Three Questions to Ask When Vetting Intelligent Building Technologies

By Jeff Thompson, Cofounder/CEO at AwareManager

Management Technology Stack

Ray Bradbury, unsurprisingly, was ahead of his time in the 1950s when he wrote so many of his stories and books about futuristic machines and their impact on characters’ lives in ways that, at the time, were unthinkable. Fast forward and today we’re living Bradbury’s imagination – lights that turn on when we enter the room, machines that eliminate the chores we hate doing, and the list goes on.

AwareManager RealCommBradbury’s vision did fall short in one area. Most of his writings about these ‘smart’ machines did not factor in how human behavior impacts the desired result. My point is that pure automation doesn’t make a building ‘intelligent.’ For a building to be truly intelligent, it needs to be sensitive to its occupants, respond to their behaviors and anticipate their needs. For example, how smart could the building really be, if it completely misses the fact no one’s in it?

The pursuit of intelligent buildings should always be informed by actual occupant behavior. While we’re not (yet) at the point where intelligent or smart building technology can transform rooms based on our imaginations, these new tools, platforms and apps are changing how you run a building and the amenities you can offer to occupants through personalization and automation.
As you look at solutions in the intelligent buildings category, here are three questions to ask to see if these technologies will have a positive impact for our clients.

(1) Does this help anticipate occupants’ behavior and preferences?
Personalizing for people’s preferences – accounting for human behavior – is often the most difficult aspect to factor into the building technology stack. Imagine that the office temperature for each of your tenants could adjust automatically based on their preference before anyone puts in a hot/cold call. Another example would be the thermostat in a conference room adjusted in the afternoons when the sun hits that particular space and the room temperature rises. Another, non-temperature example would be if a preventive maintenance task for a rooftop unit could be automatically rescheduled if it’s down pouring or too windy on the date it was originally scheduled.

(2) Does this filter out the noise or create more of it?
Today, you can have a tool or app to monitor nearly everything happening in your buildings, but more isn’t always best. Before you buy anything, narrow down what really matters to you, creating a set of 3-5 KPIs that you want monitor and track progress against every day. Depending on the portfolio and your role within the organization, these KPIs could focus anywhere from green initiatives and tenant retention, to cost savings and asset value. Start by asking yourself what areas matter most and why, then back into what you’re going to measure and how (rather than the reverse).

(3) Does this proactively surface the information needed without making me search for it?
Because you don’t have the time to look at every possible metric, you need to be able to manage by exception, rather than trying to look at every data point. You should be able to rely on automatic alerts when critical areas of operations – based on the KPIs you set – aren’t hitting performance targets. That’s where intelligent building technology comes into play. You shouldn’t be spending hours digging into data, combining multiple data sources in Excel or doing napkin calculations just to find out what’s happening in the building or portfolio that needs your attention. Give priority to those tools that take manual analysis out of the picture and proactively raise issues to the top of your to-do list.

Bradbury just skimmed the surface of what may become reality in three or five years. We’re all staying tuned to see how this growing intelligent building sector of the market shapes up, but without question, it’s one to watch closely.