August 2015

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Roadmap of the Possible Challenge

Connected buildings are becoming and will continue to become a reflection on today’s information technology (IT) and today’s societal trends which include mobility, social media, big data and personalization.

Tom ShircliffRob Murchison

Tom Shircliff,
Rob Murchison,
IntelligentBuildings® LLC

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We are grateful that Ken has kicked off the discussion of “Roadmap of the Possible” and is inviting industry stakeholders to contribute to the dialogue. We all owe it to the building owner, management and occupant community to keep an eye on the near future to encourage the most prudent and forward looking decision making. So, many decisions in real estate have long term impact, so we want them to best position for ultimate flexibility and scalability. 

Connected buildings are becoming and will continue to become a reflection on today’s information technology (IT) and today’s societal trends which include mobility, social media, big data and personalization. Today’s IT has been inserted into our buildings through networked controls systems, sophisticated sensors and big data analytics. The aforementioned societal trends are just beginning to show up in a handful of buildings. We have seen more integration of personal preferences on temperature and lighting and even voting by occupants on settings, as well as more sensors of all types, various apps for better experience and increasing emphasis on smartphone/mobility. Social media is still on the periphery but the pieces are starting to fall in place technologically and at the least a building or workplace experience can be quickly shared on various apps. 

Notwithstanding these trends, the connected buildings mentality has still not permeated a critical mass of the traditional real estate design, construction, management and contractor community and is largely driven by consultants and specialist. The short story is that this traditional community has not been deep in IT and nearly all of these trends and opportunities are driven by IT. Decades of inertia are hard to change but they are starting to talk to the talk even though the narrative is ahead of the reality for most of these vendors. 

As a result the marketplace for smart building technology has flipped from a bottoms up to a top down process. Historically, an architect or consulting engineer would hear from solutions provides what the latest offerings are, incorporate it into their design and push it up to owners as recommendations. However, with issues such as energy, operating costs, sustainability and occupant experience all having more influence on strategic goals there has been intensified interest and proactivity from the “C” suite. It is much more commonplace than in previous years that the customer is driving a new set of requirements down to the A&E service providers and the customer is also being proactive with enterprise-wide software solutions including various analytics such as Fault Detection and Diagnostics. 

This top down environment has also fostered greater internal organizational alignment within real estate organizations between IT, facilities, operations and even HR and other groups. It truly is beginning to change the way they do business. 

This shift to a top down marketplace is helping drive the industry roadmap; but there are other key topics to note. They may not all be new concepts but there are several emerging areas of importance that will be part of the roadmap including: Interoperability, big data, cyber security, utility integration, occupant engagement. 

  1. Interoperability: Interoperability between monitor and control systems is critical for today’s growing expectations of use cases and tomorrow’s certain enhanced expectations. With more interoperable functionality we will continue to blur the lines between base building vs. tenant costs and responsibilities. This begins to disrupt current business models and norms including the level and type of tenant improvement allowance, the management and service level agreements for maintaining or programming systems, who owns data from the systems, which controls are shared vs. isolated etc.?
  1. Big Data: We have all heard about big data and analytics but we are in the earliest stages of the “new normal” and we can expect this to permeate controls systems, with analytics at the edge, in the controllers, on localized servers and in the cloud. We see the leaders, and  eventually all owner/managers going to a neutral database architecture that parses out the data to various and rotating analytics vendors and also building, portfolios and communities being truly data driven in their automated and manual and decision making.
  1. Cyber SecurityCyber Security: With today’s networked controls systems and more remote access and data analytics cyber security will become a pillar topic in real estate much like it has in the general IT marketplace. While more connectivity and data flow emphasize the need for cyber security, nobody should be mislead that these advancements are the reason for needing cyber security. For decades our controls systems such as HVAC, lighting, elevator and others have been built on local area networks (LAN) that almost always offer remote access. There are millions of these servers exposed now and action should be immediate to secure them.
  1. Utility: It is hoped and anticipated that we get more integrated utilities that adapt with new business models incorporating distributed generation including renewables, custom incentives and automated demand response that become more commonplace even in office environments. This will take a commitment by utilities to invest in real estate expertise and have the patience to listen and stick with the plan. The pricing and business model changes will also have to be balanced with differences in residential and commercial environments and offer a fair approach that considers low income and less sophisticated customer’s rates.
  1. [an error occurred while processing this directive]Occupant Engagement: We foresee much more connectivity, awareness and involvement from occupants. This will impact experience such as comfort and productivity but also sustainability and even real estate leasing/business models as well as being a foundation for smart communities. There are some notable scale programs that are proving out the high impact of properly executed behavior campaigns underpinned by technology, strategy and behavioral science including Envision Charlotte on the East coast  and Step up and Power Down on the West coast.

The roadmap is ultimately a path of fundamental changes in the way the real estate industry works. The issues reference herein impact job types and titles, infrastructure, cost structures, contractual arrangements, risk shifting and role changes, which all cut to the core of real estate organizations. Thus, it’s a good thing that we have seen “top down” activity from building owners since its the owners and managers that will speed up or slow down progress on the roadmap.

About the Authors

Tom Shircliff and Rob Murchison are co-founders and principles of IntelligentBuildings® LLC, a Smart Real Estate professional services company that provides planning and implementation management of next generation strategy for new building projects, existing portfolio optimization and smart community development.


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