DisruptCRE NYC: The State of Building Technology

On March 29th, 2018, a panel of CRE executives gathered at the 4th Annual DisruptCRE New York City event to discuss CRE tech’s impact, new tenant expectations, and how people connect through smart technology. The panelists included:

What aspect of the built environment is technology making the most dramatic impact?

The first question asked panelist to discuss which aspect of the built environment they feel is being impacted the most by technology. Carrol answered first from the standpoint of tenants, and their expectations.

“Right now, technology is all about how companies can connect their people around the world and especially around their own campus. Across the firm we design for Amazon, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, you name it.,” she said. “They’re really struggling with scale. How can they navigate an urban environment and build a campus that is secure and connected without sacrificing the experience and technology is really central to every part of that equation.”

She continued to discuss infrastructure in terms of Amazon’s new headquarters. “I don’t know a single person in this room that hasn’t thought about where Amazon’s headquarters are going to go, and the beauty of that is that every other tech company is benefiting from the vetting process that Amazon did, and has a really easy short list of cities to consider for themselves,” she said. “I think what we’re seeing right now is that technology is very much at the forefront of how they are going to manage their portfolio.”

Gilbert answered as well, focusing on tech’s role in real estate. “If you think you’re in the real estate business, think again because you’re really in the technology business,” he said.

“Every piece of data that you collect needs to be remembered, learned, and patterns identified. I’m looking at Nantum right now and I can tell you on the aggregate in the Rudin Portfolio I’ve got 18,741 people.  We’re burning 21.8 megawatts of power, 54 Mlbs of steam, and already consumed today 285,706 gallons of water, so this situational awareness is in real time. This is not a look back on a monthly basis or a yearly basis, it’s literally in real time. When you’re in a Nantum-enabled building, your occupancy matters because it ultimately influences fan speed. So as people go out to lunch…our occupancy sensors see that data, tell the gateway to tell the BMS to slow the fans down, and we save an enormous amount of electricity in the middle of the day because we’re not pushing as much volumetric air. Now on the tenant experience side of that, how many people have come back from lunch, sat down at their desk, and said “oh my God it’s freezing in here.” There’s a reason for that, because as you left for lunch in a typical building the amount of volumetric air was not varied. It was the exact same level of CFM and chilled air as when the building was fully occupied, so of course, temperatures are going to drop. So this system is saving the Rudin portfolio, 10 million square feet…five and a half million dollars a year. Simply by understanding the data you’re already collecting, correlating data sets that never talk to each other…So to answer the question, technology is touching us across our entire spectrum. We’re mostly focused on the operational side because that’s where the savings can be, but the end result is a better experience for the tenant. The third result is that you get to future proof your building. So all of us as property owners and technology companies who are calling us [saying] please put our technology into your building.” Well if I do that with a quarter of the people that call me, I’m going to multiply the number of silos and dashboards that I have exponentially (actually linearly.) But if I have a single operational platform, than I can simply plug in those technologies, immediately with a dynamic graph, understand the relationship that that data brings to all the new datasets that I’m collecting.”

Heller addressed the question from the perspective of a global business. “[Coca-Cola] operates in 207 countries, and we’re really thinking a little bit more about how people connect with people. How we make those connections more real,” she said. “We are using all of that [tech] to create one platform so that whether you are in Johannesburg, Zimbabwe, New York, Atlanta, you walk into an office and you…shouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes connecting, it should be as easy as your home Apple connection. It should just work. And we also want for that to be as seamless, secure and authentic as facetime on your iPhone. As a company who values human experience, those are some of the things that are really important to us.”

Coleman focused on future evolutions in this space, saying: “When you look at technology and the commercial real estate spaces it really does move in waves like alot of industries, and I think the first wave really was around leasing technology View The space, Hightower all those guys. That wave has kind of passed and we know who the winners are in that space and the next one really is about experience. I think we’ve seen a ton of these applications trying to provide a better experience for tenants particularly here in New York where it’s really multi-tenant driven. We exist in the multi-tenant and the occupier space and what we’re seeing is that its increasingly about how you integrate all these systems…so people can have a single source of truths they can collaborate across the same data sets they can derive the same types of insights and share those…as you get more and more of those data sights correlated, those insights that seemed hard to discover become very obvious and it moves the needle significantly.”

What are the implications of the blending of the digital and physical world for the occupiers and the landlords?

Caroll answered this from the service provider standpoint. “We work with companies that are as young as five years old, and as old as 200 years old…like United Technologies, they’re a Fortune 500 company worth 60 billion dollars and they for the first time are implementing a digital accelerator in Brooklyn. Their entire business is technology, they own otis elevators which we have all ridden in, and they move the world’s population every 28 days between [their sub companies],” Caroll said. “We’re seeing that most of our tech clients want to get the data but not see it. Someone actually said to me “I don’t want to see a dashboard like that because it feels like my brain.”…So humanizing… is really a core part of this new dichotomy between a lot of information, a lot of ways to display it, not a lot of valuable insights but a lot of content, but finding a way to tell a more meaningful story. I think more and more you’re going to see offices have different approaches to how different offices take their data, they humanize it, they make it local, they make it personal, and they make it interactive.”

