Prop Tech: Avoiding White Elephants

As with most industries, there is a lot of excitement around what technological developments can do for the property sector.  This includes in relation to energy and carbon management.
There is a buzz around new technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), block-chain, ‘big data’, ‘cloud computing’, artificial intelligence and data analysis. But a lack of clarity about what they are, their use and what they can deliver.
Even where tangible, credible technologies do emerge (and there are certainly many) simply installing them is not enough.  They need to be used and properly understood by people who are incentivised to deliver the benefits.
So, before signing that Purchase Order for a shiny new piece of prop tech, it is worth taking a step back and considering what exactly you expect and how best to ensure that expectation is met.
Benefits of using energy management prop-tech, beyond reduced energy costs.
There are numerous benefits to be gained from energy management prop-tech, beyond the obvious of reduced energy costs:

  • Smarter buildings
    PropTech enables owners to operate buildings which are more responsive to tenant needs. It also generates data on areas such as comfort and wellbeing enabling more holistic decision making that can improve the quality of space demonstrably, extending the business case for energy efficiency measures.
  • License to operate
    Both voluntary and compulsory regulation increasingly requires detailed data on actual performance of buildings. GRESB already encourages energy data collection at the asset level. Taking a lead from the transformative effects of the Australian National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) the European Voluntary Certification Scheme (EVCS), along with other standards, is also based on operational energy data.
  • Maintenance costs
    The data that is collected can be used to target maintenance time and budgets – moving away from arbitrary planned, preventative maintenance that can result in the checking and replacing of equipment that is in working order.
  • Investment
    A significant and growing proportion of property investors are demanding a step change in asset energy performance as initiatives such as the Taskforce for Climate Related Disclosure are encouraging them to assess the risks of climate change more rigorously.
  • Rental income & asset value
    In Australia, there is now a consistent, proven link between the operational energy rating of a building and its rental income and asset value. It seems reasonable that this link will emerge in other countries as increasing attention is paid to operational performance.
  • Billing
    Prop Tech can also assist with the growing demands for accurate tenant billing.

Potential users of Prop Tech.
Similarly there are some obvious and less obvious potential users of prop tech. All relevant users should be identified to get the most out of your investment:

  • Facility and Property Managers
    The most obvious users who can use Prop Tech to deliver the efficient operation of buildings.
  • Technical Consultants
    Prop Tech can collect data that can enable mechanical and electrical contractors and consultants to more accurately specify the replacement and upgrade of building equipment and fabric.
  • Occupants
    Some energy related Prop Tech also allows tenants greater insight into and control over internal environmental conditions. It can also can facilitate discussions between tenants and landlords to pursue and demonstrate shared environmental ambitions.
  • Asset Managers, Investors & Owners
    Though interested in less detail than Facility & Property Managers Prop Tech can also provide remotely accessible, up-to-date, summary info on headline performance of the asset across a range of parameters.

In all cases careful attention should be paid to the most effective way for potential users to interact with the technology – one style of interface will not fit all. Roles and performance requirements of staff and the property management supply chain should be aligned with the appropriate use of the Prop Tech. Overall responsibility for managing implementation should be assigned to an individual with suitable authority and appropriate training provided.
Integrating with existing systems
Though sometimes unavoidable, if Prop Tech is implemented as another system for users to interact with there is a risk that it is seen as an addition to a frequently extensive collection of systems users already have to deal with.
Most Prop Tech provides ways of transferring data to and from other hardware and software. This may enable the integration of Prop Tech data and interfaces with existing systems and reduce the perceived burden of using it:

  • Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM)
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM)
  • Helpdesks, other building monitoring and management systems (fire, occupancy, security etc)
  • Property management software
  • Company websites and intranets

Core and Additional Capabilities
Most energy related Prop Tech in some way relates to the capture and use of data from metering systems and / or Building Management Systems. Some options are hardware to enable collection of data from these systems and their compatibility varies. Others are software to identify performance enhancements using varying approaches to visualisation, analysis, collaboration and workflow management. Some combine both hardware and software. They may also offer additional capabilities too, such as the ability to control building systems, or to undertake tenant billing calculations.
What’s right for you?
The wide variation in functionality does make selection harder.  But by considering the following you do at least have a clearer starting point:

  1. Value What’s full value the Prop Tech could deliver
  2. Users Who should they be, and how is it made relevant and usable to them
  3. Integration What other systems it may be helpful to integrate with to encourage use

You are then far better placed to select a technology that will really work for you; helping achieve and sustain the operation of buildings that are efficient, comfortable, productive and valuable.
This article is written by Tom Randall, Head of Building Optimisation Service, Verco.

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