Speaking at a media briefing in Paddington Central, Julian Barker, head of smart places at British Land, explained what the developer means by the term and the steps it is taking to make its buildings future-proof. This is an edited transcript of his presentation.
At British Land, by smart we mean the use of technology in the built environment to make places outstanding – how we use technology for our customers.
The property industry has been on a journey over the last few decades really, with a focus on making outstanding physical locations, places that looked great, in great locations, particularly if you wanted to make money out of them and then, progressively, the concept of placemaking has come in.
Three phases of development from past to present:
- How to spend your capital so that there is income from it on day one
- Places for people, that engender a sense of community, wellbeing, human-centred design
- How do you bring the power of digital to unlock that space even more efficiently to create seamless interactions for users and occupiers?
And you can think of us along with the rest of the industry as going on a journey that ends up at the intersection of these three.
So why are we doing this?
There are a few different reasons. Broadly speaking, the advantages fall to one or two groups of people.
It’s either to our occupiers, the people that pay our bills, the employers that pay the rent, or it’s for the users of the space, the workers in the office, the shoppers, the people that live in the space and so things like cost-control and brand are examples, and talent acquisition and retention are examples of how smart can support the occupiers.
You can reduce the costs of operating your space; it should align with your brand as a company who wants to be forward-thinking; it will enable you to attract and acquire talent.
Then for the users of space, it’s about wellbeing. It can improve your wellbeing, your productivity. You can be your best you in a smart building because you can control it, because you can optimise it for yourself.
Sustainability is clearly at the intersection of the two. When we finally manage to raise our eyes from the car crash of Brexit, there is going to be an awful lot of focus on sustainability. There is no way we’re going to be able to achieve full potential in terms of climate change emissions without using technology to make the operations of buildings more efficient.
However, there’s one overwhelming reason why smart is going to be really important and that’s because of all of us. If you think for a moment about the kind of stuff you can do, relatively quickly, comparatively cheaply and very easily to smart-equip your home, to enable you to control aspects of your home either from your phone or with your voice, things like Alexa, things like smart TVs, smart fridges, smart lighting, and then compare that for a moment with what the office looks like.
People don’t want to walk out of their houses and feel like they’re going back in time when they go to their office.
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What’s British Land doing about smart?
There are elements that, in my role, I am focusing on and before I talk about them, I will just quickly point out that it’s all underpinned by the physical. As I said at the beginning, this is not about technology systems but how our business runs, this is about underpinning on the physical how we deliver outstanding spaces.
So, the first element is the hardware, the technology hardware. What this is about is every time we get our hands on the space, which, don’t forget, might only be every 10 or 20 years, making sure that we’re putting the right stuff in. Everything effectively that has an electrical current running through it, making sure it’s connected to the internet, making sure that it’s sending and receiving information so that you can control it remotely and making sure it’s doing that in all in one common data environment and with one common language so that all the data from it you can put in one place and you can cross-compare.
Now it’s worth noting that there are plenty of companies out there who will do these two for you. You can go to an M&E supplier of air conditioning units for example, they’ll supply a unit and we’ll supply a data environment for it and they’ll say, ‘We’ll look after all this for you and we’ll optimise it’. Our view is that that’s not the most efficient way to do it. We want to make sure that the air conditioning unit is outputting data in the way we want, in a way that we can get hold of it, to put it into a single data environment because the power from that is that you can then compare it with other data sources – lighting, people flows, CO² levels in the room. If all the data is sitting in vertical silos it doesn’t give us the flexibility as a landlord to be able to leverage the power of all that data. It’s important that we extract data from all this hardware in a single format.
And then the final element is the user-experience. How do we provision this data, this power back to the users so that they can understand what’s happening in space and that we can create dashboards that show what’s going on or where there’s a free desk or where there’s a quiet part of the office or where the temperature is the temperature that you like which is different to the one your colleague likes and also how you can create apps that allow people to control space so that you can access the building and book meeting rooms and book-in visitors, but also engage, particularly and this is a British Land focus because of our campus, so that you can engage with the local retail – offers and loyalty and buy-in the coffee from your desk through your phone that gets delivered from a local retailer to your desk.
100 Liverpool Street
For those of you who don’t know 100 Liverpool Street, it’s sitting pretty much on top of Liverpool Street Station and it is part of our Broadgate Campus, which is the largest of our three main London campuses. It’s a building that we have been working on for a number of years now and will complete in the next six months or so, so it will be fully occupied by roughly this time next year and those timelines are quite important because that’s quite a long time in tech. From when we first started specifying it, three, four, five years ago to where we are today, is a very long time. Actually it’s still quite a long time between today and 12 months’ time when the first workers go in and swipe through the doors.
