Microsoft's Smart Building Program for Building Owners
By Leading Edge Design Group

Microsoft's Smart Building Program for Building Owners

Microsoft is making meaningful progress in transforming its massive real estate portfolio into Smart Buildings.  In a recent interview, Seema Tyagi, Microsoft’s Director of Strategy & Governance Digital Transformation, and Emmanuel Daniel, the Director of Industry Innovation, Smart Buildings, & Campuses, provided insight into Microsoft’s approaching their Smart Building transformation. The article highlighted the significant opportunities that Smart Buildings present in the form of optimized building performance and engaging occupant experience and illustrates the main challenge most companies we speak with today face in their effort to implement Smart Buildings: how to get started.

The difficulty most owners have today is defining what a Smart Building means for them and their property and then translating that definition into design and construction requirements.  There are some valuable insights to glean from Microsoft’s overview of their Smart Building program. Still, it will seem like a program only accessible to an organization of Microsoft’s size and vast engineering talent for most owners.

The good news is that Smart Buildings are accessible for all owners today. To assist, we took the key points from Microsoft’s interview and translated them into tangible requirements that an owner can use to develop their Smart Buildings approach.

Smart Building Foundations: Building Performance and Occupant Experience

Tyagi stated the inspiration behind Smart Buildings at Microsoft “has always been to build, deliver, and operate connected, accessible, sustainable, and secure workplaces that create the best employee experiences…. to attract and retain top talent, to optimize cost savings and efficiencies, and to showcase Microsoft technology.” Although they add the importance to showcase their technology, Microsoft’s purpose is rooted in the two foundations of any Smart Building: Building Performance (sustainability, operational efficiency, security, accessibility), and Occupant Experiences that are engaging, immersive, and personalized. Owner’s looking to begin defining what Smart Buildings mean to them should always begin with these two foundations.

Translating Microsoft’s ‘Five Streams”

Daniel described their Smart Building approach in five streams: planning, physical design, core infrastructure, platform, and type of experiences.  Although not comprehensive, developing a vision and strategy in these five areas will benefit owners looking to leverage Smart Buildings better.  Here is how to think about each of the five:

  • Planning – develop a digital strategy for your portfolio and each property. What experience do you want your occupants to have with technology on your property?  How will you use technology to enhance that experience for occupants, owners, and the community?
  • Physical Design – Integrate technology earlier into the design process. What digital assets do you require to deliver on your digital strategy developed during planning? How can these be integrated into space design, so they are practical yet unintrusive?  Move technology planning forward into earlier stages of design, like programming and workshops.
  • Core Infrastructure – Plan for today’s technology and an increase in technology use over your asset’s lifecycle implementing infrastructure and supporting spaces that have scale.
  • Platform – How will the building technologies you select work together to provide a seamless experience for occupants and you as an owner? Can your systems communicate across platforms?  Have you validated their integration capabilities?  Engage the right resources to help you define the level of integration you expect, evaluate the interoperability of your building technologies, and descope with your vendors
  • Type of Experiences – Technology can create engaging, personalized experiences for your occupants. It can help drive sustainability and optimized building operations.  Determining how to do that first requires you to be clear on what level of experience you want to deliver and understand the technology stack that can provide it.  Many people want to rely on their BMS to do this, but there is no single vendor or system that can provide all services across a Smart Building.  A better approach for an owner is to develop a digital strategy (see: Planning) and then leverage a technology stack that is interoperable and meets the full needs of your Smart Building Program.

Diverse Stakeholder Engagement

Tyagi highlighted a critical challenge that owners face when developing Smart Buildings: the conflict between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technologies (OT).  She said: Another challenge is the choice of technology that’s implemented…With building technology improving with regard to implementation and maintenance, what is the role of facilities management (FM)? How will FM and IT collaborate? If there is a breakdown of experience, how will it be triaged? Who is responsible?”

In the planning process for Smart Buildings, owners must foster interdisciplinary dialogue.  As building systems become more connected, they rely on IT and OT infrastructures and skillsets.  To operationalize these technologies, owners need to plan how they are procured, installed, secured, and maintained. The expectation needs to be a collaborative approach involving multiple stakeholders and departments.

The opportunities that Smart Buildings present in the form of optimized building performance and engaging occupant experience are vast. Don’t be overwhelmed. Whether contemplating a new build project or reviewing the current portfolio for adaptive reuse, using a planning and design process is necessary for organizational alignment, value creation, systems integration, and long-term success.