August 2019

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Crafting a New Tenant Experience

How One System Integrator is Redefining Integration


Scott Hamilton,
 Executive Vice President of Sales,
Distech Controls

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When we think about smart buildings, we often see the most visible parts first – the welcoming lobby, office suite and rooms. It’s hard to miss the lighting illuminating the walls and the audio-visual controls used for presentations. However, behind the scenes, there is a lot going on.  Many systems need to seamlessly integrate (unify) in order to make a smart building connected.  It goes beyond embracing technology to actually utilizing technology, in a sense helping the building meet its core goals such as energy efficiency, facilities management and occupant experience.

photo788Washington D.C.’s District Center is the prime example of the building owner (MetLife Investment Managements), the property manager  and technical consultants (JLL), the agent that sourced the lighting and controls from Acuity Brands (Federated Lighting) and the system integrator (SmartBT) all working together to accomplish these goals and enable a future-ready building. Now that the upgraded District Center has been operational for a few months, we checked in with SmartBT, the project’s system integrator to hear from them first-hand about the District Center project and what is next for connected buildings.

Crafting a New Tenant Experience Begins with a Rolling Start
According to SmartBT, the project initially began as a simple building automation system upgrade to control airflow through the use of variable air volume (VAV) controllers, but once innovative ideas for the tenant experience through digital technologies and applications were brought to the table, the project evolved. “What began as a retrofit optimizing energy efficiency and operational expenses became secondary to the project’s newer goals – enhancing the occupant experience,” said Paul Meng, Co-Principal with SmartBT.

Connected building solutions were added to the project that enabled new occupant focused feature sets. “As the project progressed, we moved from a simple connection or integration of systems to actually unifying those systems into one user interface,” said Journey Williams, VP of Smart BT. SmartBT through use of IP technology, Distech Controls ECLYPSE series controllers, the Eclypse Sky Ecosystem, and Acuity Brands nLight Lighting Controls seamlessly deployed a scalable unified HVAC and lighting control solution.   This solution enables features such as custom mobile app interfaces, single pane of glass graphical user interface, single pane of glass LCD display room interfaces, advanced room scheduling, indoor positioning and navigation. “They [District Center] are one of the highest buildings in terms of energy savings today, but the real value is what that single integration point (unification) can yield in tenant services.” JLL's Smart Building Team had worked wih Metlife Investment Management to create a vision for the building that used a connected technology platform to increase value to the tenant in additiion to driving new operational efficiencies. JLL enlisted SmartBT to guide them towards the applications and solutions that would work for their specification and use case based design.

Biggest Challenges & Wins During the District Center Integration Project
With a reported 30% of building management companies claiming to have already deployed a connected building and another 60% considering it, these projects have many challenges along with opportunities for success (Challenges of Implementing Connected Building Projects, An IDC Infographic, Sponsored by Acuity Brands).

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SmartBT said their biggest challenge with the District Center was that the specifications kept evolving as the lights needed for the project kept evolving. This meant that much of coordination and the various components were being adjusted to meet the building requirements as they were specified. SmartBT credits the technical team from Distech Controls and Acuity Brands for being available to answer questions about the controls and lights that arose as the deployment was occurring. Additionally, SmartBT’s technical team worked with the engineers from Acuity Brands and Distech Controls to work out the details in order to truly unify the building systems. Sometimes there were requests by the client, and all the engineers came together to “figure it out.” It was a proof of concept (POC) made a reality.

IDC Research on smart building challenges indicates that the top challenge for decision-makers when purchasing connected building solutions is their ability to evaluate the technology in an operational scenario (at 44%). As a professional integrator, SmartBT has worked with many of its customers who are challenged with forecasting the future of their leasing space by helping them understand how technologies will work in their commercial buildings.

Meng says of the District Center project, “We are just now experiencing our biggest wins.” The result was hearing about the customer’s happiness with the project. SmartBT was able to deliver amidst changes to the project’s scope because of how the companies involved were able to work together, at times finding and developing solutions. Now, with the initial challenges behind them and the success of the District Center, SmartBT is confident this type of project could go national to support an enterprise of businesses, offering the same benefits from this connected building from a commercial office on a larger scale. And, what’s nice is that the unification worked out the “kinks.” It’s a repeatable process.

Photo 3143Building Trust in the Process

For SmartBT, building a direct relationship with the owners while also maintaining their relationship with the specifiers and agents ensured the proper materials were delivered based on the changing requirements. On both sides, trust was built organically, but it took time to demonstrate that they would be capable of keeping everyone’s interest and objectives for the project in mind. The goal was to create a unified experience. SmartBT credits are having a true partner in Federated Lighting that was adaptable and could manage the project across the finish line. Also, having an onsite SME well-versed in the project and end goals was beneficial. Onsite meant that technical specifications had a chance to become cleared up quickly. This allowed the project to go beyond the status quo.

What is in Store for the Future of Connected Buildings?
As a system integrator, SmartBT has confirmed the ambiguity of terms for connected. What one company defines as a connected building can differ greatly from how another company may define it. Commercial buildings outside of big-box retailers are the first industry-leading up the curve towards connecting and integrating their buildings. And, building systems and technology are changing to the point that the platform opens doors for building owners to consider more possibilities in their spaces. That’s where the change happens in the conversation. “With the unification of building systems, we can have a conversation that opens up the door as the building solution group that can provide solutions as a group. It is all the things you would expect so that a tenant can experience this,” said Meng.

Energy rebates continue to provide value, but SmartBT suggests that commercial building owners and property managers are looking for insights and differentiators in connected building solutions. That’s what keeps the building space occupied. Today’s commercial buildings are interested in creating a premium occupant experience in retrofit and modernization projects, so they can command the most competitive rental prices per square foot and get the most out of space utilization.

The Distech Controls “Unified Project of the Year” award was presented to District Center in Washington D.C. on Friday, June 28, 2019. To learn more about the project and hear about this “fully functional smart building,” listen to the ControlTalk NOW podcast episode.

About the Author

Scott Hamilton is the Executive Vice President of Sales for Distech Controls. With more than 20 years of industry experience, Scott is responsible for sales channels across the Americas, Australia and Asia, as well as the organization’s OEM channel and Distech Controls Energy Services.


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