For real estate owners, it is both a stressful and exciting time, as they face more pressure than ever to deliver material differences to the working environment, meet sustainability goals, unlock financial gains and cope with changes in their own workforce. Real estate owners are being forced to adopt new strategies as they seek to minimize vacancy rates and grow asset values.
Building owners are increasingly looking to their traditional partners, building services firms, for assistance to meet these evolving demands. Adaptive building services firms are responding to these market changes by embracing building optimization — a data-driven approach to building performance management that encompasses technology, people and processes.
The building services sector is maturing rapidly, and building optimization technology is creating new opportunities and challenges. Adaptive firms have begun to tackle these challenges head on to remain competitive in an evolving market. Building optimization technology is enabling these firms to deliver existing services better and faster, to develop new value-add services, and to improve customer relationships. Critically, these technologies are helping firms de-risk the prospect of being left behind or disintermediated by new market entrants.
If your building services firm has been hesitant to transition to a technology-focused market, now is the time to act. To adopt building optimization technology in your firm, building services executives should undertake the following eight steps:
Establish a vision and goals for delivering building services
Rather than thinking about technology in isolation, firms need to consider what benefits they are trying to deliver to clients or what sort of efficiencies they are trying to establish internally. At that point, it is useful to explore the different technology solutions available and how they can help in meeting these objectives. There are multiple categories of technology solutions to help services firms deliver on an optimization strategy. Technology solutions include those such as manufacturer analytics embedded into equipment, integrated energy management and fault detection software (with or without sensors), standalone energy management or fault detection software, and software for remotely coordinating field technicians.
Consider the solutions that will deliver the greatest value to you and your customers
The best fit technology solution may not be the one with the most bells and whistles. Services firm executives need to fully understand how a selected technology will help them to achieve their service objectives quickly and cost effectively. A key component of technology evaluation will be to consult with customers to understand what will deliver the best value for them. Some customers may have part of their portfolio in areas with a carbon tax and will focus on reducing energy use. While other clients may be more focused on identifying faults with ageing chiller plants to improve performance.
Understand your current technology maturity phase
With an understanding of how you wish to incorporate technology into your solution set, building services firms must baseline their current level of maturity. This is required in order to understand the effort and investment required to meet your the target level of maturity. Building services firms need to identify existing internal and external IT systems, system owners, current users and existing service delivery processes and frameworks to determine the firm’s maturity.
Pinpoint your target technology maturity phase
Initiative leaders need to assemble a team that consists of stakeholders from all parts of the business to help determine the appropriate maturity level to target for each factor of service delivery. Appropriate stakeholders should include representatives such as account managers, senior executives, field technicians and IT managers. While certain parts of an organization’s service delivery maturity, such as breadth of services, may work at its current maturity level other aspects such as the firm’s use of data and analytics will benefit from improved maturity.
Design the technology strategy
With the work completed in the preceding four steps, it will now be possible to create a technology strategy to sit alongside the vision and goals established in step 1. The strategy should map out the approach which will be taken to achieve these goals and the desired use of technology. A successful technology strategy will focus on the integration of software, people and processes to create a value proposition that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Consider partnership options
The implementation of a technology strategy may get derailed if an appropriate plan has not been put in place. Initiative leaders will need to manage executive expectations, project scope, timelines, budgets and resource demands. An important consideration will be whether to develop a solution internally or partner with a technology provider. Selecting an appropriate technology provider to partner with can help manage risks such as technology implementation challenges, workforce training and system integration. A partner, with the appropriate building services experience will be able to help firms understand where process changes are needed, such as new processes to act on insights provided by data analytics on a chiller plant.
Develop a staged technology roll-out plan
A successful roll-out of a technology-led service strategy should follow a phased approach that includes process development and team training, implementation of pilot projects to provide proof of value and resolve implementation challenges, and then a gradual expansion of projects to all relevant client sites. Some clients will require a phased approach to pilot projects – consolidation and analysis of existing facility data to identify low cost initial projects, implementation of sensors to collect real-time building performance data, and then a full optimization service. A phased implementation will help to better manage costs and provide time for field technicians to adjust to new processes and learn how to best use the system.
Secure early wins with trusted clients to build momentum around the new solutions
The success of any technology implementation program will hinge on building trust and a sense of comfort in the technology with clients. Implementing a project successfully and cost effectively with a trusted client is a good first step. Securing early project wins (i.e. significant cost savings) will help to build client trust and project momentum. An early win can be as simple as implementing a basic building energy use monitoring program to identify abnormal spikes in energy consumption. These programs can lead to quick optimization wins by identifying abnormal automation programming such as too early or too late HVAC start/stop times. These trusted clients can become ambassadors for your optimization program and help to build trust with other clients who will like to hear, from another building owner, how a project has been successful.
As digital transformation reaches the commercial real estate sector, all players in the building ecosystem will need to devise new ways of working to harness technological innovation. Empowered by building optimization technology, building services firms can manage the risks and seize the opportunities of the future.