Property Australia

Bring in the building doctor


Smart buildings demand more than service technicians, says Grosvenor Engineering Group’s managing director Nicholas Lianos. It’s time to bring in the building doctor.

Driven by energy efficiency and space optimisation imperatives, more than 25 billion Internet of Things devices will be embedded in global real estate assets by 2021, Gartner says.

Upskilling demands will increase as we prepare for this IoT-enabled future, says Lianos. This offers opportunities for a new technical profession: the building doctor.

“Today’s technician spends a lot of time reviewing healthy assets – because the assets can’t speak for themselves. But IoT technology enables us to monitor those assets constantly and remotely, and then to invest our time in proactively fixing the low performing ones.”

Lianos says that IoT will drive a “true value paradigm” in buildings.

“The Internet of Things will transform our tradespeople into building doctors and knowledge workers with information at their fingertips.

“Tenants will be happier, assets will last longer, technicians will be motivated because their work will be challenging and we can send in the experts to look after the healthy assets”. Such an approach maximises productivity and delivers great sustainability outcomes too, he adds.

While this brave new world beckons, several significant barriers are in the way, Lianos says.

“We maintain 17,000 buildings worth about $3 billion at Grosvenor. Within these buildings are 800,000 technical assets – pumps, smoke detectors, switchboards, air-conditioning units and the like. Just a fraction of those are connected to the Internet.”

140819 - Story 4 - Nicholas Lianos 1Many building owners are understandably reluctant to integrate legacy technical equipment into IoT platforms. A chiller may have another 20 years of life in it before it needs to be replaced by a smart alternative. Connecting that chiller to the cloud can be done, but not without a cost, Lianos explains.

Other building owners aren’t aware of the full inventory of their technical assets. “Their assets are invisible. If you were driving an invisible car, when would you fix it? Only when it breaks.”

Lianos, a trained electrical engineer, says the secret is to combine IoT data with what he calls “manmade data” – terabytes of information extracted from human beings working on the ground in buildings around Australia.

“We’ve pioneered the use of technicians as data gatherers. We’ve been collecting data on the buildings we service for over 20 years.

“We know the expenditure of every technical asset within the building, its remaining life and replacement cost – we don’t need sensors for that data – and with that information we can help building owners make strategic and proactive decisions.

“You can have all the dashboards and data in the world, but if you don’t do something proactive with that data it is all useless.”

This approach can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual cost savings across a property portfolio, Lianos says. Savings are made by reducing reactive repairs. Asset life is extended by undertaking proactive repairs. Premature capital expenditure is avoided. Customers are happier. And energy and water consumption decreases.

“Technology is just an enabler to help us meet our potential. A lot of people get excited by shiny new toys and then are disappointed. But these toys are just the tools we use to deliver the outcomes.”

The building services sector relies on four types of revenue: maintenance, reactive repairs, proactive repairs and capital expenditure, Lianos adds.

“We want to eliminate that reactive revenue which can be achieved with the right data, and building doctors that take proactive action.”

Lianos sees “huge opportunities” for value creation ahead. He points to the planet-saving potential of data-driven property management: commercial buildings are currently responsible for around 10 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and up to 30 per cent of potable water use in our urban centres.

“The Internet of Things will be an enabler, because it will provide transparency and assurance to property owners that their assets are being maintained and repaired to deliver the best outcomes. By optimising our buildings we can have a truly positive impact on the world.”