Separating hype from reality in #CRE tech, and how to make a start with Building and Office Intelligence

July, 2019

Earlier this spring, Mike Prsa, Principal and Vice President of Mulvey & Banani International joined Franco Castaldini, Chief Commercial Officer of ThoughtWire, took a deep dive into the issues of Building and Office Intelligence design.

Below is an excerpt from Mike and Franco’s fireside chat style conversation, where they separate hype from reality, talk about the importance of infrastructure design and why a common data layer will help future proof your asset. Watch the full webinar here.


Q: The market for technology in CRE is crowded. How do you help customers get started with selecting the right technology? What should those early on in their journey prioritize?

Mike: Most importantly it’s not about technology first. It’s really about sitting down and finding out the individual organization’s requirements or the functionality they need or uncovering why they’ve gone down the path of building and office intelligence. In those early stakeholder meetings it’s really our role as the expert to deduce the use cases, requirements and eventually the technology that fits the solution design.

Franco: So you’re advising your clients to look at the outcomes they want to achieve and then work backwards to discover what technology they will need to support those outcomes?

Mike: Absolutely! Your customer may not always understand the highly technical aspects of the technology but they certainly understand their workplace, what makes it more efficient, and by hosting workshops you discover the pain points that exist and then tie it back to how technology may solve those problems. We usually whiteboard this at a number of stakeholder workshops before we even get to the technology.

Franco: Do you find that the outcomes clients are looking for are consistent across various building types and geographies?

Mike: They’re consistent in the foundational reason why they are implementing or investing capital. There are dollars saved, carbon emissions saved, employee wellness, attraction & retention. But the individual use cases that lead to those common benefits change drastically from the OI [Office Intelligence] front because each business has their own objectives, and are more common for BI [Building Intelligence].


Q: You need data to support both Building Intelligence [BI] & Office I intelligence [OI] use cases and there is overlap in data required for those use cases. Do you need a common data layer to support them?

Mike: Everything starts with the largest value, the building level, the Building Intelligence data. We’re pulling data from core systems that control comfort, security, and lighting, which of course means there will be overlap in data sources required looking at OI.

There are two options of how to look at this, it’s realistically a partitionable section of the Building Intelligence platform, where you can provide tenants access to just their own space. Or if proper design practices have been put in place the Building Intelligence data is normalized to common protocols so that data can be shared with tenants who can then build out their own OI use cases.

There definitely is a common data layer that usually involves those core space metrics.

Franco: Couldn’t agree more. At ThoughtWire, we have a strong point of view on this. The data that you rely on today is in silos spread across many different systems, people, and IoT systems that are all disconnected from a data standpoint. Having that common data layer allows you to have the context to support the use cases to unlock some pretty compelling outcomes.

For example, space utilization is definitely a BI&OI use case. On the OI side you have tenants or employees who want to benefit from hot desking. Sit next to my friends, sit in a space with these environmental settings, quite, etc. so on and so forth. All of that data is captured and could be sent to building management and operations team so they can optimize the benefit for their tenants and explore potential cost efficiencies of tying occupancy with operations.

Mike: Yes, for space utilization whether you are using more traditional methods like camera based or thermal based is a huge use case for both BI and OI.


Q: Data is at the center of Building & Office Intelligence. There are many approaches and technologies on the market to collect, manage and synthesize this data. How do you choose the right approach or technology?

Mike: This is similar to what we’ve touched on so far. It really comes down to what an organization is looking for when it comes to core functionality. If they are really only looking at saving dollars and cents and not the bells and whistles, you can run FDD applications that feed into your data lake. Once you define your motivation for deploying these BI or OI use cases, then that is how you should approach the technology. Do you agree?

Franco: Yes, and you touched on this in your presentation that it’s important to support open protocols and data standards, that once modeled this data can be made available to other applications to enable other use cases. It’s something I believe is key for any owner/operator, to make sure they can learn from the data outside the use cases defined by BI or OI. So you can apply data science and unlock new insights. Here at ThoughtWire, we agree with Mulvey & Banani wholeheartedly on that you need to support those open protocols and data standards to get the maximum value out of the investment.

Mike: When we were designing these building intelligence systems in their infancy well over a decade ago, the idea of data and data normalization did not exist in the schematic design phase. It was a factor of whatever protocols the system provided, and us the master technology integrator or BI developer had to try and diffuse and normalize, make sense of these protocols. Now we get involved at that schematic design phase and influencing their specifications, how the building systems are procured so that data is available, is exposed, and can communicate across various platforms.

Franco: Yes, ThoughtWire’s Smart Building suite is supported by a common platform that is an overlay across your various building systems. We have two applications one for the office intelligence called @work and the other for the building operator, that’s providing Building Intelligence, PrecisionHub. Both applications support open communication standards so they can share data. South of our platform, the building systems, it’s important for them to support open protocols like BACnet, Modbus, or Restful.

Mike: Unlike a BAS/BMS implementation we get into the actual infrastructure to ensure that the building is future proofed for analytics that may not be compatible with the serialized, daisy chain environment of most control systems. The amount of data, algorithms, and metrics are just going to grow exponentially, not just in CRE but in every industry. Making sure the infrastructure is able to support this is crucial.