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Supporting a more flexible workforceRISE Spotlight: Smart Buildings – The Way Forward

The ISE Reporter Roundtable panel explored the evolution of smart buildings and the solutions required to satisfy the needs of property developers, building owners and tenants.

The panel comprised: Julian Phillips, Senior Vice President, AVI-SPL; Erik Ubels, Senior Consultant, Ubels BA and former CIO at Deloitte; Angelica Krystle Donati, Head of Business Development at Donati and CEO of Donati Immobiliare Group; and Matthew Marson, UK Sector Director Manufacturing and Technology at Arcadis. The panel was moderated by Callum Booth, Editor at TNW.

The panel agreed that the pandemic has changed our behaviours, particularly when it comes to how we work. With the vaccination roll-out in progress and people preparing to go back to work later in the year, technology upgrades are underway to ensure commercial buildings are ready to support a more flexible workforce.

From the discussion it’s clear that smart functionality is important for the future of work, particularly when it comes to uniting a disparate workforce and increasing productivity. Erik Ubels, who developed Deloitte’s renowned Edge building in Amsterdam, noted that while C-level wants to invest in smart technology, 49% of them are likely to bail out after the first meeting with a consultant. So, how can we build confidence in smart building technology and unlock commercial investment? He explained that we need to make the process less overwhelming for the client:

“Every building solution, whether it’s controlling lighting or ordering coffee, has its own app which is insane. Imagine you work for a large company and you enter the building, and they tell you to download 21 apps and please have fun and be productive – this obviously isn’t going to work. We need a common API for most of the capabilities of the building.”

Watch the full Reporter Roundtable session here

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With businesses unlikely to invest in growing a real-estate portfolio for the short-term at least, what are the options when it comes to installation? Matthew Marson has worked on several high-profile smart building project including the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco and 22 Bishopsgate in London, so he’s well versed in the challenges of retrofitting and new builds. He talked about how to achieve the best results for both:

“Retrofit is where the fun is at. Look at what dormant data there is… lighting systems, BMS, access control and Wi-Fi access points, clients are often swimming with data. Have a go at extracting the data and see what you can do with it before you decide as to whether you are going to supplement with additional sensors or systems after that.

On the new build side, it is difficult to start with a blank piece of paper. With my clients their brief is often ‘I want a smart building’ and that is as far as it goes. We look at the type of functionality they need, what makes business sense, affordability, and integration. In some ways I’d argue that retro-fit is a little bit easier!”

While some working habits during the pandemic are likely to stick, such as a more flexibility to work remotely, proptech advocate Angelica Krystle Donati believes that the physical workplace is here to stay:

“The real questions that investors and developers need to ask is ‘how do we future proof what we have today? A lot of the behaviours we are seeing today will not be baked into the long-term. Although it was the push we needed to realise that a lot more flexibility can be introduced and be structural to our way of working, I cannot believe that the city is dead.”

Julian Phillips agreed that supporting a flexible workforce will be a priority and thinks that investment will extend to creating a smarter working experience for remote workers. He said:

“It’s highly unlikely that there will be many meetings happening in the building that will not have remote participants. We need to move from the design principle that remote folks need to see and hear, to being in a position that they can be seen and heard – the democratisation of the experience for remote workers. We are going to see a significant reinvestment to improve the overall collaboration experience to elevate the remote participant.”

To help cater for a more agile workforce and adapt to multi-tenant occupation as the floorspace required for permanent desk space declines, Ubels predicts that that demand for smart technology will shift from the building occupier to the owner/developer:

“A few years ago, [building owners] couldn’t care less – utilities were paid for by the tenants and few people would request good quality air, for example. They are now starting to realise that smart buildings are more valuable and can raise a higher rent for them, but also help them to meet energy-efficiency targets. It’s now expected that buildings provide a healthy, productive environment and contracts are getting shorter-term,” he concluded.