Managing real estate in times of crisis: ‘Why are all the lights on at 5am?’

By Switch Automation • April 10, 2020

Last week this tweet sparked a discussion that real estate organizations around the world simply need to be having at this point. The question was short and simple – why are these building lights in New South Wales on at 5am while the buildings themselves are completely empty?

The immediate suggestion was that it’s cheaper to leave these lights on instead of turning them off outside of the buildings’ hours of operation. But these lights are being left on in the midst of a worldwide lockdown – a time when almost all office occupants are being made to work from home. Whether consciously or not, these organizations choose to send the clear message that they lack the ability to adjust their operations with any agility whatsoever.

What’s really keeping the lights on?

The reality is that these buildings’ property managers probably can’t turn these lights off at the appropriate time for the following reasons:

  1. These buildings may have manual systems that aren’t connected to the internet, making remote control impossible.
  2. Property managers don’t have access to each siloed building system or they lack the technical knowledge to remotely adjust settings within each system.
  3. Even if these building lights can be remotely controlled, this control functionality may not be scalable, and the process of making adjustments to each individual building could be too labor intensive and time consuming to be justifiable.

The long term cost of ‘set and forget’ automation

These buildings are likely operating with ‘set and forget’ automation, rigidly accommodating the most common circumstances instead of adjusting dynamically according to occupant demand and their environment. Perhaps this was sensible 30+ years ago, but today this approach is wildly inefficient. This inefficiency is never more apparent than during a worldwide lockdown as stocks and property value come under pressure and millions face hardship. Global crises demand the most streamlined operations. In other words, it’s really damaging for a large brand to seem careless with money at a time when countless small businesses are being shuttered and so many face unemployment.

So is it really cheaper to leave these lights on at 5am? In the short term the answer is perhaps yes, but in the long term absolutely not. Investing in the right digital technology enables property managers to integrate building data, systems and equipment, creating actionable insights into asset and portfolio performance. With the right digital facilities management strategy, these property managers could make agile adjustments to their lighting and other systems, reducing operating and energy costs while still delivering a safe, comfortable tenant experience for essential workers.

Whether you’re making operational changes to accommodate holiday scheduling or an unexpected event, at Switch we understand the issues involved with updating lots of systems at once. Portfolio-wide scheduling enables operators to adjust various systems across an entire retail or commercial portfolio at the touch of a button.

Ultimately, the legacy approach currently in use is only cheaper in the short term because these organizations are avoiding investing in the smart building technology that they will eventually use to dramatically streamline costs in the future.

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