6 takeaways from RealComm’s annual real estate technology event and why all tech leaders should care

As the lines between operational tech (OT), information tech (IT) and IoT (internet of things) continue to blur, all tech leaders need to be proactive in driving responsible innovation into physical work spaces, cities, campuses and homes.  RealComm’s 20th annual real estate technology event in June 2019, with 2500 attendees from 30+ countries, showcased diverse discussions, solutions opportunities and challenges as technology moves into built spaces.

After 4 days of networking, exhibit floor visits, conference and breakout sessions at RealComm / IBCon 2019, construction site tours and building innovator showcase one on ones, here are 6 key takeaways that every Tech Leader needs to know:

1 – In Built Spaces, Strategy and Design of Technology REALLY Matters
As tech leaders in all industries get requests to integrate sensors, apps and tools for convenience, security or measuring and collecting data in workspaces – avoid the hype to jump at the free vendor pilots before stepping back and understand business goals. At RealComm, the most compelling stories of built space technologies came from innovators like Google and Oxford Properties who had clear articulated goals and plans and involved many stakeholders and needs over the lifecycle of a project. Google described the 4 pillars that drive their built space design for their projects, and Oxford Properties identified fundamental drivers of their business, building goals and business outcomes as a first step. Major property tech owners, developers and operators need vendor neutral design, data driven pilots and a healthy discussion about the long-term impact on community wellbeing before introducing technology into physical spaces.

2 –Few were talking about implications and who really owns the BIG data that buildings and spaces create.
Everyone at RealComm was talking about data generated by built spaces, dashboards, advanced predictive analytics and machine learning.  Real estate, construction and property tech industries have caught data fever.  But, no one was talking about governance of huge amounts of data across the lifecycle – other industries like financial services have more mature, robust data governance in place. When workspaces and employees create data, who owns that data? Does simply being an owner of a building, or owner of a sensor or IoT platform provide ownership to built space data, some of which might be behavior about individuals?  Technology leaders across all industries are already challenged with few guidelines to manage data – whether for security, access, identification (and de-identification) or measuring behavior.   The potential for huge amounts of data being created by built spaces makes this challenge for all tech leaders even bigger.

3 – What does it take to have an integrated IT (info tech), OT (operation/facility tech) and IoT (sensor/device) strategy?
A highly experienced panel of CIOs responsible for portfolios of leading-edge smart buildings agreed “It takes a village to get this one right”. Collaboration and understanding across designers, property managers, engineers, facilities, operations, technology and cybersecurity teams was a big topic of discussion for these tech leaders. The convergence of IT, OT and IoT is a Board level issue, especially ensuring that Operational Technology is secure by design.
Collaborating to integrate IT, OT and IoT means learning for all involved. A chief engineer of a building doesn’t agree that a building automation system is an IT system until its hacked or broken. And, facilities teams responding to life safety, security and emergency systems believe they work with more urgency than IT (and in many cases they probably do). But, IT has matured processes for service, support, security and defining and implementing technology. Savvy leaders were identifying creative ways like job swapping to get operations, facilities, IT and smart building experts working closely and efficiently.

4 – There’s too much choice in platforms and solutions for “smart” built spaces – look to big buyers (real estate developers, owners, property tech, government) for guidance.
The RealComm solutions marketplace was crammed with smart platforms and solutions that integrate with, replace and extend today’s legacy Building Automation Systems. Devices, engineering subsystems, specialized and “single pane” dashboards to see building operations and occupant experience were overwhelming. The diverse set of showcased solutions raised even more questions than answers – how to connect smart things, new approaches to secure edge devices, how to share data across IT and OT and the overlap between a buildings, tenants, cities and campus platforms.
With so much turmoil and innovation and few clear winners, the market for built, smart technology platforms, apps and solutions will consolidate. Tech leaders in any industry looking to add solutions that integrate physical and digital workspaces (A/V, lighting, wayfinding kiosks, access, workspace metrics) need to look beyond shiny features and custom one-off functionality and place informed bets on vendors, approaches and platforms that are gaining market share and will stand the test of time. With so much new technology in the market, One RealComm announcement to watch – Utility Grade Infrastructure – is an important sign of work being done to create a more advanced certified infrastructure layer (cabling, standards) for converged IT and OT.

5 – You get what you pay for when it comes to Master Integration of Built Tech subsystems.
RealComm panelists responsible for integrating and using a variety of building subsystems and technology are starting to figure out that a relentless focus on low cost can’t be the only driver for integrating building systems. Panelists admitted that a Master Designer and Integrator with accountability for integration across multiple, separate building systems – end to end – was becoming more critical. Even though it might seem like a cheaper option to select integration subcontractors for each subsystem like lighting, HVAC, access, elevators, emergency management, fire suppression or safety – experts agreed that managing multiple vendors is hard work and often created bad user experiences or lower quality solutions that are harder and more expensive to maintain. RealComm experts also reported shortages in skillsets and real expertise in Master Integration of built space systems that is being filled by a new type of integration company, often with well-known integration platforms and approaches from other industries.

6 – All building cybersecurity starts with physical security and the importance of technology supply chain and equipment in built spaces is underestimated at the moment.
Panelists from Brookfield and a few US government agencies agreed that all tech leaders need more awareness about where equipment supply chains and the types of issues that are possible in a world with increasing interest in owning or hacking technology infrastructure for various political reasons. With cybersecurity, hacking and potential for physical equipment as a threat, the fact that the audience for this important session was so small raised a few questions.

As a first-time attendee, Kudos to the RealComm Founder Jim Young and his team, who founded this event in 1999 with the vision of creating a community, where folks in commercial and corporate real estate could come together to discuss, debate, share experiences and best practices on technology as applied to the real estate lifecycle. The excitement, opportunities and challenges of built space technology Growing from 750 to 2500 attendees, they have been at the forefront of recognizing, creating rich discussions and events to address technology in built spaces. In 2012, RealComm expanded the RealComm conference to also include IBcon, the smart, connected, high-performance intelligent buildings conference. The RealComm and IBcon conferences are jointly held every June.

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Roberta Kowalishin
Roberta Kowalishinhttp://www.dialogdesign.ca
Roberta Kowalishin, a strategist and technology leader, is currently Director of Technology (CTO) at DIALOG Design, a multi-disciplinary, international design firm. DIALOG’s ethos is that design can, and should, meaningfully improve the wellbeing of our communities and the built environment we all share. Roberta brings broad technology strategy and implementation experience as CIO/CTO in industries that are being disrupted by technology: consumer news media (CIO at NY based Hearst Newspapers), cybersecurity and records management (Director in PwC's privacy and forensics practices), satellite network services (VP, Technology at CapRock Communications) . This experience and her passion for challenging people and companies to re-invent how technology interacts with their environments has helped DIALOG, as a design firm, simplify, streamline and trust digital technology take full advantage of new ways to collaborate across geographies, disciplines and project teams. Roberta holds an MBA from MIT, a Bcom Economics from McGill and Harvard’s Graduate Cybersecurity Certificate. She has been cited as a next generation CIO in the Wall Street Journal and been quoted Business Week, Wall Street and Technology and Information Week. Most recently, she authored a blog for consumers with plain English advice about how to stay safe in an insecure cyber world.

Featured Download

IT World Canada in your inbox

Our experienced team of journalists and bloggers bring you engaging in-depth interviews, videos and content targeted to IT professionals and line-of-business executives.

Latest Blogs

Senior Contributor Spotlight