Technology within the built environment and the smart buildings industry as a whole are evolving and changing at a rapid pace. With businesses like Vanti still dealing with issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the global economic slowdown, it looks set to be another year of some uncertainty but with huge opportunities for those who embrace technology and work the smartest when it comes to preparing their buildings to cater for the ever-changing needs of its users.
We sat down with our CEO Mike Brooman and one of our smart building experts, Zane Mansha, to discuss their reflections on 2022 and what they would like to see, what they think might happen and some of their bold predictions for the future of smart buildings and tech within the built environment for 2023.
How would you sum up 2022 for the industry?
ZM: I think we saw the beginning of a return to reality after a couple of tumultuous years with too many unknowns and changing expectations around the design and purpose of spaces, and this is playing out into some concrete ideas for the future of buildings.
Landlords, developers and building managers have also been getting wiser and more involved on where to focus spending for long-term value. The conversations around enabling automation both for lower energy consumption and improved user experience are becoming more solidified with the imperative to reduce energy spending and provide spaces people feel value in travelling to.
MB: Much of 2022 saw a lot of confusion within the industry – both from what clients should expect form businesses providing services within the industry and from what they would like to see in their own spaces.
One of the biggest challenges we faced as a business was software and SaaS vendors trying to be onsite MSIs and not fulfilling the role to a great standard. This has led to clients struggling to see the value of a true MSI, the advantages they can bring and becoming confused about the services and role of different entities within the tech in construction space.
Many of these vendors will also try to sell their services as a one-size fits all solution to every building despite the differing needs of each potential space, their physical location and their users. This means that clients don’t tend to benefit from best of breed technologies or the best form of integration within their buildings and are forced to work around the solution rather than embracing it as part of their technology and experience offering.
What does the industry need to do to move forward in 2023?
ZM: We need to leave behind compatibility lists to refocus on robust, well-documented APIs. Teams across our industry already spend far too much time and energy building unique system-to-system integrations and adding them to a library of solutions that are considered compatible with one another.
The industry can easily redirect that energy into providing a high-quality API experience for their solutions so that specialists can take over more of the bespoke work to glue together solutions for each unique building using repeatable approaches.
The instructions on how to securely push and pull data from your solution should be easily accessible and understandable, what your solution does can be complex and proprietary internally but how it communicates with other systems should be standardised and straightforward.
MB: I think as an industry we need to become more coordinated and more needs to be done so we can all sing off the same sheet when it comes to providing the best experience within our buildings. This includes agreeing what functionality and supporting technology should be inside a building and what should be externally (cloud) based.
More needs to be done to create repeatable processes, frameworks and standards so we can collaborate around best practice and develop partnerships to deliver end-to-end capabilities to its greatest potential.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing our industry at the moment?
ZM: Resource shortages. Manufacturers of products are still struggling to lower lead times as a result of on-going shortages in material and component supplies. Personnel shortages are also apparent across the industry for skilled individuals to fulfil roles in a convergent operational and information technology environment. This reduced supply combined with increased demand is leading to significant challenges in completing projects on time and budget.
MB: As we enter recession, it’s going to be more and more important for MSI’s like us and other vendors to demonstrate value. At a time when budgets will ultimately be cut and purse strings are tightened, we need to be clear about why it’s not just beneficial to embrace technology in the built environment, but ultimately necessary if we want to make progress on Net Zero and other green targets and ESG.
Naturally, humans are reticent to change and the changing nature of our spaces and what we need for them has been a slow burn so far. Hopefully we can be the holding hand that landlords, building owners and operators need to fully embrace tech within their spaces for the better.
What are the biggest opportunities for the industry in 2023?
ZM: Enabling Flexibility. Requirements are changing faster than ever for what a building or space needs to deliver in order to achieve its maximum value. There will be ample opportunity in the industry to satisfy this demand by creating buildings that can allow for quick and easy changes without being hampered by inflexible solutions and high change costs.
MB: Multi-wins. There are huge opportunities for all stakeholders if we collaborate rather than compete with our competitors. This space is full of businesses which have great specialisms but try to spread themselves too thinly. Collaboration will give us the best chance of all producing our best work for our mutual clients. We need to flood the harbour, so all ships rise, not try and cut each other off at the pass.
What is your one hope or wish that you would want to see in the industry in 2023?
ZM: For us to pause and properly analyse the purpose of projects before pulling the trigger. Decisions that have multi-year consequences for the operation and management of buildings are still being made hastily and by scattershot stakeholders rather than dedicated teams with a clear plan.
For example, how are buyers still getting value from expensive Covid-specific solutions like UV-C lighting or thermal entry systems vs those who implemented backbone upgrades while buildings were empty and now have the infrastructure to support demand-based services and easy addition of useful sensors? Are choices being led by teams with a clear objective or assigned to less involved individuals simply seeking to tick off a simplified brief, for a specific point solution, by an arbitrary target deadline?
MB: A realisation that whilst retrofit is comparatively expensive to new build, there are ways of tackling this, even outside of large retrofit or refurbishment projects. We need to get our poorly performing buildings under control! If we are really seriously looking to meet global emissions targets, there is little point in building flashy new energy efficient buildings if we can’t get existing stock into a place where they are pulling their weight in terms of performance.
What is your bold prediction for 2023?
ZM: Awkward conversations between customers and providers of subscription-based solutions to justify ongoing return on investment as organisations challenge departments to cut costs during economic slowdown!
MB: MSI standards will begin to emerge, and the industry will be in a much stronger position to avoid the clouds of confusion which currently blur the vision of our clients.