Interview: "Perfect places require perfect solutions"

Safety and security technology for buildings, including fire safety, continues to evolve rapidly. FeuerTrutz spoke with Michael Brotz, Head of Solution Safety Germany at Siemens Smart Infrastructure, about the direction of these developments and about the risks and opportunities.

Interview: Perfect places require perfect solutions
Michael Brotz (left) speaking with André Gesellchen at the Siemens booth at the FeuerTrutz trade fair in February 2019 (Source: FeuerTrutz Network)

Mr. Brotz, in buildings it doesn’t feel as if we’re surrounded by technology as much as we are in cars, airplanes and trains, but rather by static elements such as walls, windows, etc. Are appearances deceptive?

Definitely. Every day, we’re under enormous pressure to do our best at work. But that’s only possible if we feel comfortable. The indoor climate plays a crucial role. Technology running in the background ensures that the climate is just right. Another important aspect is safety and security: We enjoy spending time in a well protected building – almost as much as we do at home.

That’s where fire safety systems come in – and alarming, evacuation, extinguishing, access control, intrusion detection, video and management systems. In other words, technology for perfect places. 

We often hear about the growing convergence of the different types of technology used in buildings. How true is that from your perspective?

Very true. We recognized this trend years ago and have consistently tailored our solutions to reflect this development. Visitors can experience the convergence of disciplines live at our booth here at FeuerTrutz.

What are the benefits for building owners, operators and users?

Building owners, operators and users are the primary stakeholders in the lifecycle of a building. The benefits are different for each group. The process begins with the planning of the building.

A holistic approach gives the building owner peace of mind that all technical disciplines work together seamlessly. For the operator, it’s easy to get an overview of the health of the building at any time and to keep building performance optimized. This makes operating costs predictable.

For users, the building is simply a perfect place. They don’t need to think about the building environment and instead can fully focus on their core tasks.

However, if and when the number and complexity of technical systems increase substantially, will it still be possible to ensure smooth interoperability – not only at the time of commissioning but also after the tenth software update?

In order to guarantee that this is the case, it’s essential to develop a holistic technical concept right at the beginning of the planning phase. All disciplines must "talk" to each other as early on as possible. Retaining the classic separation of disciplines during planning and implementation makes it ever more difficult to maintain such a smooth interplay. The key to ensuring interoperability in the future is an approach to data-based planning, construction and operation called Building Information Modeling, or BIM for short. This also has a positive impact on commissioning individual disciplines. The way the disciplines mesh with each other is well thought out, and nothing is left to chance. As a result, the building’s digital twin – its performance twin – ensures that everything runs smoothly in the operations phase because changes can be planned in the twin before they are made in real life.

Do you see risks that come with connected buildings and the massive amount of data they generate? How susceptible to attacks are state-of-the-art buildings?

Where there are benefits, there are risks. The real problem isn’t that buildings are connected or that they produce a lot of data, it’s that the systems are susceptible to tampering. Just think of the explosive rise in cybercrime in recent years. An attack on the infrastructure of a building causes enormous damage.

This means that we need to go to great lengths to ensure the security of products, systems and, ultimately, internal processes. The "hardening" of products and systems is the job of the manufacturers.

Siemens and several other renowned industrial companies have established a Charter of Trust. We do everything we can to prevent outside attacks on technical installations. Needless to say this only works in collaboration with building operators and users. We need to continue to raise awareness because protecting against the far-reaching consequences of such attacks requires a united front. 

Safety and security are only one aspect associated with the increasing use of technology in buildings. Which user and operator needs and expectations need to be taken into account?

Digitalization, long established in the industrial sector, is making inroads in buildings. The expectation is clearly defined: Building operations must be efficient, safe and secure without requiring much effort. A major challenge, especially in fire safety, are the expectations of users and operators, which often run counter to standards and regulations. Why do I have to service my equipment all the time? Are inspections really necessary? Does this detector really need to be replaced? Maybe it still works. These are just a few examples of the kinds of questions that get asked. In addition, a growing number of users and operators simply don’t have the required technical knowledge at their disposal. That’s why we introduced our new Safety as a Service business model at FeuerTrutz 2019. This offering guarantees that during the contract term the customer’s fire detection system operates in compliance with all applicable standards – at fixed service rates and without any investments. This allows customers to focus on their core business – we take care of the rest. This service is one answer to the questions above.

For Siemens Smart Infrastructure, the buildings of the future are smart buildings. What does that mean in concrete terms?

"Smart buildings" means moving from rigid and passive building structures to a new understanding of building technology. We create a living space that responds intuitively to the needs of people and ultimately adapts to their changing requirements. Smart buildings interact with their users, systems and environment. They learn from previous experiences and adapt to people. The underlying basis is a smart infrastructure that allows the building to collect and analyze data and key performance indicators. We convert them into actionable insights for our customers using the smart infrastructure and digital services, thus helping them solve their specific business challenges – from energy savings to room and system optimization.

What can technical planners and installers for fire safety solutions in buildings do to prepare for these developments?

Perfect places require perfect solutions. In the age of digitalization, all of us would be well advised to support the digitalization of buildings from the very beginning. This requires thinking holistically, beyond the confines of one’s own discipline, and applying the newly available digital planning techniques. That’s the only way to ensure efficient workflows – from planning to execution and commissioning to optimized building operations.

About the interviewee
Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Michael Brotz has a degree in electrical engineering and has been with Siemens AG for 30 years. As Head of Solution Safety Germany at Siemens Smart Infrastructure, he is in charge of the company’s market activities in this segment and he establishes its strategic implementation in collaboration with the local subsidiaries.

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