Today , the first employees of PWC will take possession of the first two floors of their new showcase property in downtown Toronto: PWC Tower @ 18 York. When they will walk into their offices, they will not find a light switch on the wall. Instead, they will now be able to turn on, dim and turn off their lights using the Cisco IP phone in the offices, meeting rooms, and quiet rooms. For any technology person this may not seem a big deal, yet it certainly will be a first for the occupants of 18 York.
This capability may appear deceivingly simple. But it is not quite as straight forward as a phone that communicates directly with a lighting system [which has been done before]. What makes this really so unique [above and beyond the CAPEX savings of a couple of hundred dollars per light switch] is the underlying architecture that enables it all to happen. 18 York is one of the first buildings with an end-to-end Building Information Network (converged fiber IP network infrastructure) that communicates with the network edge such as IP Phones, sensors, access points, but also with the lighting system, power meters, blinds, and soon also the building’s HVAC.
A gateway technology is used to capture and normalize the data that sits in traditionally silo-ed disparate building systems. A Centralized Management System (CMS) acts as the central nervous systems of the building. Features, functionalities, and policies are set in this CMS with the purpose to optimize the building performance, reduce the building energy footprint, and provide services that will enhance the occupants experience (e.g the ability to personalize lighting levels while maximizing energy savings).
The smart and connected real estate approach turned this state-of-the-art building into an information-centric operation that will provide so many more opportunities for facility and experience enhancements. For starters, the CMS will expose the building information to a cloud-based automated fault detection application that will predict the building’s performance and trigger condition-based and preventive maintenance activities. Also, soon we will be displaying the PWC’s energy consumption on the many digital signs in their modern office. With the IP Network as the building’s “Platform for Innovation”, this will just be the beginning.
The convergence didn’t stop with the technology alone. The true convergence was how the industry came together to make this happen. As the concept broke through technology silo’s, it also ruffled some of the established relationships and contracting methods. Building 21st Century buildings with 21st Century capabilities requires 21st Century thinking in organization, stakeholders, and teamwork. On this project, we saw GWLRA (landlord) and PWC (tenant) embrace and own the vision and everyone else rallied behind it. A big thanks to EllisDon, Cisco, Lutron, Flexity, FifthLight, Canem, and everyone else involved (www.smart18york.com).
Convergence at its best ! Let’s do it again (and again and again).
If I received a buck for each time that someone asked me: “Show me the ROI?” – I’d be rich by now. If by “ROI” one would mean “holistic economic sustainability” then it wouldn’t be all that bad. Unfortunately, more often than not, “ROI” just means “lowest first cost, with obvious pay-back times”. By that definition, I wonder if Nikola Tesla and his friends (commercial electricity in 19th Century) would have had the same experience that I have daily; or if Willis Haviland Carrier (electrical air conditioning in 1902) and Elisha Graves Otis (elevators in 1852) would have sold any of their expensive and unproven innovations.
In those transformative instances, it were often other drivers that pushed for the innovation. Things like comfort; demand and expectations; or the aspiration of doing things differently and pursuing new adjacent opportunities triggered some of the most exciting inventions in the construction and real estate industry. Of course, I am not promoting to forget about financial ROI’s and ignore the importance of economic sound decision-making. All I am asking is that we take on the entrepreneurial attitude of 100 years ago where one was willing to take a leap of faith in accepting new and unproven technologies and methodologies.
How many of us out there still don’t believe that the Internet and the underlying Networks become instrumental for the performance of our built environment. How many of us still don’t believe that our children and their children will expect connectivity, wireless, and access to a personalized environment when the set foot in a home or building. Home many of us still don’t think that mobility, “cloud computing”, and virtualized compute power will change the landscape of the built environment and everything that we do in it, as we know it.
Funnily enough: it is all happening – Corporate real estate professional decide on new leasing space by the number of bars they receive on their mobile phones. Students will come home irritated from their first week in college if it so appeared that there wasn’t any wireless. Building systems in high-end North American properties are monitored and operated from world-class operations centers in India and the Middle East. And oh yes, the ROI has proven to be there – it is cheaper to build a building with one converged building-grade network as opposed to installing multiple silo-ed networks for silo-ed applications. Technology in buildings can simply not be “value-engineered” out of construction anymore in exchange for prettier marble in the lobby areas. Technology in buildings has become the right thing to do; and a critical asset to next generation infrastructure.
To keep the conversation meaningful, we have to redirect our attention from pure financial ROI’s to the balance of economic, environmental, and social ROI’s. And that means that “soft” factors will end up weighing as much into the equation as those financial metrics that have become some comfortable with. The financial pro-forma’s need to change to reflect the true value and return of 21st Century infrastructure assets. If we had Excel 100 years ago, we would still be analyzing spreadsheets and be debating with Willis over the financial returns for electrical air conditioning.
Thus now: let’s just do it.