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What we learned from automating 1m sq ft of commercial space

James HallworthFrom buildings “going rogue” to calculating how much automation can really cut costs in an office, Workman’s James Hallworth reflects on the first 16 months since launching building operating system IBOS.

Workman partnered with tech specialist Bubll last year to create its own tool to automate and optimise building operations, dedicating full-time resource to the project. Since then, 1m sq ft of commercial real estate has started using IBOS as demand for building optimisation soars.

Here are Hallworth’s eight insights from the first 1m sq ft of IBOS’s roll-out:

1. Smart building tech can lead to serious savings

Our system can discover problems without maintenance workers necessarily having to go to site to investigate.

Building tech, therefore, drives more focused and targeted maintenance that can prove more profitable for FM businesses, allowing them to put their employees where they can make a real difference.

One London office achieved a 15% reduction in energy consumption within 3 months of installing IBOS, totalling a saving of about £180,000 per year. We identified an out of hours energy spike, which we were able to reduce through optimisation rules.

Similarly, optimising out of hours energy use was key to an Uxbridge office cutting consumption by 28% for an estimated saving of £460,000 per year.

2. You don’t need scale for a successful roll-out

The smallest space we have installed IBOS is 3,600 sq ft; the biggest is more than 200,000 sq ft. Both are financially viable, both yield rewards and a swift return on investment. This misconception is often a barrier to considering intelligent technology.

3. Technology procurement is an art, not a science

Buy too much and you risk a stock of kit that could date quickly, buy too little and – with challenging lead times in this market – you could run short.

Arguably the best way to mitigate this riddle is to install systems that allow for a level of flexibility in the brands and types of parts that are compatible. That said…

4. Knowledge of the supply chain is critical

The days of placing an order and knowing it will come are gone. Workman has mitigated a lot of risk because we know our supply chain, we can pre-empt issues by considering alternative providers, or by guiding a client to factor lead times in.

5. World events have shifted landlord needs

Technological monitoring of usage was a nice-to-have when we began our IBOS journey last May: a way of getting ahead of the curve in ESG terms.

No one could have predicted the international headwinds since but it’s a vital must-have in today’s market. The shift is strongly from net zero efforts to energy price mitigation. Immediate concerns are now leading to even greater roll-out.

Clients must demonstrate tangible savings and the payback period is more rapid because of the sheer cost of energy supply, so implementing software makes more commercial sense than ever.

6. It’s extraordinary how many buildings go rogue out of hours

Most of the quick and significant savings we have made this past year are around what happens in a building when its occupants aren’t using it. Without software like IBOS’s 24/7 monitoring and analytics, it’s easy to miss out-of-hours opportunities to save.

BMS maintenance is traditionally installed assuming a check-up process occurs: a controls piece rather than efficiency piece. We designed IBOS to be both.

7. Building tech cannot be a part-time consideration – even if you’re working with a tech partner

Workman committed to IBOS as a major opportunity area – invested in it and made it a proper service line with standalone resource. The nature of installing and refining this software is that you can’t dip a toe in and see how it goes.

To make real impact you need to dive in and challenge how things are done.

8. Know your limits

Combining the thinking of those working in property with tech professionals paves the way for additional innovation – new opportunities, new ways of capturing data, new areas on which to focus. The beauty of building tech is that it is not static – it can always be added to and enhanced.

You would never think twice about consulting a lawyer on a libel consideration or a plumber about improving drainage. Building tech software is no different and the combination of skills Bubll and Workman bring to the table are a big part in making IBOS deliver.

James Hallworth heads up the building technology team at property management and consultancy firm Workman 

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