‘Smart Buildings’, Big Data, and IoT in Real Estate: Too much of a good thing?

My wife and I were at the airport recently waiting for our flight when we came across a restaurant with iPads at every seat.   Always eager to try new technology, and with plenty of time before our flight, we decided to grab some food and check out the capabilities.  As we got situated the tablet prompted us to select our flight and we placed our order before the server even got to our table.  Gone were the days of worrying about not getting to the gate in time, I told myself – this tablet knows when I need to fly!
It turned out that my wife’s order had not gone through properly, which in turn delayed our food by about a half hour.  When the food finally came we ate quickly, only to run into further issues trying to pay.  Inevitably, no alert or sync came through to the tablet about our flight, and we ended up running to our gate like a scene out of a bad 90’s movie.
To be honest, I never really expected a seamless experience.  Eight years of experience working with technology in real estate (and 32 years of experience working with technology personally) has taught me that, above all else, technology is a double-edged sword.  The real estate sector has long been the beneficiary of advancements in information technology, from asset-level controls and automation to portfolio-level data platforms offering reporting and back-office administration.  The art is knowing how to leverage technology to drive success and avoid failures for your organization.
An important distinction that should be well understood before making decisions related to technology within your organization is that of capability versus operability.  Capability is a basic enough concept – what can your product or service do?  Operability is the ability of your organization to leverage a product or service’s capability.  Capability is often the focus of business decisions, as it’s quantifiable and easier to process.  Operability, however, is what truly drives performance.  A common example of this is a building management system (BMS) retrofit.  I have seen many buildings invest millions on expensive BMS upgrades, only to perform worse than their original, pneumatic systems, simply because not enough attention was paid to training the operating staff.
One major draw of modern real estate technology is the concept of moving data from physical servers / local computers to “the cloud”.  Whether it’s asset-level operational data or portfolio-wide statistics, having real-time information at your fingertips is an incredibly appealing capability for any decision maker within a real estate organization.  Vulnerabilities that these devices bring to a building’s IT infrastructure cannot be overlooked.  As seen at Target, where hackers gained access to 40 million debit and credit cards through a vulnerability in a building’s HVAC system.
Another ripple effect of technology in real estate is a syndrome I call ‘Platform Overload’ – a common affliction amongst real estate firms looking to integrate cutting-edge technology into their organizations.  Symptoms include separate logins for their various BMS systems, sub-metering systems, tenant management, payments systems, and utility bill management.  While there is currently no real cure for ‘Platform Overload’, recent developments in ‘Business Intelligence’ (BI) platforms show promise is allowing for cross-platform reporting and self-service analytics.  Examples of BI platforms include Microsoft’s Power BI, Tableau, Dundas BI, Yellowfin, and SiSense.  Either implemented by a team within an organization or by a third-party, BI pulls your data out of silos and brings new, valuable insights to your organization.
Integrating technology deep into your organization is not only a beneficial step towards a more efficient, transparent operation, it is a necessary step to stay competitive in today’s rapidly shifting real estate industry.
This article is written by Josh Kace, Director of Energy and Engineering, CodeGreen Solutions.

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