Who doesn’t love Legos? There are few toys that cut across genders and age groups as well as the interlocking plastic building blocks. Legos can be anything to anyone, and that’s a big part of their attractiveness. When I was young, I’d pull the minifigures apart and use the legs as cannons on my spaceships (it looked better than it sounds!). It’s that level of openness that defines Legos in a world of highly branded toy sets.
Of course, Lego has plenty of their own branded sets as well. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Disney, Batman…all things that Lego has covered. But even here, what makes Lego so unique and wonderful is that sure, you can buy all the Star Wars sets and keep them together for a highly authentic universe of Lego creations, but you can also mix and match. Star Wars characters can ride the Batmobile towards totally unbranded Lego buildings and setpieces. In other words, the decision of what to make is all up to the user.
This is possible because the Lego brick works no matter what theme or character it is molded to look like. You have the same pegs and holes regardless of whether it’s the Millennium Falcon or the new Land Rover Defender model. The specific branded sets operate as an extra layer on top of this foundation of openness.
Perhaps our tech platforms can take a note from the Lego playbook. There is a lot of discussion these days about system openness, integrations, and the walled garden approach that we all know from the consumer electronics market. For PropTech, this matters not only for hardware and software but for data, too. If data is the oil on which our technology runs, understanding where it can and can’t be applied is pretty important.
It’s easy, automatic perhaps, to say that open platforms are better than their closed counterparts. For instance, a management software that can communicate with a range of leasing tools, sensors, and other add-ons just seems more effective than a management platform that only works with that same company’s suite of tools and accessories. But maybe this isn’t necessarily so true. Apple’s ecosystem is closed off to many outside providers, but that gives the company an element of quality control and consistency of experience that Android can’t quite match, even if the hardware looks more advanced on paper.
Is there any way to find a middle ground between open and closed systems? Jeff Morrison, Vice President with STRATIS IoT, told me that the future of IoT includes both software integrations and proprietary hardware, but that integrations are more important. This makes sense: it’s unlikely that any one company could hope to produce the best, most creative sensors collecting a huge range of data, IoT infrastructure, client UI, access control solutions and beyond all at the same time. Companies have niches and areas of particular experience. Proprietary hardware can fit in there, but being able to “speak multiple device languages” opens up a heck of a lot of doors.
At the same time, Jeff also explained the benefits that could come from having multiple buildings in the same area running the same IoT platform. “The STRATIS Building Management IoT Solution is being installed in 20% of all new Multifamily properties nationwide. For the first time, both apartment residents and property owners/managers will have real time visibility into their utility consumption, either aggregate by unit or property, all the way down to the individual circuit or appliance. In addition to early leak detection with flood sensors, residents and property managers will be notified immediately about running toilets and other leaks inside the pipes that previously went unnoticed until the bill arrived. Real-time diagnostics are bring run on HVAC systems for preventative maintenance. Having multiple properties using the same IoT tech and platform enables benchmarking and energy use comparisons as real-time data is gathered. Depending on the location, rebates on retrofitting smart thermostats are being realized, and demand response programs are coming. Having multiple properties in your market on STRATIS will also leverage economies of scale and best practices on installation, ongoing service and maintenance to on-site staff from local STRATIS certified integrators.”
So maybe the best approach for us to take as PropTech professionals is to combine a foundation of fundamental openness with a layer of proprietary tools on top. It seems like the best of both worlds: all the flexibility of an open system with the specific benefits and “designed to work together” nature of multiple devices from the same provider. Samsung provides a pretty good example of this: devices built with the fundamentally open Android platform, but a variety of native peripherals, like a smartwatch and Bluetooth headphones, that fit together particularly well. If it works for a consumer tech giant, and it works for Lego, perhaps it can work for PropTech, too.