By Marta Soncodi, Telecommunications Industry Association and Thomas Blewitt, UL

In the past, most smart or intelligent buildings were designed and built primarily for sustainability, energy efficiency and health, acquiring recognition via programs that focused primarily on criteria like use of renewable energy and green construction materials; amount of greenspace, waste reduction and recycling efforts; and optimization of air quality, thermal comfort and natural daylight. While these criteria remain integral components of a smart building, the evolution of technology and digital transformation have significantly changed what now defines a smart building and how to effectively assess them.

It Takes a Holistic Approach

In today’s smart buildings, Information Communications and Technology (ICT) plays a leading role as emerging 5G, low-latency networking, sensor technologies and IoT applications like data analytics and machine learning all come together to make buildings smarter than ever.  Interoperable building systems and their devices are converging over network infrastructures and communicating with each other via open protocols to enable advanced building automation for increased efficiency, optimized operations and enhanced occupant productivity, safety, security and wellbeing.

In the digital era, smart buildings now have the opportunity to be designed and utilized for benefits not previously realized.  And in light of increasing global security threats and health concerns such as the COVID-19 pandemic, building intelligence is becoming even more critical and required by building owners, tenants and occupants alike.  With this increased demand, the value of smart buildings and ensuing business opportunity reaches across multiple company types and industries—including the entire ICT industry.

However, to truly succeed and create brand differentiation in the booming smart building market via technology that delivers increased efficiency, optimized operations and enhanced building occupant experience, those involved in the investment, planning, design and operation of smart buildings need insights, benchmarks and roadmaps based on accurate, comprehensive and quantitative data that considers the entirety of the building. Acquiring this data can only be done through holistic assessment criteria that focuses on all aspects of what constitutes a smart building in today’s digital world. But what exactly is that criteria and how is it measured?

Through the input of more than 60 leading commercial real estate, asset management, technology and ICT industry leaders, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) in conjunction with UL, the leading global safety science company, has defined the following six criteria that form the basis of the SPIRE™ Smart Building Program for assessing and rating smart buildings:

  • Connectivity
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Life and property safety
  • Power and energy
  • Cybersecurity
  • Sustainability

It’s important to note that not one of these criteria alone make a building smart, but they work together in harmony to provide a complete, balanced assessment methodology that considers the modern-day challenges that come with the increasingly digital world we live in today.  To put it into context, consider that while the use of sensors to monitor potable water usage certainly contributes to sustainability, it is also critical to monitoring the quality of the water for health and wellbeing of building occupants.  This in turn requires reliable connectivity to transmit and share the information from monitoring systems, while enabling integration with other systems that can use that information to optimize power and energy usage. This all creates the need for cybersecurity measures to protect the critical information as it transmits between systems, while the potable water system itself must be protected to ensure both life and property safety. Only when all six criteria are considered together, as part of a holistic transparent, measurable and objective methodology, can today’s smart buildings truly be assessed.

How Criteria is Measured

Let’s take a closer look at how each of the six criteria are measured to acquire the quantitative data needed to provide a comprehensive, reliable and transparent framework that can be used by any organization globally to assess smart buildings and achieve consistent results.


Now dubbed the fourth utility, connectivity has become the most essential utility of a smart building, as crucial as water/sewer, electricity and gas utilities. Without connectivity, it is virtually impossible to optimize all other aspects of a smart building. Comprised of equipment and devices that are linked within a building and to external networks, connectivity enables building systems and applications to transmit, receive and share data. In assessing the capability of a smart building to effectively transmit data between internal systems and with external cloud and service provider networks, while also supporting future smart building technologies and innovations, assessing connectivity is measured based on the following factors:

Media—The type of media deployed withing a smart building is evaluated based on its ability to support current and future bandwidth capabilities, low latency, low-voltage power delivery and wireless coverage. This is determined by looking at the performance and standards compliance of cabling, public and private cellular technology and wireless applications.

Coverage—A smart building infrastructure should provide adequate and ubiquitous coverage by connecting devices and sensors for a range of systems (e.g., voice, data, security, wireless, lighting, building management, etc.) throughout the entire building and its surrounding property. Coverage is measured based on the number of wired data ports, percentage and type of Wi-Fi and cellular coverage, heat mapping and the number of carriers providing cellular coverage and support of e911 service.

