The Building Utility

Monday Live! provides a well spring of thoughts and ideas for the future direction of building infrastructure and operations. This group of thought leaders bring new ideas and energy to various building conditions and technologies. The group discusses the current status of building technology, the industry, its impact on the bottom line, and continues advocating for positive change. Ultimately, the conclusion of the latest discussion was that all the current stove-piped specialties will converge into SaaS type offerings.

The IT world experienced a similar transition to what is happening in our industry today. For several years, Networking and Telecommunications were skillsets that were distinct from IT. IT focused on data centers, servers, PCs, and desktop services. As the IT industry matured several things happened.

  • Networking evolved to being thought of as a necessary "utility" for any new building being constructed and any major retrofit projects. There was no problem making the CAPEX investments when the building was being designed and built or upgraded. There was also an understanding that the network would need OPEX funding to be maintained and supported on an ongoing basis.
  • Those specialized networking people were eventually merged into IT departments. The C-Suite did not see the value in adding another person to manage or another unique technology they needed to focus on at the detailed level. Plus, networking, data centers, and desktop computing were extremely interdependent. This transition made complete business sense. The CIO and later the CTO became the C-Suite representative for the IT world.
  • It was understood that when it became time to renovate a building, network infrastructure updates needed to be included from the time discussions started.

It could be argued that networking technology has become the most important component of IT technology, even though it started out as an isolated, very specialized, discipline. Without the network everything is an island! This evolution continues with traditional telecommunications services giving way to VOIP and almost all services migrating to the SaaS model.

Our industry needs to nurture a similar transition. The first step that must happen is the HVAC mechanical systems, supporting building automation systems, and all other stove piped building infrastructure systems need to converge into a Smart Building ecosystem and be considered a necessary "utility" for any commercial building. Analogous shifts to most of the transitions that happened in the IT world need to happen in our world. The one exception is that it should not all fall under the IT department. The roles and responsibilities are just too different for that to happen successfully. However, a close relationship with the IT department is essential to avoid the duplication of effort.

The other transformation that must happen is redefining the role of the Building Manger, and where in the organizational structure does this position sit. Maybe even a new title is in order. Does this position become the Chief Building Officer? Whatever they are called, they need to be involved with planning new facilities, retrofits, and upgrades. They must have a position in the C-Suite to continually emphasize the importance of this "utility" and the impact it can have on the bottom line. The convergence into Smart Buildings provides the necessary single point of focus for the C-Suite and the aggregation of the value delivered by each of the previously stove piped infrastructure systems is now measurable and significant.

Once these technical and organizational changes happen, the door opens for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and managed service offerings to mature and thrive!