Riding the next Smart Buildings & Cities wave

We have an explosion of big data in our cities and buildings. More than ever before we are going to be able to see all facets of how buildings and cities operate. Technology is emerging in an industry ripe for not just disruption, but massive improvements.

But how much is too much?

Whether you are creating or utilizing it, each technology needs an end purpose. A few observations from what I am seeing in the industry.

1: Can the technology solve long term issues? Is the idea a trend, does it have longevity?

This is particularly relevant to ‘smart’ buildings, where various technologies measure and manage different data, but without coordinating this data, we end up with highly fragmented systems to manage. If a building is filled with solutions not well thought out in the long term, it can lead to even more problems.

Adrian Leaman, a building performance expert who has studied over a thousand buildings worldwide since the 1980s, emphasizes the importance of keeping things simple.

“A good building leaves the technology options open, it shouldn’t become dependent on one”.

He has seen many failures in buildings where a dependent technology (i.e. window opening sensors) malfunctions without repair resulting in poor performance, or occupants quickly tire of a new tech and the system becomes obsolete.

2: Cut across silos

We have a highly disjointed industry already. In construction, operation and management there are a multitude of professional services, and within buildings a multitude of technologies.

Technology will force us to think outside traditional silos, and whilst a harder effort and slower uptake, the technologies that can cut across these silos (or fill the gaps between them) will be highly valuable.

3: Don’t forget buildings and infrastructure outside the premium office space

The technology issue is exacerbated when we consider the age and state of building stock in most cities, most buildings are over 20 years old, a huge market potential. A lot of tech will be taken up by the premium office market, we badly need to look beyond to older office buildings, residential, schools, healthcare etc. And such technology needs to be capable of integrating across systems in these buildings.

4: What problem is it solving?

When considering technology innovations, it is important to keep an eye on the issues you are trying to solve. Collecting data without an understanding of who needs to use it, for what, and how, can lead to more complications.

Try to think, if the person/team leaves responsible for the tech, can someone else step in easily or will it die a slow and painful death? What resources do we need at the other end to take the data and implement change?

Actions speak louder then data. Not all technology is able to automatically fix every step of every issue. It still requires action from humans, in fact a ‘very large input of human skills’ as Antony Slumbers outlines in his blog on the future of ‘Smart’ Buildings.

5: Technology won’t save the world on its own

Most importantly, technology will not change the world on its own, people will. Relationships, collaborations, partnerships, values alignment, design thinking etc. Engaging all stakeholder and understanding their needs is vital.

We get excited by shiny new things and latest trends. That’s not to say there isn’t abundant potent

ial for new innovation in this area. My mind boggles currently trying to rent a property at the inefficiencies that could be plugged from search to handover. I am also excited about AI in buildings, there is tremendous potential when you think a

bout data sources laying dormant. But, it will only be effective as the data put in. Rubbish in = rubbish out. 

Innovation takes deep thinking, time and commitment if it is to solve complex issues in the long term = slow technology.

And sometimes, well, things just can’t be solved by a shiny new technology. Ever download the latest app and then realise you are actually better using a pen and paper?

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Dr Sam Hall

Dr Sam Hall

Sam is the founder of Spaces Alive. She's an advocate for re-imaging our cities and buildings to prepare for the future of work and study.