IoT Help Wanted: Solving the Smart Building Problem

We need to find a way to make an emotional connection between a building and its occupants.

Photo of buildings connected to the internet

Dear Silicon Valley, I work in the facility management industry and could use your help. We have been debating solutions to the same problem for the last 40 years and no one has solved it.

“Why are so many buildings uncomfortable to work or live in today?”

Perhaps you would phrase that: “Why does the user experience of working/living in a building suck?”

We called it a $50 billion opportunity in 1999. No one solved it.

We operate a $1 trillion dollar industry that hasn’t fundamentally changed in 30 years.

We live in a “low first cost” world, where occupant satisfaction is not rigorously tracked, or valued

If you can revolutionize a boring industry like the taxi industry, then surely you can find the HVAC industry interesting enough! Jokes aside, there is a burgeoning “Smart Building” industry that is showing a lot of potential.

  • The first major Smart Building / Real Estate Tech focused VC firms were created in the past 2-3 years (Fifth Wall Ventures, MetaProp, BuiltTech, etc)
  • The big property managers (JLL, CBRE, C&W, etc) are building out a Smart Building teams
  • The application of new software (occupant experience, applying analytics to building data, etc) has exploded in the recent years. For example, building analytics company SkyFoundry has its software installed in over 1 billion sqft of real estate

But there remain many barriers to solving the problem of low occupant satisfaction…

  • Property managers don’t know the value enough to justify the investment. Interest in occupant experience and revolutionizing how we work (wink, nod to WeWork) has changed the mentality of the real estate industry to move towards maximizing the value of the “occupant experience” service that can be provided, not just minimizing the costs of providing the space to work. However, this is the trend, not the norm. The everyday property manager is only slightly feeling the effects of a changing ecosystem.
  • The IT/OT divide. The building management industry has always been slow to adopt new tech/software. However, with tenants beginning to expect a digital user experience to their workspace, startups and entrenched players alike are rushing to figure out how to offer tech on top of real estate.
  • There’s no consensus on what’s important. We’ve spent the last 40 years trying to make buildings use less energy, or cost less to build or maintain and forgot about why we built them in the first place (to keep people comfortable and productive)
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Most importantly, why have we failed time and time again comes down to a fundamental problem:

  • Occupant satisfaction is not quantified. It’s intuitively obvious (and proven in numerous peer-reviewed studies) that more comfortable occupants make for more productive employees, but we never followed up. We never created the mechanism to take occupant feedback, and quantify how comfortable a tenant is and how that directly affects their productivity. Without a known value to a problem, no solution gets proposed.

My challenge to the tech community is this

  • Build an awesome UI for the Smart Building occupant. Make an app that people want to open up and use when they get to work, or get to their mall/hospital/etc. Find a way to make an emotional connection from a building to its occupants. Once you do that, use the data to figure out why people enjoy their time indoors/at work and what makes a certain space better for productivity/enjoyment than others. Make people happier and more productive.