How to make building data work for you

Effective data collection and storage empowers commercial real estate teams to get actionable insights into building performance and improve their bottom line. We sat down with Deb Noller, CEO of Switch Automation, a smart building software company that optimizes building performance, to discuss the importance of owning your data.

Why is it important for commercial building owners and operators to take ownership of their data?

Traditionally, 3rd party vendors charge to collect and store data they use to provide mechanical services and energy efficiency assessments. This means property owners can’t access their own building intelligence, but that’s starting to shift.

Today’s owners and operators want to ensure the quality of their data while maintaining its security and retain the ability to control and access it at their leisure. They want a central location where teams can go to view the data they need rather than inefficient silos. For example, a sustainability director could use building data to monitor GRESB ratings while a facility manager might want to see what equipment is performing poorly.

How can commercial property managers store data in a way that allows all stakeholders to easily access it?

Commercial operations teams need a centralized, secure environment with tools that allow end users to run their own reports, analysis and queries. Users can build, buy or license such an environment depending on the level of technical skill they possess in-house.

The first option is a data lake which provides an auditable trail of original, raw data and is useful for reposting data. The second option is a data warehouse, which provides normalized data that can be organized into various views or reports based on the users needs and preferences. You can choose to host this data in the cloud or on-premise.

What are the major hurdles for commercial real estate companies to build their own database?

The first hurdle is procurement. Procurement teams haven’t historically purchased IT solutions. They’re experienced with buying things like services contracts for janitorial work, elevators, chillers or energy metering. These are one-time purchases and not necessarily part of a larger corporate strategy. Conversely, IT buyers follow a specific process to vet and select solutions to suit the enterprise. First, they determine needs, requirements and available solutions. Then they identify any gaps and evaluate which solutions are the best match.

The second hurdle is a lack of deep IT knowledge. Unless you have a strong IT department, you will need some external expertise to help with that. There are many amazing solutions in the market, but they often require a high degree of IT skill to implement.

The third hurdle is change management. Deciding to bring data back in-house requires the entire organization to change the way they think about, collect, store and share data.

Should you use data lakes or data warehouses to house data? Are there benefits to both?

There are benefits to both and they are especially effective when used in tandem. A data lake is the raw format in which you received the files and should serve as a vault for data storage. That data is the original source of the truth, and it’s important to have it available so you can reprocess that information if necessary.

Data warehouses contain structured, normalized data and allows end users to extract a variety of data sets and compare them. For example, you may want to compare monthly energy consumption to daily occupancy counts. The only way to do that is to roll them both up to a monthly number, and data normalization facilitates those types of comparisons.

How should companies be ensuring GDPR compliance for their data?

GDPR is significantly impacting real estate companies, as many own assets or have staff in European countries. It’s critical to examine policies and procedures around data sovereignty (where data is stored), privacy, data breach policies and IT solutions (whether they’re built in-house or via an external provider) to ensure compliance with the new requirements.

What vital people should you have on your team before implementing a data storing strategy?

You’ll need a strong team to carry out the project without getting stymied along the way, while helping to transform the organization on this journey. It’s critical to have a project sponsor with internal clout so he or she can involve the right stakeholders and implement new strategy. This person will lead decision making and facilitate organizational change.

The rest of the team should equally represent all end users and departments that will use the data. They need analytical skills to understand organizational requirements and use cases while meeting end-user needs. An IT expert can help establish policies for network architecture, security, privacy, business continuity and data sharing policies. A procurement specialist can authorize spend, ensure legal compliance, validate the business case and verify the strategy adheres to organizational requirements. Finally, a representative from finance can certify there is adequate budget for the project.

How can commercial property owners easily share building data with their tenants?

There are many ways to share data with your tenants. You can build tenant-facing interfaces over the data; for example, visitor engagement displays for elevators or lobbies. By turning raw data into an accessible resource for tenants, they can use it in whatever way they deem important to help achieve their business goals.

You can share raw or normalized data via apps, comprehensive platforms, API, reports, B2B integrations or a simple user interface with a login.

Forward-thinking real estate companies have recognized that data is incredibly valuable and that they should be collecting it for their own internal purposes to improve their bottom line and visibility into performance – not just building performance but also vendor performance. And the really forward-thinking real estate companies know they’ll gain a significant competitive advantage by finding ways to share that data with their tenants.

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This article was first published in Global Real Estate Experts on
December 12, 2018.