Building owners and operators’ have long been interested in data tracking for operational and performance-related metrics. Now the focus for those managing spaces within these resilient buildings is shifting to include occupant-related metrics as well. Whether environmental (like indoor air quality), hygiene-conscious and touch-free (like visitor and access management) or density (like occupancy data), the pandemic put a hyperfocus on the people inside buildings. This increased attention is happening in tandem with a shift in what occupants expect from their office and residential buildings.
The good news is that collecting data from buildings has come a long way in just a few years and it’s possible to know almost anything you want about what’s happening within a building. What used to be a guess-and-check process is now supported with historical and real time data. In addition to gathering information, software can also analyze that data and derive actionable insights to optimize processes and improve performance in the future. But as our ability to gather data has grown, so has the volume of data. How do you know what you really need to track and where do you start? How do you make the data work for you?
1. Right This Way, Please
If everything is important, then nothing is important. Most data in its raw form is cluttered and must be cleaned and filtered to identify what building teams actually need to know.
One of the most vital areas of data gathering in a property relates to access control. Historically, properties needed this information for security and insurance purposes but that’s changed over the past year.
“Access control this year has accelerated in two phases,” said Prasan Kale, CEO of Rise Buildings, a property operations and occupant experience platform for multi-family and commercial real estate buildings. “During COVID, we had a lockdown, or phase one, where access control was about safety. Only specific people were allowed in buildings and occupancy sensors revealed how busy different areas were.” This requirement led to an increase in reservation systems that controlled access to different areas whether a room, floor, or entire building. Due to various needs of companies or buildings, these systems must be highly customizable to accurately reflect and accommodate for unique environments.
With real-time knowledge of who is going in and out of a place and when, we’re starting to see how spaces are being used and can more accurately predict how they’ll be used going forward both in the current environment and post-pandemic. This is changing how we think about space. “The second phase, which access control data is informing, is more specific to the office world. Many companies now realize they don’t need as much space as they previously anticipated. This is amplified, and made more complex, as employees occasionally work remotely and space needs to be flexible,” explained Kale.
A recent survey by Future Place showed that 89 percent of executives surveyed had put a hold on or canceled activities that required floor space expansion or increased investment. 44 percent put a high priority on negotiating leases and 20 percent were looking at more shared spaces instead of private areas. While the survey responses were concentrated in Australia, where the pandemic is more under control than other places, these results may hint at what comes next for other global markets.
The ability to flexibly reserve space based on anticipated utilization is paramount and needs to work for both regular building occupants as well as visitors or those who need ad hoc access. For example, some buildings may have 90 percent of their occupancy reserved for typical-term occupants and 10 percent allotted for temporary occupants or visitors. While a property may have a more robust app for full-time occupants to access the building, visitor access doesn’t need to require an app. For employees or residents at buildings powered by Rise, they can pre-credential a visitor in the Rise platform which integrates directly with numerous access control systems such as OpenPath, C-Cure, S-2, Kastle, and many more. Once a visitor arrives at an access control point, they can simply scan their Rise Pass credential on one of Rise’s interior or exterior visitor kiosks and access the property seamlessly. For occupants with the Rise app it’s even easier. They no longer need fobs or badges; rather, their proximity is detected using beacons and they can simply tap a button on their phone to unlock the door. Because of the native integrations and interoperability of the systems involved, no human intervention is required; all of the relevant security data is shared across platforms, enabling modern, secure access.
2. Chaos Underneath, Calm on Top
Gathering operational data and making use of it is simple in theory, but takes a lot to make it work. Done right, the process is non-disruptive to occupants while those who need the data have it in real time. “There is a lot of technology infrastructure that goes into real estate. Everyone has their own needs and requests and today’s systems are very disconnected,” said Kale. “These systems need to be connected so facilities management teams aren’t burdened with manually making them interoperable and can focus on their day jobs.”
Package delivery is a good example of the operational challenges that buildings need to manage. While no one wants every delivery person to walk the hallways unfettered due to security and, increasingly, public health issues, the rate of eCommerce growth requires an upgraded package management program. UPS alone delivered an average of 21.1 million packages daily in the second quarter of this year which was a 22.8 percent increase from 2019. With increased online shopping for the holiday season and into the future, this number is sure to keep growing and the traditional process of phoning occupants and holding packages behind the front desk is not scalable. As an industry, we’ve moved past the ability to manage this on a clipboard and communication with the occupant and tracking delivery-related information needs to be automated.
Rise, which, earlier this year, marked the one millionth package delivered through their system, gives both building operators and owners as well as occupants the technology to self-manage this process and minimize chaos. Booking amenities can be chaotic and if an occupant is in one building that is part of a portfolio, they should be able to book amenities at another building in the same portfolio without hassle. When this process is disjointed, it will often lead to frustration and disappointment. “It can also lead to lost revenue,” explained Kale. “The ability to create transactions and a new source of revenue through amenity reservations is something many more buildings will be doing as they look to improve NOI and generate a return on the investments they’ve made into a diverse array of amenities.”
3. Remote Doesn’t Have to Mean Out of the Loop
The term “app fatigue” has gained in usage as people are generally tired of dealing with multiple technologies that only do one thing. Those who need technology to use all that their buildings have to offer simply don’t want another thing to download, log into, or take up screen space on their devices. This reality can make engagement data difficult if not impossible to get without a unified solution.
“Occupants need technology to access building functions for a multitude of reasons, but the key to getting people on a building’s platform is to start with priority, functional elements,” said Kale. He discovered that once functional reasons for using an app are satisfied, the user will continue to engage with that app when the content it delivers is place-specific and hyperlocal. “Content needs to be relevant to within blocks of where their building is. The app needs to give them access to curated, relevant information that they would otherwise have to spend time searching for – if they chose to do so at all.”
As users engage with the app for relevant content, they’ll branch out into other areas like experiential opportunities. These virtual events whether cocktail-making classes or yoga, among hundreds of other topics, allow users to safely connect with others in their buildings. “This changes how you think about buildings as places to interact, buildings can become a more connected vertical community,” said Kale who is seeing 97 to 98 percent adoption and about 40 percent of the population spending at least 10 seconds or more engaging with the app every day.
The technology to obtain data from access control, operational, and engagement systems is available, but it’s all too commonly done inefficiently. Each of these isn’t enough on its own to provide deep insights and improve performance – and it makes it much harder to create a great user experience. Only when all three are connected can a holistic, seamless experience be created for occupants and truly meaningful data be made available to owners and operators. As how we use our buildings and spaces continues to evolve to meet our new needs, we will depend on connecting to, and with those within, our spaces.