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Preparing Buildings For The Cities Of Tomorrow

Digital retrofits are poised to act as the impact multiplier, which leapfrogs building assets to a Smart Buildings and Smart City future.

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Modernization is the name of the game for real estate owners in a rapidly evolving market with rising tenant/occupant expectations. Competition is on the rise and owners need to adapt, in order to enhance the experience for users while simultaneously boosting efficiency and value. 

Amid this clamour to modernize and improve efficiency, retrofitting is being globally recognized as the only viable solution to help building owners and FM’s transition massive old building stock to the future era of modern, service-led, smart buildings. Retrofitting drives efficiency and sustainability across operations, opening up manifold benefits to building owners and FMs, from a regulatory, sustainability, and financial perspective.

But why are there still apprehensions surrounding ‘retrofitting’? Why are building owners intimidated by retrofits? These are some common concerns shared by real estate owners:

1) The heavy investment required for a full-fledged physical retrofit is a deterrent, and; 

2) The time and effort involved in installing physical retrofit solutions, compounded by a slow return on investment hampers adoption intent.

This brings us to the obvious next question. Is there a way for legacy structures to quickly meet modern real estate expectations and address the concerns of CREs? The answer lies in new-age digital retrofit.

Reinventing efficiency and sustainability with digital retrofit

So why is digital retrofit the ‘next big thing’ for the building & facilities management industry? Simply put, it allows the industry to concurrently achieve multiple efficiencies that address the entire range of optimal requirements. To be relevant tomorrow, buildings need to modernize to effective structures that can stand the test of time and changing human needs & expectations. One can no longer focus only on maintenance of facilities & machines, on occupant comfort or on sustainability. All three factors need to be addressed simultaneously, through an integrated solution that empowers all stakeholders and improves day-to-day operational efficiency. 

Centrally unified automation systems, that leverage an IoT and Machine Learning edge for portfolio-wide predictive operations, can revitalize existing infrastructure at much lower costs than pure hardware retrofits. From an automation perspective, a digital retrofit quickens the modernization process by enhancing, rather than replacing, existing infrastructure, eliminating or minimizing waste, and enabling a harmonious and continuous efficiency across operations. 

Making legacy buildings smarter, sustainable and more efficient no longer remains a distant, capital-intensive dream. Digital retrofits and software-driven facility management can ensure maximum enhancement in performance, with minimal additional investment. Digital Retrofit is to the building industry what Industry 4.0 is to the manufacturing sector. It leverages technology to connect the 3 integral parts of a building - people, energy and assets, in real-time. Instead of requiring large investments in capital costs, time and manpower to replace existing machinery, one can deploy modern digital enhancements, in tandem with existing in situ equipment. 

The making of a new ‘smarter’, more efficient building 

Why should real estate owners take the plunge and opt for a digital retrofit? The answer is simple - efficiency. Exorbitant bills, and assets reaching the end of their lifespan, are concerns that plague many legacy buildings. The key to reducing costs is enhancing efficiency of operations, maintenance, workforce, and energy. Through digital retrofits, owners can boost the value of their buildings, while simultaneously transitioning into more sustainable practices. 

When we talk about retrofits, it often conjures up images of heavy investments and a time and resource intensive process involving hardware replacement and overhaul. A digital and software-driven retrofit, using technologies like IoT/AL/Cloud, involves a completely different approach. It offers the next frontier to modernize facilities with lesser hassle and investment like in traditional retrofits.

While physical hardware retrofits are also essential for buildings, the industry now needs to look beyond traditional energy-saving plug-ins and towards digital revamping and enhancement, which drive continuous efficiency in daily operations. 

Beyond physical retrofit: Using software to integrate people, energy and assets

As the world gets increasingly digitized, and the criticality of modernizing built assets accelerates, the built environment is seeking a unified approach to reduce the complexity of efficiently managing the various components of buildings – assets, people and sustainability. And data has become a critical asset and tool to drive this efficiency. Much like the technology and data-led revolution of other industries, CRE owners and Facilities Managers are today seeking an enterprise-wide data platform for facilities operations and maintenance (O&M), designed specifically for the real estate and FM industry’s needs, and infused with AI & ML intelligence to empower insights-based decision making. Such a unified platform can allow the industry to break away from the siloed and reactive operations of legacy systems, by collecting and collating data in real-time from across the multitude of systems existing in a building, enabling portfolio-wide visibility, and the ability to scale insight-led efficiencies across all assets/portfolio.  

Buildings modernized using digital retrofits integrate efficiencies across workforce management, asset optimization as well as sustainability. Additionally, using an enterprise-wide, data-led platform for digitizing the facilities operations and maintenance enables real-time and portfolio-wide visibility to all stakeholders and allows for continuous process optimization.

Creating customer-centric solutions through intelligent retrofit

Digital retrofit involves adding a sophisticated enterprise-wide software platform, that helps to coherently drive efficiency in operations and maintenance by collating data from across multiple systems and sensors, and adding intelligence to empower insight-led decision-making. It helps building owners gain ownership of their data and greater visibility into performance to be able to actively drive the efficiency of their building operations across portfolios. The connectivity of IoT and the intelligence of AI & ML yields real-time insights, helping management to respond faster to tenant needs, ensuring a superior customer experience. 

Digitally leapfrogging building assets into a sustainable future

Retrofitting built assets is high on the global agenda. If we look at the Indian FM industry, rapidly increasing urbanization along with government led Smart City and housing-for-all initiatives, as well as a growing co-living and co-working trend, are all expected to drive the market size to cross $ 100 billion by 2023. Colliers’ 2019 Real Estate Trends report on India cites Sustainable buildings to be a key development area, with the green building sector expected toattract USD1.4 trillion of investment by 2030. According to the Confederation of India Industry-Indian Green Building Council, currently India houses 4,500 green certified projects, which is around 5.0 million sq feet (464,515 sq metres) of green buildings. This number is second only to the United States, and is likely to hit 10.0 million sq feet (929,030 sq metres) by 2022. The report further highlights that sustainable building practice will also be boosted further by initiatives like “100 smart cities”, the government of India’s urban renewal and retrofitting programme, with the mission to develop 100 cities across the country making them citizen-friendly and sustainable.

The digital retrofit approach can dramatically ease the capital costs and transition time required, by combining physical hardware retrofits with software-led solutions. Digital retrofits are poised to act as the impact multiplier, which leapfrogs building assets to a Smart Buildings and Smart City future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Prabhu Ramachandra

The author is CEO and Co-founder of Facilio

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