Security—A critical aspect of a smart building is its ability to ensure the security of occupants and maintain physical security of the network and its infrastructure. This is determined based on the security of network spaces, devices and points of cable entry/egress, segregation of specific system traffic, client or asset tracking, e911 compliance and backup of security systems and information.

Expansion—Ensuring that connectivity will support ongoing changes to building systems and future expansion can be measured by the capacity and growth potential of pathways, power systems, bandwidth, and cellular and wireless coverage.

Resilience—Smart building connectivity should enable the network to adapt, recover and maintain critical operations in the case of an event. The resilience of connectivity can be measured by the redundancy of power and cabling, maintenance and troubleshooting processes, network interoperability, risk assessment capabilities, disaster recovery, and real-time monitoring, management and preventative maintenance of critical systems.

Health and Wellbeing

With emerging digital health and wellbeing tools, combined with recent COVID-19 concerns and intense competition for engaged and satisfied building occupants, smart buildings today need collaborative, comfortable spaces and indoor environmental quality. Measuring the health and wellbeing of a smart building is based on the following factors:

Indoor Air Quality—Maintaining indoor air quality is based on the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on levels of volatile organic compounds, ozone, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Thermal Management—Maintaining comfortable air temperature and humidity levels is key to occupant wellbeing and can be assessed by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on temperature and humidity, as well as the ability of occupants to control conditions for desired comfort settings.

Visual Comfort/Light and Noise Control—Visual and sound comfort in a smart building can be determined by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on lighting, acoustics and vibration, as well as the ability of occupants to actively control lighting conditions and the use of technologies like automatic shading.

Water Management—Clean drinking water is an expectation within any building and measuring the ability to maintain and manage water quality is based on the ability to automatically monitor, control and treat water based on turbidity, chlorine, alkalinity, pH and conductivity.

Odor Management—Offending odors can have a significant impact on smart building occupant satisfaction and visitor experiences and odor management can be measured by the ability of building systems to automatically monitor, analyze, control and report on odors.

Life and Property Safety

Safety of building occupants is the top priority for building owners and operators, and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, safety of occupants is more paramount than ever from both a human wellbeing and operational standpoint.  Measuring the ability of a smart building to optimize life and property safety beyond required regulations and codes is achieved by reviewing the following factors:

Building Emergency Plan—Emergency plans can have an impact on the ability to optimize life safety and property protection and are measured based on documented evidence of efficacy and accountability, integration of safety systems identified in the plan (e.g., fire protection, egress lighting, ventilation, mass notification, access control), and the ability of safety systems to provide asset location for authorized persons.

Integrated System Performance—The performance level of integrated safety systems is measured based on the connection of safety to non-safety systems and risk assessment of those connections, response procedures for when an issue has been detected, and the ability to track and document against established parameters.

Situational Awareness—Smart buildings that provide information about as-is conditions can significantly improve safety and protection of occupants during emergency situations and can be measured by the ability of building systems to optimize crowd movement during emergencies, automatically monitor and control systems to prevent/mitigate spread of infectious disease and enable occupants to place emergency calls that provide dispatchable location

Emergency Communication System—While emergency communication systems are required by various building codes such as NFPA 72 and the International Fire Code, the effectiveness of emergency communication systems can be further measured via the existence of additional technologies and practices that enable enhanced public safety, such as RF site surveys to determine signal levels and coverage for public safety frequencies and in-building mobile service.

Power and Energy

Energy remains one of the largest components of a building’s operating budget, and green energy options and intelligent energy management systems provide insight into power and energy usage to help reduce consumption, supply and cost. The ability of a smart building to monitor and manage its power and energy use, and respond to the electric utility grid, can be measured via the following factors:

Energy Use Management and Analysis—Meeting energy efficiency and cost reduction goals is measured by the ability of building energy systems to track and manage energy consumption from connection points like outlets and third-party loads, autocorrect self-detected faults and automatically verify effectiveness of energy efficient measures against a predicted, modelled or established performance range.

