The Convergence of Smart Buildings and Digital Workplace

Planon is a regular participant at industry events organized by real estate technology conference group, Realcomm. At the 2021 Realcomm/IBCon event, Planon North America president Darlene Pope took time to talk to Realcomm’s Lisa Woods about where the smart buildings sector is going. With more than 25 years of experience in the proptech space, Darlene sees her smart building expertise as a natural progression to another: the digital workplace. The collision of these two worlds enables truly smart, responsive workplaces. Here are the main points Darlene put forward - and why she raised them. (For the full interview, click here.)

The facility manager’s problems: dispersed data, non-obvious occupancy

The first thing you learn about the facility management space is that there are a lot of acronyms. There’s CMMS : Computerized Maintenance Management System. CAFM : Computer Aided Facilities Management. Work Order Management, or WOM. They’re all part of an integrated IWMS offering; as opposed to each offered individually as a “point solution” designed with a single purpose.
And many of these applications work just fine. So what’s the problem?
It’s one of integration. When you solve facility management problems one-by-one, your solutions stay in silos -- a handful of applications, each creating its own dataset unconnected to others. The real estate team may use a space management app, the HR department a visitor management one, the maintenance team has a work order system, and security yet another. However great each may be in its own context, businesses today thrive on effective use of data - and with stand alone apps, that data is in silos.

How COVID changed the IWMS world . . .

If the applications aren’t talking to each other, the people probably aren’t either. All giving rise to duplicate data sets, inefficiencies, missed opportunities, and outright business risks. Pulling together this hodgepodge of third-party solutions is a challenging problem, and the pandemic has put it at the forefront of importance.

After all, the real estate “inventory”- his or her stock of resources which needs to be utilized effectively, like any other business asset - depends largely on a single factor: occupancy. Who’s at their desk, how many people are in a room, how many are in the building? Most companies couldn’t answer those questions pre-COVID. And with the future uncertain, it’s even harder today.

Some estimate just one third of formerly office-based employees will return to their desks full-time. Another third will only spend a few days a month there. And the last third will never come back at all. But these statistics don’t matter. What’s most important is how many of your employees are coming back.

The industry needs a convergence of thinking – and a convergence of solutions

This isn’t to denigrate the traditional IWMS approach. In fact, convergence elevates IWMS to a whole new level of importance. In addition, lighting, HVAC, access control, even the elevators, all become part of the overall smart workplace initiative, and bringing them together on a single, core platform is the key to great results. But traditionally, digital workplace enterprise applications - the technology workers used to communicate, collaborate, and get their world done - weren’t part of the smart building world.
So the real challenge is how you share the right data from one side of the house to another - making sure the right decision supports are available to everyone who needs them. Whether that’s the security guard or the C-Suite.

Evolution in action: how the IWMS is changing

Forget applications for a moment, and look more broadly at the grand purpose of any IWMS: the ability to continuously integrate, add features, and bring ever more functionality into the same space. Creating a single repository for all real estate and facility data, ready to be viewed on a dashboard or used to automate manual processes and procedures.

It happened first with maintenance management, then energy and space management, then management of the lease and its conditions, then administration of the facility itself, with functions such as visitor management being added as well. But today’s smart workplace is going beyond those traditional IWMS functions, and merging employee productivity and workflow applications with actual building operations.

For example, an alarm from the building management system automatically generates a ticket in the work order management system, which is pushed to a field engineer on their mobile app. All data that existed before, in separate apps—but now connected into an actionable whole, where the impact of an event in one area can be automated and seen across the entire organization.

IWMS evolved: smart buildings and the digital workplace collide

As you’d expect, it doesn’t stop there. Integrating data sets and dashboards doesn’t just solve inefficiencies; it creates fresh opportunities. And that’s the major part of our goals at Planon. Supporting our customers—with the help of our partners, of course—to go beyond traditional IWMS, and look at a full end-to-end real estate technology roadmap, bringing digital workplace and smart buildings together under one roof.

Planon’s platform, at your fingertips

One of the biggest demands from clients today is a unified workplace mobile app that brings all their smart building and digital workplace functions together in a single user interface. So Planon has developed a single app that gives access to relevant data to the people who need it, customized for employees, facility managers and administration. Add to that the smart building features of access control, temperature and lighting control, integrated service requests – and you put all that functionality in the hands of the end user for improved productivity, satisfaction, and experience. Of course, there’s a lot going on under the surface—but to the user, it’s seamless.

From reactive to predictive to productive

There’s another positive outcome of a fully integrated platform: predicting problems, and solving them ahead of time. If you know the office is busier on a Monday than on a Friday, you can open up more spaces at the start of the week and close them off based on the occupancy trends (and predicted occupancy) during the week. Longer term, you can look at spreading worker hours more equally across the week, and perhaps discover you need less square footage that you thought.

That’s just the start. When you begin to correlate multiple data sets from different systems, it can give you startling insights. For example, occupancy data and its impact on CO2, indoor air quality, and energy costs; Hot and cold calls vs. employee satisfaction and productivity; HVAC data and energy consumption to identify conflicting heating and cooling... the list goes on. Data modeling and analytics let you see trends and anomalies, and identify an issue before it becomes an issue.

It’s all leading to smarter workplaces, smarter campuses, new profit centers, and innovative ways of working. And with Planon’s 37 years of experience in this market and 20% of our revenue going to continuous R&D, plus partnerships with vendors and other hardware and software solutions - we can provide a fully bundled, end-to-end solution. A true integrated platform .

Single source of truth, fully integrated applications, smart buildings, IoT, information and insights that enable smart decisions. That’s where Planon is going—and it’s exciting! At Planon, we’re committed to leading the charge and invite you to be part of it. Contact us for a demo today! For a video of this interview, click here

About the author

Darlene Pope | President of Planon’s North American Operations

With more than 25 years of experience in the PropTech space, Darlene is a widely recognized subject matter expert in technology and innovation for the real estate industry. As the President of North America for Planon, she is using her expertise to help strengthen Planon’s leading position in digital workspace and smart building solutions for corporate real estate and facility management.

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