It’s time for us to get smart about building in Singapore

Singapore's approach to urban development has always focused on the efficient use of space, with the government playing a pivotal role in shaping the landscape. This is particularly evident in the industrial sector, where the demands of multinational companies influence the design and functionality of buildings.

As these businesses evolve, so do the buildings they occupy, leading us to the era of smart buildings. In this context, the transition towards smart buildings represents a significant advancement, aligning with national goals for sustainability and innovation.

What is a smart building?

A smart building represents the human-centric intersection of technology and real estate, using digital systems to enhance efficiency, sustainability, and user experience. It is a building where management systems are connected together on one digital application that allows asset owners to monitor building performance, extending the structure’s lifetime, and improving tenants’ engagement with the building and each other.

The essence of a successful smart building lies in its predictive capabilities, powered by artificial intelligence. This does not just mean automation; it's about creating a seamless integration of all building operations, enabling remote and automated management.

Moreover, the advent of digital twins represents a significant leap forward, offering a virtual model that mirrors the physical building for improved planning and maintenance.

The benefits of going smart

The investment in smart building technology, although seemingly costly upfront, promises long-term rewards throughout the building's lifespan, possibly extending to 20–30 years. These include:

  • Proactive maintenance: Using data-driven decisions for maintenance schedules cuts costs and enhances efficiency
  • Sustainability at its core: Intelligent resource management significantly reduces environmental footprints
  • Enhanced user experience: Occupants enjoy faster services, improved air quality, and reduced operational costs

In Singapore, the move towards sustainable buildings is not just a trend but a transformation, encouraged by government incentives such as enhanced Gross Floor Area (GFA) allowances and favourable loan conditions. The Built Environment Transformation Gross Floor Area (BE Transformation GFA) initiative permits owners of sustainable buildings to get an extra 3% of the gross floor area permitted. However, this is limited to building construction on private lands that are less than 5000 square metres.

This commitment to sustainability is reshaping the landscape of real estate development, making smart buildings a cornerstone of the future.

Endless possibilities

The possibilities for smart buildings are expansive. We already have robotic assistance helping with building management elements such as exterior and interior cleaning, security, inspection, and maintenance – it won’t be long before artificial intelligence makes these ubiquitous. This will eliminate dangerous working environments for human workers (in the case of exterior cleaning, for example), as well as representing cost savings for facilities management companies

Centralised control systems are essential for this evolution, paving the way for an era where buildings not only manage themselves but also contribute data for future developments, akin to a "large population model" driven by AI.

These benefits and improvements are not science fiction; they're here now, redefining how Singapore's industrial spaces work. This paradigm shift in the industrial sector not only supports Singapore’s broader goals for sustainability and efficiency but also sets a benchmark for the global real estate industry.

Investing in the future

Transitioning to smart buildings involves overcoming several hurdles, including the initial financial outlay and the need for specialised skills. However, with supportive policies like the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and a focus on education and training, these barriers can be addressed. Emphasising data-driven management, these buildings can significantly enhance operational performance and sustainability.

The successful implementation of smart buildings relies on early planning, and coordination between all the stakeholders involved in the construction of a new building. If these parties can coordinate successfully, smart buildings will continue to provide return on investment for decades.

Embracing smart buildings is not just an investment in technology but a commitment to a future where buildings are responsive, efficient, and integral to the quality of urban life.

Humans reside, eat, play, and work in buildings, and the implementation of smart buildings with human-centred design is not just an investment in technology, but a commitment to a future where we live happily in cities for generations to come. In this future, buildings are responsive, efficient, and integral to the quality of urban life.

What developers need to do now

Many owners and developers are still in their infancy when it comes to smart buildings.

Adopting smart building technologies requires a shift in mindset from the outset of development. Developers and landlords need to keep up with the younger generation of tenants – the next generation is more tech savvy, and has expectations for how their lives can be run from their mobile devices.

Developers need to get on board, seeing the big picture of what smart buildings can do for everyone. Awareness of the benefits – from a redefined user experience to operational efficiency – need to be communicated to building managers, so that they can break out of old habits.

The successful implementation of smart buildings demands a collaborative effort. Owners, developers and landlords must set expectations, and architects, engineers, and builders must be prepared to meet them. All this, of course, must be underpinned by a clear vision and commitment to innovation.

It’s time to go smart or go home.

Khalil Shaiful

Deputy Director, Group Level at Boustead Projects Singapore