Demand Response and Grid Interoperability—Reducing operating costs and responding to real-time price, grid requests and financial incentives from local utilities and municipalities can lower overall local electricity rates and reduce the chance of grid instability, which can be measured by reviewing peak load management protocols, demand response capabilities and integrated building-to-grid power management.

Distributed Energy Resources—Measuring the distributed energy resources of a smart building is based on the use of small-scale on-site energy generation like solar, wind, geothermal or biomass generators, as well as use of intelligent management systems that manage energy production and balance load, and the ability to automate energy storage for intelligent grid use and resiliency.


Technology advancement is accelerating and with it cyberattacks and back-door mechanisms are emerging that threaten to disrupt critical smart building infrastructure. The ability of a smart building to manage cybersecurity risk, benchmark capabilities and set goals for improvement can be measured by ensuring adherence to the following National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) guidelines and best practices:

Identify—The ability to identify assets and cybersecurity risks is based on management plans that include collaboration between the IT and OT networks, use of third-party risk assessments for suppliers and vendors, and privacy policies that cover how personal data is gathered, used, disclosed, shared and managed.

Protect—The ability to regularly protect assets and ensure the integrity of data and the network is based on remote asset access and specific techniques such as segregation, firewalls, encryption, cryptographic algorithms, antivirus software and intrusion detection, as well as secure development lifecycle (SDLC) testing for internally-developed applications and response, recovery and vulnerability management plans.

Detect—Ensuring the detection of cybersecurity events and incidents is based on the ability of building systems to consistently and continuously monitor and analyze events and malicious software across multiple sources, sensors and devices, as well as send alarms and alerts based on anomalous activity.

Respond—When a cybersecurity event has been detected, the ability of a smart building to respond to and prevent future events is based on policies and procedures for ensuring continuous review and update of response and risk analysis plans and processes to receive, analyze and respond to incidents and vulnerabilities, including those disclosed from internal and external sources.

Recover—The ability of a smart building to effectively recover from a cybersecurity attack or event is based on having procedures in place to update or develop new processes and recovery plans based on the event, ensure proper public relations and external communications, and incorporate lessons learned.


Sustainable building criteria encompass many areas that relate to the smart building concept, including water, energy, and waste tracking; indoor air quality; lighting and acoustic qualities; and more. In the interest of not duplicating sustainability-focused criteria covered under previous sections or existing smart building sustainability programs in the marketplace, sustainability is measured by reviewing existing recognized building sustainability certifications such as:

  • LEED – U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
  • BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method
  • Green Globes – Used primarily in Canada and the U.S.
  • Living Building Challenge – International program created by the International Living Future Institute
  • WELL Building Standard – Administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)
  • Fitwel – Operated by the Center for Active Design (CfAD)
  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) 360 Performance Program

Other nationally and globally recognized rating systems, such as Singapore BCA Green Mark, Australian Green Star, German Sustainable Building Council’s DGNB, France’s Haute Qualité Environnementale (HQE) and China Academy of Building Research (CABR)

  • Codes such as ASHRAE 189.1, International Green Construction Code and CALGreen

Sustainability is also measured via the use of additional smart sustainability technologies and practices that actively track, monitor and control the use of natural resources, waste, materials, recycling initiatives and other factors related to sustainability.  The technologies and practices include automated monitoring and control of potable water and irrigation systems, waste management systems, digital dashboards for tracking and reporting on sustainability initiatives, building information modeling (BIM) or Digital Twin for building design and/or operation, and electronic recyclers that track and share data.

Some Critical Success Factors

Ensuring a comprehensive, reliable and transparent framework that can be used to objectively and wholly assess a smart building and make the right decisions surrounding investment, planning, design and operation all comes down to having a benchmark, and a good benchmark is always one that is based on criteria measured via hard, quantifiable data.  The holistic assessment criteria explained herein is specifically designed to acquire that data.

Equally important to a successful smart building assessment program is the ability to collect data from numerous sources and types of organizations and analyze it over time so that the criteria can be reasonably adjusted as necessary to remain valuable and relevant as technology evolves.  Similar to how the ICT industry continually reviews and updates standards and best practices to respond to changes in technology, regulations and other fluctuating factors, the data collected via the smart building assessment criteria will be reviewed and analyzed to periodically update and refine the criteria as necessary, or to develop new criteria needed to effectively measure smart building performance in the future.

