January 9, 2007 will forever be a red-letter day in tech history, because it’s the date Apple’s Steve Jobs changed the course of mobile technology with his introduction of the iPhone combining three popular functions of mobile communication, internet navigation, and music playing into a single device.
We remember Jobs’ famous you-had-me-at-scrolling-you-can-touch-your-music-keynote, the amazing screen, the compelling design.
But perhaps the most significant thing about that product is sometimes glossed over: the incredible level of integration it achieved. Jobs’ speech was a moment when integration – the ability to break down technology silos – changed how we think about all three of those capabilities by uniting them under a single user experience. The fact that I am probably one of hundreds of millions of people to have owned no satnav, standalone telephone, mp3 player, calculator, or alarm clock for over a decade is one of the unexpected upshots of that day. Integration, done right, can transform entire markets.
Today’s market demands a flexible, more integrated building approach
We’re at a similar inflection point in commercial real estate and building controls for temperature, lighting, and blinds. Each of these technologies is becoming more critical for optimal occupant comfort, health, and productivity.
While uncertainty shrouds the pace of the return to the office in a post-Covid world, we can be reasonably sure that those baby steps will come with new occupant demands: spaces will need to be safer and better-ventilated to eliminate microbial spread while delivering a degree of comfort and well-being that makes “going in” simply worth the commute.
But the siloed nature of the underlying technologies is a major barrier to achieving this. Today, most temperature control systems have little or no interaction with blind or lighting control technologies. They invariably operate on different communication protocols, meaning that even in some of the most modern medium to large buildings, something as simple as setting a comfortable temperature, avoiding glare, and having the right lighting level in a meeting room can be at best frustratingly time-consuming and at worst downright impossible.
The next logical step for these technologies has always been to become more integrated with each other, but when will this happen?
The good news is that in commercial buildings we have already had our iPhone-moment. The technology exists today to allow all these underlying systems to be managed in one unified platform, boasting a single secure communication protocol and tenant-app functionality out of the box.
What’s more, deploying these technologies delivers way more than just better occupant comfort and ventilation. Properties deploying this technology typically see
- lower carbon footprints through room-level energy efficiency and advanced 3D sun-tracking capability,
- significant savings on both cabling (up to 12%) and overall operational costs (up to 20%) through fast-fault analysis,
- more granular energy management through integrated metering,
- increased flexibility allowing entire floorplates to be reconfigured in a matter of clicks, doing away with the expensive rewiring and costly labor usually associated, and
- a better understanding of space utilization leading to improved office layouts.
This all adds up to smarter, greener, more liquid assets, higher absorption & lower vacancy rates – in short, better buildings.
So why isn’t this the new global standard right now?
Because as an industry we’re simply not asking for it: lighting control is typically addressed in electrical-design packages, HVAC is typically addressed in mechanical-design packages while blind control is considered a façade element and as such is typically procured along with curtainwall and glass.
We need to change the way buildings are specified and procured or risk being be stuck with aging technology, costly maintenance, sub-par occupant experiences, and empty, carbon-intensive obsolete buildings.