Mike Hook, executive director at LMG says that smart buildings can offer unrivalled occupant experiences – providing a network of interconnected essential services that makes life comfortable, safe and productive for those who use the building.

There is no doubt that the potential of smart buildings has caught the imagination of the commercial real estate sector. But while the idea of smart buildings is impressive, realising this vision is not simply a case of fitting new heating, lighting, water, communications, and security systems.

Instead, realising the full potential of smart buildings requires a shift in approach, one that recognises that smart buildings are, in essence, a central nervous system comprised of multiple overlapping technologies.

Moreover, it’s not just a question of technology. There are also specific outcomes that the technology is expected to deliver – in terms of occupant experiences, more efficient maintenance or sustainability to name just a few. And once up and running, the building should be autonomous, self–regulating, and able to function regardless of external conditions.

As a result, commercial landlords shouldn’t underestimate the complexity involved in fitting out a smart building.

Tackling complexity

This complexity is why the role of the Master Systems Integrator (MSI) has grown in importance as property owners seek to manage the increasingly intricate process of delivering buildings that are energy and environmentally efficient and still provide all the features, services and user experience we associate with smart environments.

However, there has been little consensus on what the term ‘MSI’ actually means. To date it has been one of those terms that can mean all things to all people.

For some, the benefit of an MSI is that they can start with a blank piece of paper and create a totally bespoke technology implementation in a building. However, for others this doesn’t offer a huge number of concrete outcomes for the level of investment – raising fears of ‘scope creep’ and never-ending projects where no one is quite sure when they’re ‘done’ or if value for money is being realised.

This lack of clarity is creating understandable hesitancy around the whole MSI concept. Indeed, why would you invest significantly with an MSI without the reassurance of guaranteed and standardised outcomes, costs and benefits?

However, managing and consolidating the requirements of smart buildings in a way that de-risks the project and ensures delivery on time and within budget requires a better definition of the MSI.

In this scenario, the MSI is not simply a ‘co-ordinator’ pulling together the core technology as defined by a consultant’s spec. Too often this approach results in building owners paying a great deal of money but realising very few, if any, of their desired outcomes.

Instead, an MSI should be in the loop from the early stages of a build right through until the building becomes operational and beyond. The MSI requires deep technology expertise – from the physical connectivity to the core OT and IT systems as well as the integration layer and apps – and total project oversight.

The benefits of a true MSI

This oversight is crucial.

Firstly, by working hand-in-hand from day one with a project’s Digital Building Consultant (DBC), the MSI can take full ownership of the delivery of key systems and services that are optimally integrated. It also means that any infrastructure can be designed to meet emerging international smart building standards such as SmartScore – and all delivered within an agreed budget and timescales.

This ownership is critical to ensure that the final solution meets the desired outcomes for a building – rather than just ticking boxes on a technical wish-list.

In addition, without an MSI to oversee the early phases of a build, it is difficult to plan the smart building infrastructure in tandem with the construction programme. What if problems with the building systems ability to integrate are discovered late in the project? There’s a danger that an MSI cannot retrofit a solution without stretching the budget. Then smart building efficiencies become undeliverable, worsening the experience for both landlords and tenants.

Some MSIs take this approach to its logical end point – creating pre-defined solutions based on established smart technology platforms to meet specific desired outcomes that are agreed and defined in close partnership with the client and their DBC. These solutions, combined with an MSI’s technology and delivery expertise, make them able to de-risk and de-scope the delivery of the smart building platform without compromising on the desired outcomes or the quality of work.

Smart buildings require an MSI

Smart buildings are a wonder of the built environment. The potential for operational efficiency, cost savings and the 5-star occupant experience they provide is second to none.

However, a smart building is never truly smart on its own. An MSI ensures that smart features work within a fully functional framework, while hitting the environmental, health and safety and user experience standards of accreditations such as SmartScore and WELL v2.

With an MSI in the mix, commercial landlords can ensure they’re making a worthwhile investment in the long-term best interests of their buildings.