Where is the Intelligence in Smart Buildings? It’s in the Data not the Infrastructure

When the Edge in Amsterdam was launched as the world’s first smart building largely by a media bandwagon, most of us who went to see it were slightly under-whelmed in truth, and even the developers were surprised by the interest that had been created. Yes it was well designed and certainly Deloitte, who occupied it, were claiming the experience supported the highest staff retention rates amongst its employees. The sustainability credentials also ticked most boxes.

But with the hype of the Internet of Things (IoT) those who made the pilgrimage to the Edge and were anticipating the boundaries of workplace experience to be pushed beyond recognition would have been disappointed, and those who were expecting to hear a riff from the lead guitarist of an Irish rock band even more so.

Smart buildings technology

There have been plenty of ‘smarter’ buildings designed since and even more on the drawing board – in Europe alone Spark and Varso Tower in Warsaw, Bloomberg and 22 Bishopsgate in London or the Cube in Berlin – but have or will any of these fare any better?

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the real estate industry has a mindset that is focused on the product – what the building looks like and its layout – rather than the experience it provides. A “Smart” approach to design would start with the experience that you want to create, and then work backwards to the technology and building that would deliver it, rather than starting with the building and then working out how to make it smarter to deliver a better experience.

The second reason, it’s not the technology that makes a building smart but the data that can be captured and analysed from many different sources within and even outside the building. This can be used to inform those with the responsibility and inclination to curate the building experience in how to enhance it for the customers using it.

Equally data can be used to predicatively control the building environmental performance as internal and external conditions change and thereby minimising carbon impact whilst maintaining the optimum levels of comfort. Great experience and building performance is rarely delivered by a single investment or feature, but a combination of small things that make the difference.

The use of data

Data can be sourced from smart new infrastructure in buildings, whether that is sensors or beacons, a building app or interactive screens. But equally rich data can be found in systems and technologies that have been in buildings for years and few people have been motivated to interrogate or analyse – Building Management Systems and the HVAC sensors, Lighting PMI Sensors, Access Control Systems, wifi, fault reporting help desk data or even the coffee machines.

This data can be augmented and correlated by third party data such as weather, transport and social media data, to build up a rich picture of what is happening in buildings and what can be enhanced or put right. The aim should be to continuously find opportunities to marginally improve the experience, activity, service or community within the building.

This is not a new philosophy but one that has been adopted in other industries – car manufacture, hotels and perhaps most famously cycling. The French cycling team cried foul when the British dominated the London Olympics, suggesting there was something about the wheels that was giving the British advantage – wheels that turned out to be made not in London but Lyons. The reality was that the British cycling team had adopted a data driven approach to seeking marginal gains in improvement – whether it was from the athlete’s diet, sleep pattern or clothing, or the bikes aerodynamics or component design features.

The philosophy had to continue beyond the performance level of London to triumph again at Rio, as the data can continue to find additional marginal gains.

The smart approach

So, the Smart building intelligence is not in the in buildings themselves or even the technology within them, but the smart approach to data analytics that drives better building performance and experience.

For occupiers it is critical to have a workplace experience that can attract and retain the best staff, and for landlords the concept of Super Prime Value is emerging in several cities, a value that is driven by experience.

This is why at Knight Frank we have developed our Activity and Customer Experience (ACE) platform and with over 2.5 sq m of data now we are learning how to enhance experience within buildings and their overall performance. Machine learning can interrogate multiple data sources and find the secret sauce of experience and performance through a ‘Smart Building’ philosophy, even when the building infrastructure is relatively un-intelligent.

For more information contact Neil McLocklin, Head of Knight Frank’s EMEA Strategic Consultancy.