Smart buildings and infrastructure data must be designed to protect personal data

11th August 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Smart buildings can yield considerable value when it comes to monitoring occupancy rates and supporting a safe and healthy environment, but it must be remembered that digitally engineered buildings generate a substantially large quantity of data, says construction sector information company Databuild CEO Morag Evans.

The collection of data can be extremely useful in gaining insights that help improve the overall safety and wellbeing of building occupants. However, gathering information on behavioural patterns includes personal data and this must be processed in a manner that does not infringe on building occupants’ rights, she cautions.

“It is imperative that smart buildings and [other] infrastructure are designed and built with data and personal information protection measures in mind to ensure this data does not fall into the wrong hands.”

Architects and building owners are turning to technology to deliver an enhanced user experience as occupants increasingly demand buildings that are not only intelligent and more energy efficient, but also hygienic and safe, especially in high-traffic commercial environments such as offices, hotels, shopping malls, airports and hospitals.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) came into effect on July 1 and aims to protect personal information and prevent it from being misused and abused.

“One of the best ways to mitigate the risk of non-compliance with PoPIA regulations is to minimise the volume of data that is collected,” Evans advises.

“Only collect what is necessary for immediate use. For example, temperature and lighting sensors can be used to change settings when persons enter and leave a room.

"Storing users’ individual preferences significantly increases the volume of data being collected as the system is required to ‘remember’ these preferences. Sensors that function on standard settings, however, are far less data dependent.”

PoPIA also requires that adequate control measures be put in place to safeguard the data being collected. Building owners and landlords are not only required to ensure the data is secure from a technical perspective, but also that, in the event of a data breach, the fallout can be dealt with effectively and speedily.

“The larger the amount of data collected, the harder this is to do,” Evans points out.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the way buildings are being designed, constructed and managed. It has redefined the way people relate to the buildings in which they work, live and meet, and technology and data are playing a pivotal role in the development of safe and efficient spaces.”

The management and protection of personal data are key considerations for smart building owners and landlords, she says.