July 2013

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Post Realcomm/IBCon 2013 Industry Update

The event is encouraging with regard to commercial real estate’s acceptance of Smart, Connected Buildings as a key determinant of property value and operational excellence.

Jack Mc Gowan
Jack Mc Gowan, CEM
Energy Control Inc.

Contributing Editor

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Questions arose in my mind as I made way down the Jetway into the balmy, triple digit, early summer Florida climate, to attend Realcomm and IBCon.  However the next two days confirmed that I made a good decision to attend the event.  One of the most impressive things about this event continues to be the quality of attendees, and this year did not disappoint.  The stories about Microsoft’s Redmond Operations Center in WA, MGM and leading edge mall developers like CBL Properties were well worth hearing.  For one, take a look at the Microsoft 88 Acre story: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/stories/88acres/88-acres-how-microsoft-quietly-built-the-city-of-the-future-chapter-1.aspx

Being completely honest, I am a bit of a technology junkie and the show certainly did not disappoint in that regard.  In spite of the vast array of tech on display, the mantra was to show results not “shiny objects”.  It was my honor to act as an Advisor to Jim Young and Howard Berger this year, and that was their goal in putting together the sessions. This improved the content because it emphasized results, and stories like Microsoft with ~$6 million a year in measureable savings and CBL's story from Francisco Rojas with 18% or $2.5 million in energy savings over 17 malls were compelling.

The takeaways from this event could be summarized under headings: 1) Smart, Connected Buildings are driving real economic value, 2) Big Building Data for energy and operations is one of the hottest topics this year and 3) Energy is a central theme in this building discussion.

Regarding economic value, the two stories above are great examples of the first headings and there were many more presented, in fact the second day general session highlighted 30 such stories to drive the point home. 

Big Building Data may not be a buzzword yet but a great deal of discussion took place around how Smart Connected Buildings produce a tremendous amount of data that can be used to improve operations. Whether that data is focused on energy, as discussed below, or operations, the challenge continues to be turning information into intelligence.  There were a number of examples of products designed to support that effort, and some that had even been developed by building owners themselves.  In many respects this is the new frontier, see my article from Buildings Magazine from a few months ago: http://www.buildings.com/article-details/articleid/15358/title/what-s-all-the-hype-about-big-data-and-energy-analytics.aspx\

The challenge for many in the buildings industry will be to make sense of the dizzying array of options available, and how to drive the greatest value from the opportunity being presented. One of the best attended sessions targeted this content area and was called EMS Strategies - Getting Beyond Dashboard Hell.  It was moderated by Anno Scholten of Connexx Energy and the author had a chance to sit on the panel.  Interaction from the audience highlighted the importance of this topic and the challenges managers as facing in making informed decisions about technology.  At the same time however, many attendees also pointed to positive results from this technology, and excitement about the potential that this technology presents to building owners.

The third heading is Energy and it was central in many of the discussion. Jim Young believes that energy is a critical topic, but only one of many drivers for Smart Connected Buildings. Many of the stories touted at Realcomm and IBCon highlighted the number of connected points in buildings and how that intelligence and access to data was driving huge benefits across the enterprise. Those benefits included quality environments that help retain tenants, improve productivity and increase asset value of properties.  Yet, I am an energy guy, and I tend to see that there are primary benefits and secondary benefits. In the end, it really does not matter whether energy, or other benefits, drives a project or other benefits, the net result is that owner's get much better buildings.  One reason for an energy focus, is that it is easier to monetize value created by projects. Without question though, the added benefits in operations, building comfort, tenant retention, enterprise optimization and from a host of other benefits have monetary value as well. Ultimately the combined benefit from all of these factors makes the building better and maybe worth more money. Given the continuing national trend for cities like Boston, Austin, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. to require performance benchmarking on buildings, technology will become even more essential.  The solutions being offered on the show floor ranged from automation and visualization tools to many different forms of analytics for energy and building performance.  In fact, Tom Shircliff and Rob Murchison did a great job of bringing some order to that array of offerings in their Boot Camp.  Read their interview for more information.

All the technology aside, the event is encouraging with regard to commercial real estate’s acceptance of Smart, Connected Buildings as a key determinant of property value and operational excellence.  That is just another way of saying that automated building technology should see some positive growth in that vertical market.

About the Author

Jack McGowan, CEM, is president of Energy Control Inc. (ECI), an OpTerra Energy Company, and chairman emeritus of the DOE’s GridWise Architecture Council. He has published five books and authored hundreds of articles, and was admitted to the AEE’s International Energy Managers Hall of Fame in 2003.  He is also a Contributing Editor to www.automatedbuildings.com


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