Managing Assets of the Future – Role of Technology


A Journey in Perspective

The journey of modern buildings in India began in the post-economic liberalization era of the 1990s when the country opened its doors to foreign investment. The metamorphosis was led by the IT sector with its sprawling parks and office hubs.

As the country’s economy boomed, it became increasingly coupled with the global economy resulting in rapid growth and urbanization. New job creation took place and as such the socio-economic fabric of the country saw the emergence of the new Indian “Middle Class” looking for a better quality of life with new infrastructure for housing, leisure, and entertainment.

Policy reforms, improved market fundamentals and better infrastructure increased the presence of institutional investors while consumers from developed economies brought heightened expectations of living and workplace requirements leading to further growth of buildings.

While the nation was undergoing this shift, technology emerged globally as a real disruptor in terms of how assets were being built and managed. Along with technology, came increased digitization in the workspace revolving around how smart the buildings were and what they offered in terms of responding to real time needs for the occupants/ tenants. With this came the shift in perception from “location” as the traditional driving factor for asset development to “digitization”.

Assets of the Future – Converging Diverse Needs

With diverse stakeholders invested in the development and management of assets, the concerns of all stakeholders emerged as follows:

  • Sustainable returns for Owners/ Investors,
  • Efficient, cost-effective operations for Asset Managers, and
  • Personalized and comfortable spaces for Occupantsthat enhance productivity.

In order for these needs to be met, I believe that the assets of the future will be increasingly personalized to transform the customer’s experience and drive up the asset’s market value; automated and digitized to facilitate seamless asset management; built to be environmentally sustainable to reduce their environmental impact and make operations more cost effective; and incorporate building features and processes that augment WELLness and productivity of the occupants. These will in turn revolutionize the dynamics of operating and maintaining the buildings.

The following sections briefly elucidate each of these areas.

  1. Transform Customer Experience 

Buildings are leveraging technology to transform the customers’ experience through a network of sensors and devices. Integrated platforms that facilitate a smooth and seamless experience right from the time a customer enters a business district or office hub to navigating traffic to parking to going to an empty workspace or meeting destination on a specific floor already exist and are enhancing the total customer experience.

Smart infrastructure, sensors, RFID, and Internet of Things (IoT) based systems guide drivers to free spaces, obliterating the time wasted in looking for an empty parking space. Tablet-based visitor registration and management platforms facilitate a hassle-free entry through biometrics. Buildings employing interactive robots as concierges, though not a commonplace for now, are gaining traction to enhance the customer’s experience.

Needless to mention, increased personalization through apps is reconstructing the customer experience by knowing the preferences of the occupants like the quality of indoor air or adjustment of temperature or booking of conference spaces among others. Thus, the building is more aware of the occupants and responsive to their needs, putting people first.

  • Enhance Asset Management Operations

Enabling this transformational experience for the customer is the increased automation and system integration in the way an asset operates today.

Previously building management systems (BMS) gave information about core functionalities like lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), vertical transportation and others, enabling managers to analyze and take informed decisions. However, today different operating systems enable information from one system to influence the controls for another through the Internet of Things (IoT). The amalgamation of various technology platforms not only provides real time data to asset managers but also detects, reports, and builds in solutions to performance-based issues even before they occur, through the use of Digital twin technology, which are virtual replicas of physical devices that can run simulations for peak efficiency.

This brings advantages in the form of reduced human error due to machine modeling, enhanced asset life, cost optimization, and mitigation of risk. Additionally, it istransforming operations from the traditional “preventive maintenance” to “predictive maintenance” mode that anticipates failures, takes corrective actions in time, and optimizes scheduled maintenances.

Furthermore, advanced building analytics are not only available for a single building but across geographies, too, through the Command Center. This live monitoring through a connected platform empowers fine tuning of buildings services, reduction in costs, and mitigation of risks across geographical sites like in a hub. Through a centralized high-end command center and skeletal manpower at various sites, prompt actions can be initiated through underlying control systems and standardized operating procedures. 

  • Facilitate Environmentally Sustainable Assets

Perceived to be a fad at one time, owners/ investors/ developers/ occupiers/ project managers now recognize the impact that such assets have on the surrounding environment and the occupants, whether it is from the perspective of carbon footprint, energy, water, or local ecology of the area.

All of this is leading to increasing emphasis on net-zero energy buildings, which produce enough energy to match or exceed the consumption. However, since such buildings are climate and location dependent, no single solution exists for addressing all the heating, cooling or lighting needs. Architectural design strategies dependent on the climate, latitude, direction, and immediate surroundings of a building are deployed to mitigate energy needs and operational expenses. For example, passive heating like sunspaceis used in cold countries while passive cooling like heavy roof, rooftop gardens, earth-water heat exchangers, downdrafts are used in hot countries to reduce energy needs. While solar power remains the most popular way of generating renewable energy, wind energy is finding increasing usage atop tall skyscrapers as heavy air currents propel the turbine blades to generate power.

Buildings are also being designed or aggressively retrofitted with technology to attain sustainability in water so as to reduce the demand for freshwater, augment water supply by harvesting from rain or HVAC condensation or recycling of greywater for landscaping and plumbing while reducing flow by employing water efficient faucets.

  • Augment WELLness

While sustainable buildings changed the landscape working towards building a better “Planet”, the market is more recently headed in a new direction with “People’s” health and wellness taking center stage. Considered the world’s first certification focused exclusively on human health and wellbeing, aWELL Certified space deems to ultimately result in better health, efficiency, and productivity of its occupants. It aims to do this by combining the design (which shares parallels with sustainability for parameters like lighting and air quality), architecture, and engineering of a space with building operation procedures, and corporate wellness programs to achieve these indices. Needless to say, with improved well-being in the workplace accompanied by improved organizational performance, such assets hold the potential to maximize property value and rent for owners while implying new protocols for asset managers to achieve the health and wellness metrics.

Future Forward

The new set of questions that are emerging for assets of the future are: What does the next generation of building technology hold for the future?  Will the technology evolve to support the upgradation of the current functionalities or will it be something more diverse opening hereto undiscovered realms? What implications will that hold for the design, architecture and maintenance of buildings as there is increasing integration of these elements from the roll-out stage? Given that the construction of assets takes a great investment of time and capital, will technology, which changes so rapidly, remain relevant by the time the construction of the said asset is over? Will we be able to upskill the talent to manage such assets at the pace that technology is evolving?

Author: Dinesh Wadehra, Managing Director, Property and Asset Management, JLL