Connected Real Estate

Green building is as much about a building’s performance as it is about measurement of that performance. The thermal design and daily operation of a building can be improved over time only if we in the building sciences can grab data, tweak designs and suggest optimized operation. Today, there is a push to establish a new “utility,” like the gas or electrical utility, and it’s called “connected real estate.” I’d be naïve to think this isn’t a new profit center for someone, and indeed, big companies such as Cisco Systems are pushing connected real estate after a series of acquisitions and technology initiatives that reach back a few years. But given the potential benefits of this approach to building operations, I’m not going to argue with who sells us the hardware and software.

Potentially transformational in nature, connected real estate holds the promise of making building more sustainable and more efficient. Some people call structures with connected real estate “smart buildings,” and implementing a connected real estate strategy will require everyone’s attention, at every stage of the building’s design and construction. The practical result of these efforts go far beyond, say, turning on the lights with your cell phone or heating up the pool from a keypad in the kitchen. That’s because connected real estate is far more than just a few buried wires. A digitally converged building is actually a network of IT infrastructure and services; a system of systems, really. When these work in concert (in new or retrofit buildings) these systems can support, enable and connect every aspect of the building’s operations — from occupant services and utilities, to remote service delivery, productivity and even adaptable environments.

Of course, today’s green building efforts are in the forefront of concerns, and connected real estate offers the ability to obtain meaningful data, in real time (or historically archived), and you can even obtain building metrics that can help you achieve (and show evidence of) performance mandates. Here’s one: How many times have you walked into a hotel room at 3 p.m. and found the AC cranked up and all the lights on? Like me, you wonder how long it had been like that; 24 hours? In a connected hotel, managers can automatically move unoccupied rooms to sleep mode for HVAC, wireless, lights and phones. This can mean an annual savings of $400 (or two tons green house gas) per room. For a 200-room hotel, Cisco claims a savings of 396 tons of green house gas and more than $80,000 each year. Smart.

With connected real estate, you can manage the entire arc of a building’s life, from concept and creation to ownership and operation. And here are some examples of the promise of connected real estate, excerpted from a World Wide Technology and Cisco Systems white paper that I just contributed to:

For communication, connected real estate can deploy IP telephony, video conferencing, rich media, collaboration and productivity tools.

For physical security, it can deliver converged security applications, including video surveillance, access control and visitor management.

For building technologies, it can monitor and administer HVAC, lighting, transportation and energy management; it can smartly manage power consumption in concert with utility rates that change throughout the day.
Disparate building systems such as comfort, lighting, security and water can be monitored and managed from a single web-based dashboard (or VOIP smart phone) where what-if scenarios can be run to fine-tune the building.

Connected real estate can manage multiple data protocols and essentially serve as a mediator of these various data feeds.

Communication systems can be integrated; your building can offer video conferencing, rich media, collaboration and productivity tools as well as high-speed Internet, secure VPN for remote employees, high mobility, wireless services, tele-presence, unified communications, parking monitoring/smart parking, space allocation and even centrally controlled digital signage, all aimed at attaining mastery of the physical space and, ultimately, organizational productivity.

The bottom line? Digital converged buildings can create: A) an improved occupant experience; B) improved productivity of built environments, and; C) offer high-efficiency impact on the building management and labor-force optimization. Cisco Systems believes that connected real estate will become as essential as plumbing or electrical wiring and gain the status of utility alongside the electric and gas utilities. Check it out.

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