Healthy buildings, FM talent and disorganized data
In an industry newly embracing start-ups, Honeywell’s new real estate technology venture is something of an outlier. Their Connected Buildings business, launched in June 2019, piggybacks a 100year history of technology development and deep-rooted client relationships. I spoke to Honeywell Connected Enterprise (HCE) Sales Director, Jo Martin, about customer pain points, healthy buildings and the burning platform of facilities management talent.
Honeywell’s HCE business is a start-up with a considerable head-start. There’d certainly be very few PropTech backers who have the same clout in the underlying competencies of tech innovation, automated maintenance, cyber-security and managing at scale.
“We’re a stand-alone start-up within a business that’s been around for 100 years,” Jo Martin tells me over Zoom. “We know how to digitally transform businesses.”
The organisation started offering an Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) solution for building portfolios in June 2019 called Honeywell Forge. The solution not only provides digital transformation to companies in the buildings space, but also in the industrial, aerospace and cybersecurity industries. I ask Jo about the pain points she’s uncovered so far with connected buildings; about the things that keep her clients up at night.
The foremost, Jo says, is the disorganized nature of building information. There’s a need, Jo explains, for centralised information.
“For many property businesses, information is in so many different places. Human nature dictates that it becomes too hard to effectively manage.”
Indeed, as discussed in Honeywell’s The Futureproof Enterprise paper; behind the façade of commercial buildings is a myriad of diverse operating systems, generating massive amounts of data.
Harnessing that data to inform smart business decisions can be a massive challenge for any facilities management team.
Centralising the data allows facilities managers to prioritise and make informed decisions; “What’s critical? What’s costing me money?”
A birds-eye view
Above the site level, Heads of Facilities Management can move to an ‘enterprise’ approach with a real-time portfolio view. Having visibility over the portfolio, estate or campus means that the learning can be done remotely, Martin tells me.
“Why is one building operating so much better than another?”
Heads of Facilities and COOs can, Jo tells me, answer and address this question using Honeywell Forge Digitized Maintenance, which allows buildings and assets to be maintained through a proactive maintenance process of curated recommendations.
By using sensors and system integration to analyze the buildings’ controllers and mechanical assets, managers have intuitive dashboards that provide near real-time insights to track building performance and reduce unplanned reactive work on building systems by up to 90%.
Another way to address building performance is with Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization, which autonomously and continually optimizes a building's internal set points across hundreds of integrated assets.
For example, it constantly evaluates weather, occupancy levels, time of day and other data. Then it uses this data to make adjustments every 15 minutes to improve a building's HVAC system for peak efficiency, “without compromising occupant comfort levels”.
Jo says that the Energy Optimization “can increase comfort performance and reduce HVAC energy costs by 10 to 20%. These percentages can translate to significant savings in operational expenses across a large portfolio”.
Proof of concept
For many landlords, the preference has been a three-month Proof of Concept (PoC), which sees Honeywell install their Forge software.
“Within three weeks of servicing the data, we can see where the client can make improvements,” Jo says.
It’s a far cry from the man-in-a-van of the old school facilities managers, I suggest.
“FM companies have traditionally been reactive,” Jo replies. “For a property company, an FM service contract is a huge cost and they don’t know if they’re getting value. The client is starting to question that approach.”
Jo contrasts this with Honeywell’s digitized maintenance package, where the landlord is only charged for what the system identifies.
“The landlords who embrace technology and take a leap of faith are the ones who will survive,” Jo adds.
One of the major challenges for large portfolio owners is scalability. As discussed in Honeywell’s The Futureproof Enterprise paper; the building IoT value proposition is not the reason for the lack of smart building propagation. ‘The true barrier to bringing about this smart, sustainable, and profitable future for the real estate sector is - scalability.’
”Portfolios of hundreds, or even thousands of buildings continue to push their smart agenda one complex implementation project at a time, delayed by an endless stream of interoperability issues and labor constraints.”
One of the most compelling reasons to use Honeywell Forge, Jo explains, is that its hardware- and software-agnostic approach makes it extensible in its ability to bring together existing systems. The solution also offers the capability to manage all buildings centrally and even remotely.
"A buildings executive could manage an entire portfolio remotely through the Honeywell Forge app on a smart phone while drinking a latte at a coffee shop".
Many agree that labour constraints is a major issue in the facilities management industry.
In the Facilities Management Journal (FMJ) David Sharp, CEO of International Workplace, recently wrote that ‘facilities management all too often fails to attract new talent into the sector’, with Chris Townsend, ABM’s HR Director, adding; ‘The facilities management industry has been battling against an image problem for years. There is a perception that facilities management is all oily rags and no prospects, which couldn’t be further from the truth’.
Jo sees an industry in transition. “A lot of the people with knowledge of complex building management systems are retiring and there’s not a lot coming up behind them. The techies coming out of universities don't want to go on the tools. They want digital technology,” Jo Says.
“We’re late adopters as an industry. It’s not exciting if you’re a new grad coming through, or even a college grad, if you’re not using digital tools,” Jo says.
“If our industry doesn’t start to move in the right direction and use digital transformation, we risk losing top talent. We won’t have the right people coming in to support the sites and facilities in the real estate market.”
But there’s a halfway house, Jo suggests, where the old guard embrace easy-to-use technology, whilst the new crop are swayed towards an increasingly tech-savvy industry.
I ask Jo what we can do about it.
“Rob, you’ve got to take people on a journey,” Jo says. “The adoption of technology has to happen at all levels; from CEO, all the way down the chain. If we become a tech savvy industry, we’ll attract the talent.”
Returning to work
The focus of our conversation turns to the year ahead, and particularly the apprehensions of the return to work.
“We’ve got to help the property companies to help their tenants feel comfortable in returning to buildings,” Jo says, highlighting UV tracing, clean filters in aircon systems and thermal scanning on entry.
Indeed, ‘Healthy buildings’ has now moved from the sidelines to the mainstream. For many like Honeywell, it was a service that followed the bigger ticket offerings. One suspects that’s because it was harder to measure (and subsequently, to sell at board level).
But now...now building wellness is business critical. It’s a conversation starter, rather than an add-on. “The conversation often starts with a discussion about healthy buildings,” Jo says.
“We can help them finance that through Digitized Maintenance and Energy Optimization. It’s a door-opener and it all sits in Honeywell Forge.”
I ask Jo about her work aspirations for 2021.
“I want to play my part in helping landlords put the right measures in place to make people feel safe to return to work,” Jo says. “I’m excited to talk with those early-adopters who want to co-create with us.”
Honeywell is a Sponsor of SPACE+
Jo Martin is a Discussion Co-Host at SPACE UK