The latest Smart Buildings Magazine round table recently took place, which was entitled, ‘Collaboration within Smart Buildings’. Hosted by Schneider Electric, the panel discussed the collaboration required to deliver and derive genuine value from smart building technology.

The wide ranging discussion looked at the involvement required of key contributors including business/finance/HR/IT and occupants in ensuring the delivery of a smart building.

In attendance were:

  • Ana Stanojevic, Independent workplace strategy and smart buildings consultant
  • Rakesh Chauhan, JLL
  • Oliver Barker, Norman Disney Young
  • David Williams, Microsoft
  • Pradyumna Pandit, Schneider Electric
  • Matthew Marson, WSP
  • Paul Thomas, Capita
  • Bruce Girdlestone, Wireless Infrastructure Group
  • Susan Clarke, Verdantix
  • Chris Moriarty, IWFM

The debate opened with the question of who should be specifying a smart building. Should it be driven by the architect, building owner, engineer or facilities manager. Pradyumna opened the debate and suggested it was a fragmented market and why don't owner investors participate in the process of creating a smart building?

Ana, who previously worked for JLL, responded by saying that there are a number of barriers to a successful project. She stated that these barriers were security, the amount of stakeholders involved in the project, maturity of technology and system integration. One more barrier is culture and adoption technology. Organisations who can understand the risks of new technology and adopt it effectively will ultimately stay ahead. She said that there will always be limited funds for projects, and there has to be a strong investment case for building owners and investors. There will always be a return on investment conversation. Stakeholders need to know how to implement a smart project, which will affect planning, costing, design, procurement, construction, project management, handover and operation.

Key areas of cost savings are: energy savings, staff & productivity benefits, maintenance and labour, replacement cost of capital goods and smart commissioning

David commented that Microsoft got involved in the smart buildings industry due to the work it done on its own estate and campuses, (the company has 770 buildings globally). Microsoft understands these barriers to investment, but is in a position to solve them. He also stated that the construction industry is risk averse and this was a shock to Microsoft. The company has shown how it mitigates its risk and David thought this was important for the industry moving forward.

Chris Moriarty then said that the technology is around but the challenge is that despite so many stakeholders involved in the decision making process, no-one is talking about the user experience. Is it possible to move away from ROI and look at the user experience? Can investment in a smart building improve productivity?

Matt Marson then stated that in terms of productivity, an investment bank that he had worked with wanted to make their workforce more productive. They boiled the answer down to three things. Innovation, collaboration and efficiency of workspace. Innovation was measured by the number of projects delivered. Collaboration was looked at by looking at wifi analytics on mobile phones, which analysed meaningful interactions between employees which increased their 'coefficient of collaboration. The higher the collaboration the better the innovation. A workplace app was created which meant employees could vote for environmental changes, such as change of temperature in the office.

Oliver added that the right building with the right technology attracts the right staff. Companies don't want employees to think of the office as work and are building a culture for people to be part of and smart buildings technology can be a part of this. The use case for buildings is changing.

Paul stated that it is not really a technical challenge any more. People really need to look at the purpose of the building and the organisation. He also stated that the supply chain is fragmented and is holding back companies from investing in smart buildings.

Rakesh than stated that there is a need to create a collaborative business model. Landlords and owners still need to learn about the benefits of smart buildings. We also need open standards so there is convergence between companies.

Chris agreed and said that employee experience is becoming more important. Chris suggested that the professions involved in the decision making process needed to be be more fluid and work together. He also stated that facilities managers are in an amazing position to take the lead on introducing and managing smart buildings technology.

Pradyumna asked whether FM's are involved at an early stage, but Chris stated that they are simply given the keys at the end and asked to run the building. He also said that all the money is spent on CAPEX not OPEX, which means the FM's are asked to run the building as cheaply as possible. Also, HR are the biggest budget holders when it comes to spending money in offices.

Bruce said that education is important and that often something is forgotten at an early stage and people then have the problem about making a building work. Also the industry is extremely fragmented and it's always very difficult to find the person who writes the cheque. Smart buildings are still intangible for many people. We need to show the value of smart buildings.

Matt said his company has run a 'smart school' to explain what everything means and explains the benefits of smart buildings technology.

David stated that Microsoft creates partnerships that are beneficial to all the partners which create tangible benefits in terms of income and outcomes. There is a lack of collaboration and they are trying to change this.

Ana said that technology is recognised as a game changer, and occupiers now have a stake in the buildings as smart building technology is giving them the data to manage and control the building with their needs at the forefront.

Susan had a recent event which recognised that agile working was forcing more collaboration between different office departments. 20 per cent of firms are launching new agile working programmes. This forces FM’s to come together with HR and IT to solve occupancy issues. Susan also stated that research they have undertaken shows that smart buildings are often implemented to a single flagship building, not across an entire estate.

Oliver stated that flagship buildings are used to see if there is any ROI, then if there is, it will be rolled out to the rest of the estate.

Matt said that end users want to do projects properly, and developers what to get a maximum return on their investment and are therefore less prepared to invest in technology.

Oliver commented that we still need a measure of smart buildings in order for companies to make an informed decision when leasing the building from a developer. There are lots of different metrics but there is no real framework.

Ana said that governments will begin to be the drivers of smart buildings and want connected smart cities. This will drive the success of smart buildings. Governments and private sector organisations are recognising the benefit that smart buildings can have on the environment and what the real estate industry can achieve at a macro-economic level.

Chris claimed that the Government Property Agency are ahead of the private sector and they have an estates strategy which uses IT and will improve employee experience.

According to Pradyumna people are starting to ask how efficient is the building that they are working in.

Chris said that we need to have data to be able to make correct decisions, but we still need to decide who can use it. He also stated that all the information we have at the moment is from people selling a solution.

Rakesh stated that there were a number of projects that he had worked on where the employees have been asked what they want. JLL has a checklist that the give to clients to see what they wanted and many still don't know what they actually want or need.

It was confirmed that HR departments are often the best buyers of smart buildings and smart buildings projects as they can often see the business benefits, that other areas of the business cannot see.

Also in the construction process smart buildings technology is often something that is dropped at the end due to the construction process going over budget or in the procurement process, people strip out technology and software to save money.

It is clear that there is still a long way to go until smart buildings technology is fully understood by specifiers and buyers, but the industry is doing its best to get the message across. The industry still needs more proof of concept and return on investment figures, whether they be financial, productivity or occupational health based in order to progress further, but it is clear that when this is done there will be benefits to all parties and a more collaborative smart buildings projects.