If You’re Aiming for a Smart Building, Let’s Simplify the Planning Phase

The Counselors of Real Estate recently identified the Top 10 issues affecting real estate in 2022/2023. Four are closely linked to smart building technologies: hybrid work, energy, cybersecurity, and ESG (environmental, social, and governance). If designed appropriately, smart building technologies can facilitate hybrid work arrangements, save energy, improve cybersecurity, and support ESG goals.

But notice the “if” above. Smart building technologies only offer benefits when they are captured early in the design-planning stages for either greenfield projects or retrofits. Without comprehensive planning, stakeholder alignment, and buy-in, efforts to roll out smart building technologies can backfire and waste a lot of money. After more than 11 years in the building technology space, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. And my conclusion, which may seem counterintuitive from a professional in a field known for complexity, is that it’s best to stick with the basics.

For building owners who state that they are interested in smart technologies, I typically start by identifying what outcomes they are trying to achieve, what end-users want, or what kind of experience would appeal to them. These questions are similar to those that top software companies ask themselves before developing a new app or functionality. The focus on user experience has worked well for them, and it can work equally well in the built environment for property owners, developers/landlords, and tenants. Understanding the user experience will set the stage for design planning across multiple disciplines, from conceptual design to detail design and through construction to operations.

During a series of what we call visioning workshops, we establish the typical or target occupant. Then we discuss the ways in which these personas will interact with the building or space. You don’t have to be an engineer or have a technical background to identify these kinds of use-case scenarios. Clients have shared that they want their employees to have a touchless experience, that visitors should have an intuitive and effortless experience, that facility managers/landlords want ease of operations while optimizing building performance, and that developers want to ensure their building investment is sufficiently flexible to adapt to future demands from prospective tenants. This is just a broad overview; we delve deeply into these personas and scenarios, imagining their typical day from morning entry to evening exit and everything else in between.

By thinking carefully about the personas, we are better able to understand our client’s priorities and challenges. That helps us establish desired outcomes and KPIs that correspond to them, and we compile a report that outlines our recommendations. Only after our recommendations are approved by the respective stakeholders, do we begin the detailed design. And that’s when you might finally hear some engineering-lingo. As smart building consultants, it is our job to ensure that our client’s vision, outcomes, and use cases are captured at the design planning stage and carried through into the integration specification (Division 25) in order for clients to competitively bid the scope of work for a Master System Integrator (MSI) provider, who is responsible for implementing the smart building use cases and functionalities.

This part may seem complicated to people outside the A/E/C industry, but you must admit that until now the approach has been elementary. That’s just fine with us. By keeping everything simple, we’ve learned exactly what designs and technologies are well suited to your program or project. We don’t recommend that you install fancy technology because it’s new and shiny. It must align with your desired outcome for the project and the experience you want to create for your target personas.

The outcomes, on the other hand, are plenty advanced. Some of the enabling technologies and or solutions that might result from an outcome-based design are building automation systems (BAS) coupled with an energy optimization package that captures data and can save up to 30% on energy costs, visitor management systems integrated with elevators/turnstiles for a touchless experience to your desired floor, digital signage, indoor navigation, hot-desk booking, and streamlined parking management, all of which communicate on a converged communication network.

In short, taking the simplest steps early at the design planning stage will impact your bottom line while making your brand stand out from others. If you’d like to learn more about this approach, please feel free to get in touch. When it comes to smart buildings, let’s start with the basics.

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