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The Rise of the Chief Smart Building Officer

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For years, we’ve been hearing about the smart building revolution. That sensors would be attached to practically everything within buildings, including people, so AI could upgrade the indoor experience to new levels. The revolution started ages ago as we pivoted to a largely technology-dependent life, but buildings weren’t keeping pace. What was going to be the turning point that made buildings catch up in the smart era? Turns out it was a global pandemic that sent everyone home and sent sensors into buildings.

However, this idea of a turning point isn’t being fair to the sustainability movement that started before the pandemic and grabbed the attention of building owners, operators, and occupants. People wanted to understand their impact on the environment and how data could illuminate ways to improve their carbon footprint. Buildings that could prove they were doing good for the environment, or at least trying to, became more attractive to tenants and could charge a premium. As discussed in a recent Metatrends piece, understanding energy data and how to promote tenant participation in its conservation became a higher priority for many stakeholders.

Now as people leave their home workspaces and reenter the office, they want to know more about the spaces they’re occupying. 2020 was the year that indoor air quality became commonly referred to as IAQ and solutions that could detect and monitor various elements in the air shot up in value. Now occupants want touchless access into and around spaces as well as reserved seating and room booking. They want to know what to expect and, if anything changes, they want real time updates.

Managing the increase of hardware and software to get this data, in addition to the data itself, is not a small feat. Data is often isolated in silos and difficult, if not impossible, to integrate with other data sources. Occupants and their buildings are in need of a common thread between all of these IoT sources and speaking with Gary Chance, VP of Marketing & Partnerships at smart building company Prescriptive Data, he suggested this thread is an addition to the executive team. It’s time for a Chief Smart Building Officer.

Who is a Chief Smart Building Officer? “They can be building operations executives, sustainability executives, or techies, but they must be obsessed with data and really good at working with different executive teams,” explained Chance. “This role has the challenge of aligning many different stakeholders and their goals ranging from energy and NOI to security and tenant experience and beyond.”

Alignment is possible through careful analysis and independent perspectives of data while bringing in the needs and challenges of various building departments. Questions from engineering and property management teams could include how to use technology to manage sensors and automate mundane BMS-related tasks while those focusing on energy want to use data to reduce usage and their carbon footprint. On the other side, IT departments see each IoT device as a new entry point into their network and they want to prioritize functionality and security. Those wearing a financial hat want to know what this new information can do to increase the valuation of the property, improve NOI, reduce OPEX and predict CAPex, and if increasing commitment to sustainability can help with fundraising. Leasing departments want to know if this can help retention. That’s a wide range of topics to cover and more than enough for a new full-time executive position.

But alignment between various stakeholders is just one of four pillars central to the CSBO, as Chance explained; “It’s absolutely necessary to make data sets useful across functions and in 2020 we started to see the idea of a data lake transitioning into a  building API.” This second pillar of API integration is related to another Metatrends piece about how operating buildings is like being in The Matrix and we need to learn in order to see what we need to know. Floor-level occupancy data can be used to automated energy conservation measures, reducing energy usage and expense. This same data can also assist operations teams with resource allocation and reveal amenity usage to asset managers trying to predict revenue. Leasing agents can use the occupancy data to talk to tenants about space usage and if they should expand next term.

After so much change last year, it’s not surprising that new processes are being approached with caution. Teams stress they don’t need something new to manage or figure out. Tech companies are addressing this hesitancy by rolling out incentives for pilot programs but, with so many options available, someone to truly research and evaluate the best fit is the third pillar of responsibility for a CSBO. For properties with multiple buildings, testing a different solution on each building may be the right answer to compare various options. Or, if that sounds like a headache, having the right person to fully understand the industry’s offerings can be a shortcut to the property’s perfect fit.

The final pillar under the CSBO umbrella is, just like everything else related to data, success cannot be assumed—it needs to be measured and then it needs to be shared. Each stakeholder group needs to see improvements from their baseline and advancement to their goals, and the CSBO is the only common thread between the data and each group. Of course, not all goals are complimentary such as hitting energy initiatives and keeping tenants comfortable. “This is when the CSBO becomes the representative of the company’s brand and mission. Articulating and measuring the company’s most important business objectives can be the most important thing a CSBO can do,” added Chance.

No one could have predicted that our hunger for data in buildings would accelerate at this pace. IAQ, occupancy, reservations, access control, and many others have entered the scene and don’t show signs of being part of a short-lived trend. Now is a pivotal point with two choices: do companies wait it out until the “right way” is discovered to manage these smart buildings and risk being smothered by siloed, uninformative data? Or do companies bring in a CSBO and let them direct the ship amongst the data waves? The smart building movement has contemplated who should be captain for years but now companies must decide just how important success is. If there’s not an empty seat at the table for the CSBO, the common thread between all departments could instead be stress and confusion. The sensors are here, the data is here, and the people are coming; let’s leave the surprises behind us and let CSBOs lead us into the smart building life we’ve been waiting for.

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