Article | Adaptive Spaces

What experts need you to know about developing smart buildings

December 20, 2023

The image shows a low angle shot of two people on an escalator in front of a sunlit window.

Technology forms the fabric of everything humans interact with today, and its permeation into the built environment is no different.  

As CBRE’s Phil Rowland explained in his opening address at the Property Council of Australia’s first Technology Summit in Sydney: “It’s important that we harness the potential and vast array of applications that technology can have to shape our future. It's important that we make our industry more productive, our places and precincts more relevant and inclusive to our tenants and the public. This involves making our buildings more intelligent, softening the footprint on our environment and developing the capabilities that we'll need in the future to thrive in a technological society.” 

With this sentiment in mind, there’s an immediate need to shed light on the rapid rise of smart buildings in Australia. Amongst the most experienced industry figures in smart buildings right now are Bruce Duyshart, Managing Director and Principal of Meld Strategies, and Jon Clarke, Head of Smart Building Technologies at Dexus. 

This is their take on what every stakeholder needs to consider and understand before taking on the intricate process of creating a smart building.  

Defining the smart building 

For Duyshart, the meaning of a smart building is a building that’s safer, more comfortable and resilient. It’s a building which delivers better user experience for occupants and more sustainable and operation-efficient outcomes for owners throughout its lifecycle. The characteristics of a smart building revolves around improved energy efficiency, support for sustainability, connectivity with data systems, cybersecurity, safety for employees, indoor air quality and overall a building that is able to continuously improve its performance over time.

  1. Smart buildings can just follow the traditional design and construction process

    This isn’t the case, and it is critical to understand the exact reasoning behind pursuing the use of technology. Is the projected outcome based around safety, security, sustainability, placemaking, wellbeing, or something else? A clear strategy must be in place before taking on the design process.  
  2. My cost plan or quantity surveyor understands how to price a smart building

    Elementally, the approach is different to a cost-per-square-metre. Stakeholders cannot do a cost-per-square-metre rate of technology. They must elementally measure the building in order to understand how many systems are in their building, how much network capacity is required, how much data needs to be acquired and how many people counters may be required based on the design. There needs to be systems and processes in place in order to accurately estimate a technology budget. 
  3. The market will understand all the technology terminologies

    Don’t assume that the technology terminology is universally understood. As terminology changes consistently, clear communication of concepts, definitions and methodologies is now a critical part of getting an entire design and construction team on the same page. 
  4. Using the same traditional consultants and contractors will deliver a better outcome

    Similar to creating a sustainable building, there needs to be someone to make a smart building happen. A smart building consultant, who might be internal or external to your organisation, is crucial in helping to coordinate and organise all of the processes, systems, methodologies and technologies required to creating a smarter building outcome. 

Consider the speed of technology 

Dexus is a company with a wealth of experience in delivering smart buildings. What sets their process apart, according to Clarke, is their suite of prescriptive technology requirement documentation. 

“Today's technology will be out of date in three to five years. Think about how that will impact your procurement strategy when you have got a development that could take five years to rise from the ground alongside a building which needs to be alive before it can be smart,” he explains. 

“If you don't get the data sets right and they're not accessible, then you really can't make the technology in the building have the best performance that it can give you. 

“You need to have a data strategy because if you don't, every system will have their own version of what they think open or accessible data looks like and you'll have no consistency.” 

Clarke highlights his most critical factors for those who want to take on the smart building journey.  

The right vision: Define the project’s vision and focus on making smart decisions rather than just a smart building. Align this vision of the project to the budget accordingly. 

The procurement: Once the vision is determined, calculate the spend and consider the procurement strategy that will ensure the best-in-class features at the time of project completion. Ensure that each of the engaged supply chain or construction groups are capable of delivering the desired piece of technology. 

The design: The design needs details while the scope and tender requires a gap analysis. A gap analysis is required before going to market in order to rectify any potential variations between the service specifications and technology.  

The operational lifecycle: Avoid implementing technology into a building that will cost a fortune to operate. If these overheads can’t be reclaimed, it may affect the valuation of the building.  

The design and construct: Traditional design and construct methods don't work for implementing technology into buildings. When trying to buy technology under a design and construct contract, the detail which is the most important component for technology, is left to the supply chain. Stakeholders are essentially leaving the most important desired outcomes in the hands of those who do not have a clear definition of specifications, leading to potentially disastrous outcomes.    

Final thoughts on smart buildings

Clarke emphasises the need to understand how to procure, contract and design these systems to get them as future proofed as they can be.  

“Is it just hype or is there actually some real minimum value proposition in this piece of technology? I look at value versus cost and they are two very different things. 

“Value is the actual outcome that I’ll get from the technology and cost is obviously how much it's going to cost me to put in. What you need to ensure is that your value is higher than your cost. In a lot of cases, it doesn't work that way. It's actually quite a lot of money to put the infrastructure in to create the value that you are looking for.  

“As a portfolio owner, try to look at solutions that can work at scale. We often want something that works in the building and can scale out across all the buildings fast and that’s affordable. If we don't do that, it makes the business proposition very difficult.  

“If you’re putting new technology into your building, who's going to consume it? What value are people going to get from it? How fast are they going to receive value out of it; and what is the activation rate? Try to get an engagement score to make sure that what you bought is doing what it claims and that users are getting the full value of it. And avoid buying very expensive pieces of kit for back of house.”