April 2020

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The Rising Remote Workforce

 - The exponential demand for Future-Ready Facilities.

Nicolas WaernNicolas Waern
"The Building Whisperer"

Contributing Editor

This is the way, away from hard-coded controllers and the need for decoupling of hardware and software due to the rising demands of Future-Ready Facilities.

-  Thanks a lot to James Dice and Brad White, providing much-needed inspiration for this article.

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The Trillion Dollar Opportunity in transforming existing buildings is a seminal article from Brad White, and it is instrumental in laying parts of the foundation for this article. It's also important to realize that this is a Hard-coded industry down to the very controllers, where innovation is challenging for the most part, and any modern approach seems to require some level of digital maturity in buildings.

The digital maturity question is impressive on its own, and I will expand more upon it if asked, and most likely write an article on this subject the next time. It might come down to two questions;

"Ask not what you can do for the building. Ask what the building can do for you".

I believe that Future-Ready Facilities is the way in realizing a truly open industry where the democratization of smart city innovation is the norm, and global hackathons for buildings will become a mainstream tool for portfolio-wide change. With the underlying reasoning that the future will demand more of buildings, especially if more people will work from home. Organizations need to continue to be smarter along with the structures they are both servicing and managing, or else they risk becoming obsolete in no-time.

Is this the future for a lot of the portfolios out there?

And maybe it's that hard, or that easy, to realize that the transition starts with hard-coded controllers?

Hard-coded controllers in a hard-coded industry

One of the major obstacles in realizing smart buildings in a fast, efficient way is the hard-coded controllers that are out there to various degrees. As I see it, there are two fundamental options to get them to behave the needed way for Future-Ready Facilities.

  1. Someone has to go directly inside them, to change something in the actual code. Not very difficult, but time-consuming, and it requires specialized skill-set and on-site visits.
  2. Entering "over the top," scanning the network, controlling the system from the top with "AI/ML" – algorithms (modern tools) to reverse engineer what the problem is.

I'm trying to get away from the first option to come up with something that looks more like the second option, utilizing modern tools. However, this might become difficult because the network is too old (Lon, BACnet MS/TP, RS-485 CAN, Profibus, etc.).

The "control strategy" should be close to the source to avoid chatting on the system, meaning that a more modern approach won't work due to the old network infrastructure in said building. 

The installation of some over-arching expensive AI/ML-powered tool at the top is kind of like buying super expensive Nike shoes for my grandmother, who is 103 years old. It might look fancy, but it's doubtful that it will do much for her lap-times. Also, weigh in the fact that the decision to install a completely new system won't happen because of a lack of ROI. And that's because the industry doesn't weigh in the entire 3/30/300 rule in the property so there will be no ROI = The building continues to be stupid and old.

3-30-300 rule

The reason could also be the fact that tenants cannot make demands that owners either do not have an interest in their tenants or they do not have a natural way to retrieve the cost based on actual ROI calculations.

Holistic thinking is the key

The conclusion comes down to two things.

 A-    Use modern technology; buildings need to increase their digital maturity, usually to the "IP level."
 B-    To get the money for any severe upgrade, we need to count on more than energy costs, factoring in the  maintenance costs, and even more importantly, the well-being/productivity increase metric.

There may be an interest in separating the OT Network with an IT network to avoid time delays and to not talk to the IT department. This reason goes back to the two main rules stated by James Dice in the already legendary Nexus Blog.

  1. Properties that are robustly useful and attractive to tenants (and stakeholders who work with the property), where the digital-twin mindset is the key.
  2. Properties that contribute to increased value, lower costs, increased revenues.

Challenges with rules number 1 and 2 are impressive, thinking about the benefits with the /30 and the /300 well-being stuff and how any investments correlate with an increase in that area.

And, if it's not something where the owner owns the properties, and have their workforce, how can they benefit from increasing well-being and productivity monetarily? (super important since this is the case for a lot of buildings).

It boils down to the ROI, where Phillip Kopp said something brilliant. If the ROI is six years for the energy play, it's six months for the maintenance side; it's six weeks weighing in the well-being productivity factors; even less if the "NOI-factor" (Net Operating Profit) enters into the account. The whole increase in the asset value, including less paperwork and hunting for information for the /30 side (maintenance) not only for the technical asset management side but also for the whole organization. Not even considering the need for new business models to take place, which needs a platform to stand on.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]A holistic measuring tool/framework would make the original project ROI come back in two weeks or less. A no-brainer? But what should be done?

FRF-ready at the IP-level with LOPI as the main driving force.


FRF= Future-Ready-Facility
IP-level = All infrastructure at the IP-level with open APIs and tagged data
LOPI = Loss Of Possible Income

Factoring in the 3/30/300/10 000 (I like to call it 10000) side of things (the future revenue streams based on new business models) based on having an FRF, Future-Ready-Facility (FRF assessment), means that every day the buildings are not at the FRF stage, owners don't have the possibility to make money based on data-driven decision making, utilizing data as the new tenant.

Let's repeat that. If the building is not modern enough, enabling access to all of the data in a couple of mouse-clicks, then it will be extremely difficult to stay relevant for the next decade.

The ROI should be tightly coupled with the LOPI (Loss of Income) based on the inexistence of a future-ready platform to build new business models and new revenue streams on. Every day, not having an FRF, will lead to a value decrease for buildings all things considering, or at least a status quo, because other buildings, will become exponentially better. In a couple of years real estate owners will try to sell their assets which would be akin to an old car running on petrol, without any technology in it, when all competitors are selling Teslas and electric vehicles.

Good luck finding buyers. Especially when people are working from home in a much higher capacity. Owners, as well as companies need facilities that stand out and cater to their tenants to a much higher degree than what we see today.

The workforce of tomorrow will expect more of what buildings can do for them. Therefore, it's up to us to understand what we need to do for the buildings today so that buildings and cities can pass the test of time, becoming robust, useful and attractive places for decades to come.

By doing that we can help create a society where we have;

I have spoken.

/Nicolas Waern
I'm probably still in Corona quarantine in Sweden, so please reach out to me on Linkedin if you have any questions or comments. And please check out the first podcast Episode with James Dice, and also sign up to my future podcast series here if interested in more content like this!


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