Smart buildings offer the promise of peak efficiency, automation and comfort, all thanks to a network of sensors that can track everything from the temperature of a room to how many people are in each office and even when equipment needs repair. But as developers, owners and building managers adopt new technologies, they will have to reckon with a delicate balance between operational efficiency and tenant comfort.
“The question is really if they’ve considered every angle,” WiredScore CEO and founder Arie Barendrecht said. “Smart technology can yield great benefits if deployed correctly, but it can lead to unhappy tenants if it’s not thought through.”
Bisnow sat down with Barendrecht to learn how buildings can use data more effectively and discuss the best paths toward a smarter future.
Bisnow: What is a smart building?
Barendrecht: A smart building is any structure that uses automated processes to control its operations. That could mean something as simple as automatically adjusting the temperature in the lobby or as complex as tracking employees as they move through the entire building. Eighty percent of new construction involves at least one facet of the Internet of Things or related smart building technologies, according to a report from Research & Markets.
Bisnow: Where has building technology been in the past?
Barendrecht: Imagine a busy metropolitan office building. Every day, thousands of people pass through electric turnstiles opened by a keycard or fob. Previously, a central data hub likely tracked activity within the turnstiles but only came into effect when there was an irregularity. For example, if somebody passed through the turnstile without a keycard, it would buzz to alert a security guard. Commercial properties would collect this data, but never examine it. The computer system was used to detect issues, not for optimization or prediction.
Bisnow: What might a smart building do instead?
Barendrecht: Instead of merely collecting data, buildings are now implementing analytics platforms that examine data and harness it to make the building work more efficiently. In our turnstile example, a smart building’s analytics might “see” a spike in activity around noon as tenants exit for lunch. The building automatically decreases the HVAC system’s output to save energy while fewer people are in the building. The key here is data-driven automation, which can extend to lighting, elevators, security and more. Automation saves property managers the headaches of constantly tinkering with different controls. It shows asset managers that the buildings are running on a more cost-efficient scale, and ultimately, it makes the building more profitable for owners and investors.
Bisnow: How might this come into conflict with tenant experience?
Barendrecht: For smart buildings to succeed, building stakeholders must also consider the wants and needs of the users of real estate, especially as office buildings evolve into hubs of human connection and collaboration. Think about a pivotal client pitch presentation in that same office building on a hot summer day. Around noon, everybody is gathered in their conference room. Just one problem: The building’s air conditioning starts to turn down automatically since the majority of tenants are leaving for lunch. The conference room becomes uncomfortably hot and the meeting starts poorly, leaving both the tenant and their client annoyed. Operational efficiency is an extremely attractive benefit of smart buildings, but it must be balanced by a positive tenant experience. A building can have all the latest tech, but if it is not being used to make employees happier and more productive, what’s the use?
Bisnow: What’s the solution?
Barendrecht: The solution hinges on increased control flexibility and data transparency with the tenant in mind. The building’s management could have used an app like Comfy to give the tenants control over their own office’s air conditioning within the smart building. Or, the app could have at least given the office manager advanced notice that the air conditioning was going to be automatically lowered.
Bisnow: I imagine there’s more to smart buildings than just efficiency?
Barendrecht: There is huge potential for smart buildings to enhance tenants’ experience. Imagine if a calendar invite automatically booked the meeting room, sent the attendee list to the building’s security system and used the number of attendees and time of day to adjust the HVAC and lighting. Then, the conference room’s television already had the correct presentation displayed when everyone stepped into the room. Think of all the time and headaches that are being saved just by streamlining that one process.
Bisnow: How close are these technologies?
Barendrecht: They’re here already, and they’re not just added bonuses — tenants expect them. According to QY Research, in 2018 the global smart building market size was around $58B, and it is expected to triple by the end of 2025. It is the tenants’ responsibility to ask their brokers or landlords for this type of technology and building owners’ responsibility to be prepared with it. A common industry standard for digital infrastructure like WiredScore is essential as both sides of the equation adjust. The balance of operational efficiency and tenant experience is not new in commercial real estate, but it is being placed in a completely revised context in smart buildings. If both sides are balanced in harmony, everybody — tenants and building owners — will benefit.
Portions of this article originally appeared on the Bisnow website.
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