At its foundation, technology promises to make things easier and more efficient. But as technology gets more advanced, it becomes harder and harder to keep up with it. Steve Jobs put it best: “It’s insane: We all have busy lives, we have jobs, we have interests, and some of us have children. Everyone’s lives are just getting busier, not less busy, in this busy society. You just don’t have time to learn this stuff, and everything’s getting more complicated… we don’t have a lot of time to learn how to use a washing machine or a phone.”
Technologists, programmers, and designers have learned to take this to heart. They obsess over tiny details, trying to make every process using their creation as easy and intuitive as possible. But making something “easy” and “intuitive” is subjective. No two people are the same and so the way each user prefers to interact with an interface can vary greatly. In order to make everyone happy, you have to customize each piece of software for the individual using it. Due to this, a new school of thinking has swept over the technology community. What if building software became just as intuitive as using it?
Over the last five years or so, no-code development platforms (NCDPs) have been created to help users customize their technology. These easy to use, “drag and drop” programs are able to plug in multiple separate systems to work together. Now non-technical individuals and teams are able to create complicated processes, ones that the original programmers might not have even thought about, without editing even a single line of code.
This is an especially important development for the property industry. Every building is unique and teams must customize their systems in order to help them make out the signal through all of the noisy data that buildings create. Doing all of this customization in-house can be a lot for building teams who often don’t have any software development experience.
Some companies are trying to create “full stack” building systems but they often hit roadblocks because building teams prefer (or are stuck) using certain companies for certain systems like accounting or access control. “If you try and do everything, you won’t be able to do anything,” explained Lee Butz, CEO and Founder of District Technologies, a tenant engagement company. “Managers need specialized nodes for different parts of the building and ones like access control and HVAC will always operate on their own. Right now, no one is regulating how these systems talk, and API standards need to be created. Until that happens, it’s very challenging to easily integrate.”
If it was easy to integrate all the data from various building systems, it would have been done already. Buildings are generating more data that needs to be used by other systems in real time like room reservations, occupancy, IAQ, access management, deliveries, and so many more of the new metrics of the office. Translating all of the different program languages and enabling all of a building’s disparate systems to interact with each other is an ongoing task.
Butz explained that their team decided early on to create a tenant experience app with the type of architecture that would allow it to be easily customizable and expandable. They recently formed a partnership with Juberi, a smart building design and implementation technology, to utilize their converged data architecture which allows all of the building systems to easily communicate without posing a security threat. Paul Walker, co-founder of Juberi explained that “the flexibility of the District app means that additional bespoke tenant engagement needs can be managed by District and supported from the same cybersecurity methodology.”
No-code interfaces are designed to be used by even the least tech-savvy user. Understanding what people want to customize and how they want to be able to make the customization appear is a never-ending task. “The customer success team are the unsung heroes of many successful tech companies,” added Butz. “They are our eyes and ears and they are able to take what the clients want and translate it into engineering speak.”
Since tenant experience software is used by both building managers and tenants, there has to be customization at every user level. Every organization has different metrics for how their office is performing so the best practice is to let them set up their own app interfaces and dashboards. The ability for office managers to customize their dashboards, whether mobile or desktop, will be the key to creating the most value with a building’s digital layer.
Even though buildings are becoming more integrated, the facilities and property management industries still lag when it comes to the adoption of no-code software. But as we become more comfortable using no-code interfaces to connect our own personal technologies we will start to demand them more for our buildings. There will be lots of training and thoughtful design needed in order to make our buildings customizable, at least digitally. But the reward is worth it. Technology should work for us, not the other way around. We might not have time to learn every building system but with intuitive design, we could certainly learn how to make them work together.