Last month, members of the Willow team flew from all over the world to Nashville, Tennessee for the Realcomm IBcon conference. The conference theme, RECalibrate: Using Innovation to Turn Challenges into Opportunities, addressed the pervasive nature of corporate and commercial real estate’s digital transformation, which impacts every aspect of our industry: how we manage data and information, how we operate buildings and portfolios, as well as the way we use and experience space. The influence of the digital transformation across corporate and commercial real estate reaches from the organisation as a whole right down to each individual at the company.
In Realcomm’s spirit of turning challenges into opportunities, Willow exhibited in Microsoft’s Partner Pavilion with the intention to begin and foster relationships with companies who place innovation as an integral part of their organisations – aiming not only to survive, but to thrive in this dynamic, rapidly-changing time for our industry.
Within our booth, we featured the WillowTwin™ solution that Willow developed for an existing building on Microsoft’s headquarter campus in Redmond, Washington.
As the Willow team wandered the exhibit hall, listened and participated in the presentations, and reveled with new and old friends in the industry at Nashville’s notorious live music bars, one thing became incredibly clear: technology is changing quickly and the demands from our buildings and people are evolving – so the days of “technology for technology’s sake” in real estate are behind us.
Willow Engagement Manager Nikki Chan has been attending Realcomm since 2014, and commented on how noticeably the conversation around smart buildings has matured over the past five years. “The focus is no longer education on smart buildings, but how owners should use the technologies. Instead of asking “what is a smart building?” and “how do I make my buildings smart?” today’s questions revolve around “how do I make smart building technology work for my company?” Each company will have a different answer to this question. One size doesn’t fit all.” Both owners and occupants of real estate are more technologically sophisticated and have a much better understanding of the application and benefit of technology.
Toni Trumbull, Client Director at Willow sees that the focus on energy and performance, while still important, is no longer the key motivator for owners. Rather, the challenge of using technology to enhance the occupant experience of buildings was of great interest at the conference. “Owners need to be more competitive to attract and retain high quality occupants on long leases with strong lease terms. To do this they need to start offering occupants not only a smart base building, but their own smart workplaces. Without integrating building systems and data hosted in the cloud, this is difficult to achieve and continues to be approached by offering disparate, dated and siloed solutions. It makes the sharing of data (energy, access etc) with occupants slow and clunky. Giving occupants access to their own real time data is a game changer.“
This theme was also evident in the conversation that emerged during the panel Finally a Metric – How Intelligent is Your Intelligent Building?, during which Investa Property Group’s Shen Chiu, Microsoft’s Rimes Mortimer, and Willow Co-Founder and CEO Joshua Ridley introduced the International Intelligent Buildings Index (IB Index) – a not-for-profit research initiative to standardise and quantify a building’s intelligence. As the smart building technology deployed in buildings continues to rapidly evolve and diversify, the IB Index aims to help owners and developers make informed decisions about how to evaluate the value (financial, environmental and social) that the technology brings to buildings and portfolios. Willow President Shaun Klann moderated the discussion.
Willow Digital Project Director Andrew Phelan attributed the extraordinary quantity and diversity of vendors and solution providers exhibiting at the conference to a broader shift in thinking about technology in real estate. “The major investment being made into the Proptech industry and Smart Building Technology sector is quite astounding. The demand for what these sectors are providing is changing, and will continue to change more in the coming years.“
He sees that we’re at the beginning of a major wave of IoT solutions coming to market, which is introducing brand new sets of data that owners will have to make sense of. “As opposed to having just tech for tech’s sake, or a collection of tech solutions that will each only address a single issue, owners and operators will need to adopt holistic solutions that solve business-scale problems.”
During the panel discussion Smart Building Digital Twins – The Industry Weighs In, it became clear that Digital Twin technology provides the framework that empowers owners with the freedom to deploy the smart building solutions of their choice, and visualise the often siloed data in a single pane of glass. Investa Property Group’s Nathan Lyon and Brookfield Properties’ Kent Tarrach shared their experiences leveraging Digital Twin technology to improve the management of their facilities and provide better service and experience to their employees and occupants. Nathan particularly emphasised the value of “contextual data” which emerges from the Digital Twin’s convergence of geospatial data from CAD drawings or Building Information Management Modeling (BIM) process, asset register data, and real-time data from building systems. The ability to interact with these different kinds of information in the same interactive environment offers a much clearer picture of performance of a piece of equipment, a system, a building, or the entire precinct or portfolio.
Ryan Wakefield, Strategic Partnerships and Sales Manager at Willow, recognised that owners are looking for more than just the right technology for their business – they are looking for leadership. “Real Estate owners at all stages of their smart building journeys are looking for true partners who can understand where they stand, and guide them in the areas they need to progress. Owners are looking to these partners to equip them with the tools and experience to unlock insights across entire portfolios rather than individual buildings, and bring clarity amongst the confusion in the Intelligent Building space.”