“I suspect the evolution of technology in our buildings is going to come rather quickly,” said Lachlan MacQuarrie, vice president, real estate management, with Oxford Properties Group, while moderating a seminar at the PM Expo in Toronto last month. “My advice would be: you probably don’t have as much time as you think you have.”
The PM Expo is North America’s biggest exposition, networking and educational event. It brings together thousands of visitors and exhibitors around the topics of design and construction innovation in products, technologies, best practices and applications. This year’s event unsurprisingly focused on connected buildings, touching on important issues such as energy and security.
One popular seminar discussed ‘energy management vs. building automation,’ which highlighted the energy efficiencies of real-time monitoring and operational responses. The conversation, however, transcended its technical title and instead focused at the real underlying issue.
“I think we’re at a point where it is no longer a conversation about a building automation system or an energy management system or about water management. It’s a conversation about the environment,” observed Chris Piché, a principal with the engineering and green design firm, Integral Group.
Others preferred to prioritize people in the way smart buildings are designed and built, but whichever way they looked at it, a buildings network infrastructure was at the heart of everything. Open converged networks create the platform for all developments within a smart or connected buildings context.
“The smart approach is getting that data so people can have a better experience,” said Robert Murchison, principal and co-founder of the consulting firm, IntelligentBuildings LLC. “Getting things open, no matter what you want to do, is fundamental.”
The big take-away from the event, however, was cyber-security and specifically how unprepared the sector is to deal with the threats that it poses. The Internet of Things in Buildings connects all manner of devices to create intelligent and responsive buildings. Each connected “thing” also creates a potential avenue of attack for hackers to disrupt or infiltrate real world building systems, and consequently risk a buildings assets and occupants.
By rushing head first into this new connected world, many within the buildings sector are being left behind, not knowing what they should know to properly protect their properties and occupants.
“We as an industry are not there yet in terms of securing a building,” said Maud Chaudhary, senior vice-president of portfolio management, national services, Dream Office REIT. “This is an area, as an industry, that we are slow to respond to. To be candid, most of us do not really understand the risk on a day-to-day basis.”
Overall the real estate event sought to define the next generation of property managers, those with all the knowledge and skills to operate, optimize and secure modern smart buildings. At the same time, these new age property managers need all the communication, public relation and people skills of their predecessors.
“We want to hire leaders, and things like ethics, communications, problem solving, decision-making critical thinking and interpersonal skills—those are equally as important as the hard skills,” said David Hoffman, general manager of The Cadillac Fairview Corporation.
Property managers need a technical understanding of the new and rapidly evolving technology being installed throughout their buildings. It is not enough to just be technically savvy however; the modern property manager still holds the same responsibilities they had before the IoT revolution. Until systems are intelligent enough to take over their people facing duties, property managers will remain the lynchpin of the smart building.
“You could argue that you’re the mayor of a small town,” said Chaudhary, about property managers, “Sometimes you’ve got teams of 25 to 30 people. It’s the soft skills, in my opinion, which outweigh many of the hard skills. The hard skills are learned; you can train people. If you don’t have the soft skills, unfortunately, property management may not be the right field for you.”
Whilst the discussion on smart buildings often revolves around the latest technologies it is the property managers that tie everything together. They interact with technology solution providers, maintenance, local authorities, and perhaps most importantly the tenants and occupants themselves.
As Michelle Brown, vice-president of property management at Bentall Kennedy in Canada puts it, “we’re the nucleus of the industry; we connect to asset management, we connect to the tenants, we connect to our sustainability group. We are the piece that holds it all together.”
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