What Makes a Smart Building Smart?

What makes a smart building smart?

By Brian K. Davis
Published: February 5, 2021

It’s good to be smart these days. Everything from TVs to watches, speakers, lights and more are getting the label. Even the buildings we spend time in – schools, offices, hospitals, airports – can be smart.

But what exactly makes a smart building … smart?

At the core, it’s all about technology that can automate functions, collect data and analyze it, all in the name of running a more efficient building. Taking it one step further, the Telecommunications Industry Association and UL recently launched SPIRE, an assessment and rating program that evaluates building intelligence based on six key criteria. Our very own Corning Optical Communications headquarters building in Charlotte, N.C., served as a pilot for SPIRE, and our building met or exceeded all the criteria for smart buildings.

Here is what the program measures:


A must for any building today, reliable connectivity is now considered the Fourth Utility, as crucial as electricity, water and gas. For a smart building running multiple applications, having the right network in place is essential. Traditional copper networks have their limitations, but fiber optic networks can deliver the bandwidth needed to support the data demands needed for new technology, like upgraded Wi-Fi or 5G cellular coverage.

Health and Wellbeing

As we look toward a post-COVID world, returning to work or school is looking very high tech. Sensors and other tools can monitor spaces for overcrowding, check temperatures upon building entry, monitor air quality and more. These emerging digital health tools are being added to smart building networks at a fast pace and will help ensure the safety of those inside.

Life and Property Safety

Keeping building occupants safe is a top priority for owners. From fire safety to emergency response, a clear plan is necessary. Smart technology can play an important role in monitoring system performance, detecting problems (like a fire) and deploying emergency communications when needed.

Power and Energy

When you think about things like HVAC, lighting and the many electronics that occupy a building, it’s easy to understand why energy is one of the biggest expenses and one that building owners want to minimize. Smart buildings monitor and analyze consumption so that efficiencies can be identified and wasteful energy spending eliminated. This data can help identify trends so that demand spikes can be managed, or maintenance can be scheduled during low-demand hours.


In assessing the sustainability of a building, SPIRE recognizes many programs and certifications dedicated to this effort. LEED, Fitwel and the WELL Building Standard are just a few of the programs that SPIRE looks at in order to evaluate a building’s sustainability efforts. These programs help ensure that your building is being responsible with natural resources, among other things.


Cyberattacks can be crippling and very disruptive to smart building infrastructure. Being able to identify threats and effectively respond is essential. SPIRE measures efforts around cybersecurity, looks at the protection mechanisms in place and recommends best practices going forward.

All of these criteria add up to a holistic view of the ideal smart building. Our own smart building in Charlotte employs these practices, and the result is a world-class working environment with seamless wireless connectivity, monitoring tools, IoT and safety systems. With a strong network as the foundation, smart buildings are equipped for today’s technology and are ready to tackle whatever high-bandwidth demands are on the horizon, without missing a beat.

Brian K. Davis is Global Market Development Director for In-Building Networks at Corning Optical Communications. He has more than 25 years of experience in telecommunications, focusing today on helping network operators prepare their inside plant for emerging services and applications. Brian is married and has 3 children, holds 4 US patents, and has 1 hole-in-one.

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