The Elephant in the Building

AHRexpoAs technologists, it’s really easy to get caught up in the technology game and miss the elephant in the room. There’s something about new technology that creates an adrenaline rush. We can’t wait. We can’t wait to play with it. We can’t wait to learn about it. This week I’m in Orlando, FL with about 60,000 other people attending the AHR Expo 2016 – the International Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Exposition. If you want to see new technology, this is the place: Bluetooth pressure and temperature transducers, networked light systems that also measure humidity and temperature, a whole array of devices that operate by harvesting energy out of their environment.

The Building Automation market continues to produce new and better technology and devices. The 2,000 exhibitors provide anything and everything that’s needed in a building from piping to advanced multi-building control systems.

Business Stagnation Among the New Technology

Every year there’s newer, better and more but as Paul Oswald from CBRE/ESI pointed out in a session I attended, we’re not seeing the big picture. The industry, except for this ever present technology march, is stagnating. Paul pointed out that:

• There are no new business models that have been developed as all this new technology has been deployed over the last two decades. Everywhere else you look in society, technology is applied and new business models are created – Uber, cloud based Customer Relation Management (CRM) – there’s hundreds of examples. Just none in in the building market.

• There are no new processes. Building owners and building management still do almost everything the same way they did it 50 years ago.

• There are no new best practices that are radically different than the best practices from ten or twenty years ago.

• Delivery models, training and everything else about how we operate and manage these buildings hasn’t changed.

Paul pointed out that buildings aren’t being managed as corporate assets. There’s little to no effort at most companies to fit the building to the workforce. No one looks at their real estate as an asset that should be monitored and subjected to rigorous analysis like other corporate assets are. Paul mentioned a company that, with a little analysis, reduced their office space requirements by 30% and leased that space out with the option to get it back if they need it in the future.

It’s a very enlightened way to look at buildings and building automation technology. Unfortunately a hard one for us engineers, who would rather work with bits and bytes than business models, processes and operational strategies.

This is the elephant is in the building, but we’re ignoring it.

What do you think? Are you seeing any new business practices being embraced in your building customers?

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