Slowly but surely, the initial response to the global spread of the Covid-19 contagion is giving way to calls for managing the crisis and emerging into a new normal. The most recent figure for unemployment claims in the US was a staggering 36.5 million. One can only imagine the impact worldwide, given such disheartening figures currently characterize the world’s largest economy. Fortunately, although we are months, perhaps even years away from being out of the woods completely, the initially projected fatalities have not materialized, in most parts of the world. Somewhere between these two extremes, a consensus is forming around trying to get the economy at least somewhat back on track, while still securing our populations against the on-going threat and a possible second wave of infections.
The central role of real estate and facilities management in minimizing the risk
Given they are a venue for all our activities, and our safe havens in this time of crisis, operating and managing buildings will be crucial to any new paradigm that we roll out. Proactive facilities management (FM) strategies and predictive models of real estate operations are going to be essential if we are to achieve a balance between security, health, and productivity. For effective alternatives to emerge, we need to first consider the functionality that will need to be enabled. The emerging medical consensus is that the Covid-19 virus will now be part of our environment on a virtually permanent basis.
In the meantime, essential properties have re-started operation and building management will need to function with skeletal onsite staff so that these professionals can maintain social distancing norms. At the same time, the stringent sanitation requirements that buildings need to adhere to represent a workload that is more than legacy models. The ‘wait and watch,’ approach that investors have inevitably taken, as well as the financial constraints being experienced by a vast number of tenants, presents yet another set of practical constraints, which the real estate industry will need to address.
So, the inevitable question is how exactly building owners must and FM service providers respond to this challenge? Is it even possible to simultaneously deploy a leaner onsite workforce, while optimizing business operations, financial models and unprecedented standards in outcomes? Digital retrofits are the solution real estate needs to evolve in keeping with a post-pandemic world. The short answer to the dilemma that the real estate industry faces can be summed up in two words – digital retrofits. As a technological upgrade, they were already a compelling solution, which offered granular system-wide transparency, ultra-optimized operations and centralized command and control. Now, given the peculiar circumstances we find ourselves in, the proven efficacy of this solution, in delivering on seemingly impossibly contradictory requirements, has become even more compelling.
Digital retrofits, which gather real-time building systems and workforce data across an entire portfolio using IoT, and derive actionable insights with the help of AI and machine learning, can give real estate businesses the unified management platforms that they need, to retain control over their assets and reduce operating costs. In conjunction with Cloud-based apps for automated maintenance, tenant engagement, and predictive analytics of building performance, this is a model that can help cost-effectively rationalize real estate operations, without much-disrupting business outcomes, while securing the confidence of tenants to return to the workplace environment.
One of the operational capabilities commercial real estate will need, to reconcile quality in outcomes with smaller workforces, is gaining remote access and control to critical building automation. In this context, Cloud-based remote operations, which has already proven to be the most effective way to manage critical automation such as HVAC systems remotely, will prove to be a powerful solution to reduce cost without compromising efficiency. Also, being able to optimize returns on opex, through optimal energy and benchmarked equipment performance, will depend on a real estate business being able to deploy a data-driven platform approach with predictive models. Digital retrofits are the most rational and cost-efficient route to enable all of these outcomes concurrently.
The right tool for the job
Many more factors that correspond to optimally productive, but leaner and more agile operations, can also be better realized using digital retrofits. Data-driven decision making, connected and better-informed stakeholders, as well as being able to allocate resources efficiently – based on usage patterns, mission-critical priorities and securing the premises – are all better achieved through the unified software platforms that digital retrofits enable. Perhaps the most decisive advantage that the solution offers, in preparing for the seismic shift that the industry is preparing to undergo is that it is relatively low-cost, with ROI achievable in the shortest possible timeframe.