Heller added: “Across the business, we’re getting asked a lot about our data. We’re getting asked a lot about…where does that data come from? What about this? What about that? I’m not a data person by background, but the first thing I say is what’s the question, what do you need? Before we get into “where’s the dashboard, what do we need to build, how do you want to see that?”…What are you trying to solve for? And then we have so much data. We’ll build your unique identifiers, we’ll get all our systems talking to each other, we’ll get as much information as you want, but first let’s get to the questions…if we don’t start with the right questions, we won’t get the right answers.”

Gilbert said: “It’s interesting, Pablo Picasso, right before he died was quoted as saying “computers are overrated because they only give you answers and not the questions to ask.” We like to say buildings have always had a heart: engine room, boiler room, now they have a brain: Nantum. And I think the control room…is no longer hidden someplace it’s actually mobile and that data can be accessed anywhere you are…because it is in the cloud. So you have a heart, you have a brain, and what’s the final frontier? The final frontier is the central nervous system…What I’m holding in my hand (I feel like Sam Ervin in the Watergate) this is actually a sensor. This has a 15-year battery, it has a radio, and this particular battery is a temperature sensor. It costs a dollar a month, and can connect to Nantum. Everybody says ‘oh its all about the data’- it’s really not. It’s about what you do with the data. It’s about whether its actionable or not.”

Coleman agreed, saying: “What happens with us is a lot of people come to us and they say what do you deploy, “what’s the infrastructure you deploy, and how long does that take?” We turn that around on them and say “what are you trying to accomplish?”…Not every customer is going to be ready to deploy the most sophisticated control system in the world. It would be a total waste of money, and they won’t see the ROI…They might have some buildings that are highly sophisticated and ready for deep analytics and machine learning, and they might have somewhere all they want is to centralize their utility bills and figure out if they’re being paid or figure out if they’re out of wack in this building or that building. There may be very simple things that they want to solve at first. Anyone who owns a big building is trying to figure out “how do I get some common set of insights out of this data?”

Carrol focused on the benefits for efficiency, saying: We as an industry, from construction operations and the management of buildings contribute a third of the carbon dioxide in the world, we have a terrible carbon footprint. But if you look beyond just the efficiency of systems and you start creating an expectation of a better experience, then where I feel there will be some game-changing turn for us as an industry is going to be in real-time responsiveness. So if it goes beyond just systems and it becomes that the user expectation is such that the information coming back to whoever is hosting that experience should be reacted on in real-time, that’s going to mean a completely different approach to services in space.”

Why is it important that building systems connect, talk to and learn from each other and what can we expect as a result in the future?

“You have to figure out what the relationship is between things you care about. And if that’s productivity and health, that’s one metric, and if that’s energy efficiency, that’s another,” Coleman said. “And the question is, how do you optimize between all of these things and so once you integrate those things then you can get that point of view.”

How can we have this level of data along with security?

Wendy: We live in a world where security is crucial. To minimize that would be fool hardy. When we ask our people, what’s the number one thing you like about working in our spaces, the majority say they feel safe. And that’s the key, it’s both physical safety, and virtual safety. As we think about IoT we think about “where does that live?” Does it live on a separate network? does it live elsewhere? THose are things that are part of the developing conversation. And so we started talking about how we are solving for that, and it’s not…solved yet.

Carroll said: “We work with IBM, and we developed for their headquarters a visualization…[that] takes the globe and it gives it a different color spike and length based on quantity [of cyber attack]. And there’s billions of cyber attacks happening all around the country…with different frequency and different types. And I think it’s not at the forefront of our conversation. I think systems and security around technology inside a building are not at the forefront of our conversations now of our mind yet. One of the things we talk about is that luxury is actually seamless. The quality of a space and the character…matter, but if it creates a lot of roadblocks for you, you’re not going to see it as a luxury experience.”

Gilbert concluded with a point on cyber technology saying: Let’s understand one thing, if you own buildings, you better make sure that you own your data. Whatever entity that comes in to help you manage that data should not be selling it out the back door. Every time you click your mouse you are being mapped. On the building side, as a builder of real estate, we own the reality of keeping people safe in our buildings. We own it. We are never, ever going to give that away to third party, never. And we look at our data the same way…if you want to future proof your buildings…make sure that your data is your data and make sure that you can use that data to learn from it with machine learning, to remember it with AI, and ultimately use it to your advantage to run your building more efficiently. That’s what the data is for, and that’s what you should use it for.”