocal" communities — directly involving the community in creating plans, programmes and initiatives.

The artificial intelligence system is designed for natural and engaging conversations in multiple languages, is patient and trained to be interested. The system can be accessed through the web, over the phone, via social media or in person using smart voice assistants.

Unlike typical consultation and focus group processes, which relate to specific projects and run for a set period of time, the Beca system is available 24/7 and will respond to any community issue.

Insights are provided based on the topics that the community is talking about, how sentiment changes over time, and the different ideas that people propose or support.

The system can also re-contact people, asking more detailed questions or alerting them of new projects or plans relevant to their location or interests
Beca's Smart Cities advocate Matt Ensor, Business Director-Advisory Services, says one of the goals of a smarter city is to engage people with their communities — especially getting the views of the silent majority.

"The nirvana is not an app-driven world but using latest technology to take the frustrations out of city living — like knowing when the bus will turn up," Ensor says.

 Matt Ensor.
Matt Ensor.

"When artificial intelligence is applied to solving a problem, is when it's most powerful.

Smart artificial intelligence can transform the way we plan and deliver transport networks and urban developments, and it provides massive cost reductions and faster actions," he says.