So, what do we do to get over this time lag?
The hardware. All of the hardware is specified in the way that we have said so it’s all going to be internet connected. It’s all going to be secure and it’s all going to be throwing off and receiving data in a common format. I should note though that what I am talking about there is the base-build systems. Clearly, what occupiers want to do in their own demised area is up to them but we have created a number of documents to help them understand how to engage with the smartness of that building and we’re getting a lot of interest from them.
The next element is the data environment. It’s provisional in a way, in that in the future it will be able to be imported into the British Land data environment very quickly and easily and then on the user experience layer, to a certain extent, it’s down to the occupiers to decide how they want to engage in this. We’re running a number of trials in different areas, including here in Storey [Paddington Central] and we’ve created an app that allows you to access the space and book meeting rooms and then over the next few months we’re going to expand that to trial across the whole of this campus to deliver a campus app that will enable us to trial additional elements of user functionality that, in time, will flow out towards Broadgate and our other campuses.
It’s worth noting here that what’s really easy to do is go out to the market and talk to one of those multiple startups with 20 or so people in them who will give you an experience app, an app that allows you to engage in the local community. That’s quite easy to do. But what’s really difficult to do, and this is why we’re trialling it and taking very deliberate steps about this, is plugging it into the building, and that’s something that we’re seeing – that the market’s just not there in terms of maturity. You can’t go and buy quickly and easily off the shelf a product that allows you to create that community and also to really control the building in a way that you, as users, will want to in the future, and that’s where we’re going with this.
What we’ve also done is we’ve made sure all of the ducting has plenty of room to insert additional fibre down. We’ve put all the fibre in we think the building needs and then we’ve left enormous amounts of space in the ducting so that you don’t need to rip the walls open when you need to put more fibre in, so we’ve tried to allow the flexibility in terms of how we created the space to allow it to be easy to change things.
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A thought for the future. This is not where we are today. This is where we will be in the future, and probably not that far in the future. I’m thinking this is sort of the two to absolutely maximum five-year horizon where we think this goes.
On the way into work, you check your building app, you can find out what’s going on around you that day, you can find a space to work in, it might be near someone or far from someone you want to avoid at work, you can book the meeting rooms you want. You can find the quiet space that you want. You can reserve spaces and you can scan in access to the building where you can reserve a bike rack and when you get in, your desk is automatically set up for you. It’s at the height that you like, the chair is at the height you like, to the extent that the building is able to control this, the temperature and the lighting is appropriate to what you want it to be and maybe even the building is starting to understand how to efficiently use space, so it’s a Friday and you book space on the fourth floor but the building has realised that actually there aren’t going to be enough people in that day so it’s closed the fourth floor off and bumped you up to the fifth floor and that’s about making your energy more efficient in the building.
Then for management. Guests arrive. They are sent smart passes to access the building so that it’s easy and efficient for your guests to arrive in the building and then you’re notified as soon as they swipe in or as soon as they cross the geofence to come inside the building so you don’t have that kind of awkwardness of guests waiting for you and have you been told about it and where’s the meeting room? This is something we already offer and hopefully all of you will have got an email pass sent to you last night and that will only improve over time.
Then, within the meeting room, controlling the temperature and the lighting and close the blinds and extend the meeting room and maybe even order a cab for the way home, all in one environment. Ordering lunch. I talked a little bit about how for British Land this is also about engaging in the local retail, creating a real sense of campus so, from one environment, being able to, at a preferential rate, order your lunch from a local retailer and have that delivered to your desk and that connects obviously to a campus discount and events. Automatic building adjustments. So, herein an example of – I confess I’ve never tested this particular statistic – but I understand that once CO² reaches a certain level in a building it’s the equivalent of having had two pints to drink and in those circumstances, do you really want the Board making critical decisions? Well no you probably don’t, so initially there’s something that the building can do which is to say actually everyone step outside for five minutes, have a coffee I am going to flood the room with oxygen so that we can carry on the meeting and that would be a more productive way of doing it. Of course, in the longer term, we want the building to understand what’s going on and say ‘Hold on, I was expecting six people in this meeting room but 12 have turned up and it’s a sunny day outside so I know the CO² levels will rise and I know the temperature is going to go up so in advance of me seeing that happening, I will up the air flow through the air conditioning units’ that sort of stuff should be happening in the relatively near future.
There you have a number of things we think are quite powerful in terms of making you more efficient as individuals, making you happier, making you actually want to come to work and making you healthier while you’re at work.