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PCL and Microsoft aim to give buildings a brain

Warren Frey
PCL and Microsoft aim to give buildings a brain

A leader in the construction space and the world’s biggest software company are looking to give buildings a brain.
PCL Construction and Microsoft have announced a new partnership to leverage data from construction through the life cycle of a building.

“There’s a greater level of demand for smart buildings,” said PCL chief information officer Mark Bryant. “We partnered with Microsoft to help enhance what we can do.”

To gather data both during construction and once the building is up and running, PCL will make use of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services including Azure IoT (Internet of Things) and advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.
PCL is an early adopter in the smart buildings space, Bryant said, and using Azure gives them a “software platform for the building itself.”

“Owners want to drive down the costs of operating buildings, period. They can do that through heating, cooling, occupancy, all through smart use of data,” explained PCL advanced technology services manager Chris Palmer.

Cases made for the technology include increasing construction safety and efficiency by tracking workers, inventory and environmental conditions; improving system efficiencies throughout buildings and in doing so gaining a greater control of disparate systems within the structures; and increasing occupant satisfaction and productivity.

Implementing smart building technology will give owners a level of control that isn’t currently possible, Palmer said.

“If a conference room on the eighth floor is only being used two hours a day, you could reduce or shut off ventilation, heating and cooling. It’s about building efficiency,” Palmer said.

While PCL has not yet implemented Microsoft’s technology into a current project, the company plans to do so soon, Bryant added.

“In the months down the road we’ll be offering it and building owners will probably solicit our services for it on a project or two, which are to be announced,” he said.

The move towards IoT and smart building technology, Bryant said, is another rising industry trend.

“There’s been a gradual shift in the last couple of years, as well as more use of IoT,” Bryant said.

He equated the gradual rise of smart buildings as analogous to cloud computing’s growth in the early part of the decade. At first, cloud computing was viewed by the construction industry with skepticism, he said, but gradually it became a standard tool for document management and other aspects of the job. Smart buildings, he said, are just at the beginning of that growth curve.

“We’re at the first inning or two of making buildings smarter,” Bryant said.

PCL previously worked with Microsoft in 2014, when the company began using the Azure platform to back up and secure decades worth of project data.

In 2016, the two companies agreed to a long-term cloud partnership, with PCL using Microsoft’s tools to deliver web and mobile solutions to workers on jobsites.

Using Microsoft data centres located in Canada also ensured PCL could leverage those tools for work on public sector projects, which often operate under strict data management rules.

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