It’s important to note that for smart buildings to effectively meet the criteria and gain a high rate of performance, the infrastructure and systems that enable smart building technologies must also be properly designed, deployed and tested in accordance with all applicable industry standards.  To that end, these criteria go hand in hand with existing guidelines, best practices and safety guidelines for each of the various systems, such as existing TIA and UL standards and those outlined by professional and  industry organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), BICSI, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association (AVIXA), Security Industry Association (SIA), National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and others.

To achieve success and industry adoption, assessment programs also need to be easily accessible and provide significant value to participating organizations.  The smart building criteria developed by TIA and UL in conjunction with leading experts is already available for use by organizations to collect data and conduct self-assessments of their smart buildings. The outcome of these self-assessments can be used by these organizations as a roadmap for future improvements to help increase value.  The criteria also forms the basis for in-depth audits by qualified, accredited auditors to perform verified assessment and rate the performance of a smart building, as well as provide detailed reports with insight on opportunities for improvement.  Earning a verified mark allows any organization to objectively promote their commitment to smart building technologies and the performance of their smart building, while differentiating themselves and opening up revenue opportunities by attracting and retaining employees and providing an overall better customer experience.

Opportunity for the ICT Industry and Beyond

The investment, planning, design and construction of smart buildings involves a highly complex ecosystem of stakeholders and having the ability to effectively assess and rate a smart building in this digital era provides significant benefits and business opportunities that span multiple company types and industries.

With a survey by Johnson Controls indicating that more than 50% of building owners and tenants are willing to pay more for a smart building, and Morgan Stanley claiming an estimated 10% increase in equity value for occupant-optimized facilities, REITs, developers and building owners clearly stand to benefit from increased property values and the ability to differentiate their properties.  Utilities and energy management solution providers also benefit as they can leverage criteria to drive solutions like distributed energy resources, energy management systems and demand response participation.  Even finance and insurance providers benefit as they can leverage assessment data surrounding life and property safety, health and wellbeing and cybersecurity to develop programs and pricing for building owners and operators.

With connectivity as the most essential utility of a smart building and necessary to optimize all other aspects of a smart building, the ICT industry as whole reaps significant business opportunity from an effective smart building assessment program that considers the importance of connectivity as it relates to the entirety of the building.  These benefits cross the entire spectrum of the ICT industry—from designers, installers and consultants, to manufacturers, service providers and integrators

  • IoT and building system architects designers, installers and consultants can leverage assessment criteria to ensure smart building performance for their customers, collaborate with other stakeholders (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, lighting, security, audiovisual, etc.) and position themselves as experts and trusted advisors in the smart building design, specification and build process.
  • Manufacturers of cabling, connectivity, equipment and devices can leverage assessment criteria to demonstrate their expertise and enhance their industry stature by driving best practices for the deployment of standards-based high-performance infrastructure and helping customers make informed decisions surrounding equipment, devices and solutions that enable low-latency data transmission, wireless coverage, physical security, cybersecurity, and power and environmental monitoring and control.
  • Managed service providers and cloud solution providers can leverage smart building data and assessment criteria to develop and deliver innovative platforms, software and services that optimize building intelligence and manage, monitor, control and safeguard devices, systems and information.
  • Service providers and integrators can leverage the assessment criteria to provide recommendations for the deployment of critical communications infrastructure and cellular technologies that support smart buildings and enable digital transformation, ultimately establishing the foundation for smart cities and a myriad of emerging applications.

There is no doubt that in today’s digital world, the smart building industry needs to revisit how it assesses and rates smart building performance by taking a more holistic approach that considers the entirety of the building with a keen focus on connectivity as a critical element and criteria based on transparent, quantitative data. Only with this comprehensive, consistent and measurable framework can stakeholders effectively define investment strategies, planning tactics, design principles and operational procedures that lead to increased efficiency, lower operating expense and enhanced occupant productivity, safety, security and wellbeing. When smart buildings can be designed and constructed in this way, they become the building blocks of smart cities that will enable society’s digital transformation, achieve sustainability and improve overall quality of life.

Marta Soncodi is Smart Buildings Program Director with the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Thomas Blewitt is Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at UL.