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Why do smart building projects stall and how they can succeed

There is a common and recurring challenge amongst commercial real estate developers. To ensure their project does not result in delivering an obsolete building upon substantial completion. This is an understandably stressful predicament for development teams who are having to define functional and experiential uses cases two, three, sometimes five years in advance of completion with expectations that the new building meet both market demand as well as operational requirements.

The problem is rooted in how smart buildings are procured. A problem compounded by the accelerated evolution of applicable technologies, the proliferation of IoT, increasing expectations of tenants and the realization of unplanned events (pandemics).

As a result business models are being examined and internal discussions are taking commonplace which is contributing to the increasing headwind that have grinded these projects to a halt. Let’s not try to pretend that this scenario is not currently playing out on countless development projects.

Most smart building projects lose sight of their value because both priority and emphasis is being placed on the building’s utility (fit for use) and have not necessarily weighed the importance of its warranty (fit for purpose). In other words, significant energy is being spent on functional features much too early in the project asking the customer to define value long before utility of the space can be recognized, or perhaps without engaging the voice of the customer.

Utility must provide value. Any solution for any customer should enact one of the following outcomes; improve performance, remove constraints, or both. As development projects take hold stakeholders from various divisions within organizations place emphasis on their own priorities which only multiplies functional requirements of a building that is yet to be occupied, built or completed in design. How many projects have had where scope evolve to where too much is asked and costs balloon?
There is good news. The industry is learning and adapting from previous experiences as more emphasis is being placed upon on a smart building solution’s warranty. Warranty delivers non-functional requirements where the solution must contain all attributes which include security, availability and capacity.
Warranty emphasizes that all relevant data being generated within the built environment must have the capacity to be connected, can be made continually available and shares information securely. It demands all data from assets, equipment in IT, OT and IoT systems are open protocols, always available, secure and most importantly actionable to drive outcomes.
Emphasizing a smart building warranty future proofs the solution and enables owners, its operators the flexibility to adapt their building to evolving market demands, whether they be industry related (tenant expectations, vacancy rates, etc.) or unforeseen global events (pandemics, natural disasters).
Future proofing buildings to evolving technologies and market demands has been a key contributor to the continuous growing momentum of digital twins. This term is drawing a significant amount of attention for two reasons. One reason is because of its value and the other reason is because of the confusion surrounding its definition.

To address the confusion we borrow Vertandix’s definition of a Digital Twin for built environments: A digital model of a building or facility which replicates the facility’s physical properties, systems and processes, and simulates its performance using real-time and historical data from many sources – such as plans, sensors, building equipment, staff, occupants – and a comprehensive analysis toolkit – such as graph databases….machine learning models – to enhance operational decision-making and automation.”

The Value of an fully enabled Digital Twin is that it is real-time, contextual (clear understanding of how devices, workflows and people relate with one another) and flexible (learn and adapt from insights to enhance operations). A Digital Twin is not be to be confused with BIM. While BIM is useful in visualizing a building, it does not offer the same value as a fully enabled Digital Twin which can:
• Seamlessly transition from development to operations by automating commissioning to validate the connectivity of systems.
• Execute an automatic discovery of all connected assets and compare it against specifications, requirements and floor maps.
• Learn how the building space is being used by occupants in real-time and
• Empower Management to optimize system functionality and operational workflows
The Key difference amongst varying definitions is fully enabled Digital Twin emphasizes actionable data-driven building intelligence. Development and Operation Teams bring together previously unconnected systems both behind and in front of the wall, from security to HVAC to wayfinding systems — to gain new insights, optimize workflows and monitor processes remotely.

Digital Twins can serve as a foundation for organizations. When implemented early and effectively during building design a fully enabled digital twin can over time supply confidence on how decisions are made regarding future project development, operations, leasing, marketing and keeping project schedules uninterrupted.

About the Author

Remo Di Fronzo is Director of Smart Buildings at ThoughtWire. He has over 20 years repeatable success as a dynamic transformational senior leader with extensive experience and strategic insights regarding building intelligence projects. Remo has experience across multiple verticals including commercial real estate (CRE), architectural, engineering and construction (AEC), healthcare, financial services, and software industries.

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