Page 28 — Property Management Quarterly — January 2021 Tech T he ongoing pandemic is high- lighting our shared responsi- bility to protect one another’s health. Arguably the biggest threat to our global well-being since the twoWorldWars, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed howwe live, work, interact and commute. One of the most well-known super- spreaders of COVID-19 are cruise ships, operating as disease ecosystems in which vulnerable people share limited facilities in close proximity, all while staff struggle to maintain visibility over these people’s movements and well- being.Without precise occupancy data, cruise ship staff and passengers were left at the mercy of this virus, resulting in businesses damaged beyond belief and many lives put at risk. n Vertical cruise ships. Until 2020, ten- ants and operators alike accepted office buildings the way they are – shared communal spaces with low visibility into facilities, systems, processes or personnel.This pandemic has crippled the global economy and brought office spaces into crisis however, and it’s time to face up to what these buildings really are.With their inherent ability to spread disease and the lack of mean- ingful insight into their occupancy, these spaces have come to resemble “vertical cruise ships” nowmore than ever. From a commercial standpoint, the immediate challenge facing real estate is how the industry will attract occupants back into buildings. After months of working from home and the perceived threat of an unhealthy work environment, many office work- ers wonder when or if they will ever go back. Much like after the Sept. 11 attacks, when air- lines introduced additional security measures to help reassure nervous passengers, com- mercial building managers nowmust clearly demonstrate the cleanliness and safety of their office environments. n Gaining an imme- diate overviewof your building performance and usage data. Right now occupants and employees need to know about the safety of their sites and might be asking questions about usage, cleaning regularity and air quality. Reopening a commercial building during or after a crisis requires the careful monitoring of site trend data such as air quality and usage, before communicating these insights to make occupants feel as safe as possible. Now, more than ever, building data is essential for answering occupant concerns. For property owners and managers, the first step to taking this data-driven approach is to take an inventory of every device connected to their net- works. A thorough digital audit of these devices and networks should assess your buildings’ digital readiness for a smart building program.The right solu- tion will identify device firmware ver- sioning, integration ports and protocols, and network vulnerabilities both in terms of cybersecurity and connectivity health.This type of continuous digital audit can replace the manual processes of cataloguing and maintaining data- bases of connected devices, forming a robust foundation for any smart building program. n The first steps to smart building integra- tion. Your site teams will first need to coor- dinate with a solution vendor for platform integration. Build- ing data typically is streamed through a plug-and-play Internet of Things appliance that continuously scans for all the com- patible systems, firm- ware versions, sensors and devices that can be easily installed on site.The platform dashboard should then highlight con- nectivity, network integrity and security risks so that you can understand exact- ly what’s connected to your network. Sounds complicated, right? Not neces- sarily. Any vendor worth its salt should offer a combination of data engineers, sustainability experts and digital trans- formation consultants to support your smart building program and ensure its success. With a continuous insight into your devices’ firmware versions, your team can act to make sure that every unit is online and functioning prop- erly. Network health readings identify underperforming controls networks, meaning the team can monitor and optimize connectivity and response times where necessary. Cataloguing the open and vulnerable internet ports across your sites enables facilities staff to secure these, significantly reducing the possibility of network interference or a cybersecurity breach.Taking these initial steps paves the way for further building performance benchmarking and optimization, if desired, reducing operating and energy costs while con- tinuing to deliver a safe tenant experi- ence. Ultimately, the ongoing crisis was made far worse because of a lack of preparation. Building managers now have the chance to protect people and assets by turning buildings into sources of rich data that can be communicated with stakeholders and tenants to enable them to make better and safer decisions.This is a truly unique oppor- tunity for building owners and facilities managers to take a new, diagnostic approach for the benefit of every build- ing, floor and occupant. s Use tech to keep from being a vertical cruise ship Deb Noller CEO, Switch Automation, deb.noller@ switchautomation Until 2020, tenants and operators alike accepted office build- ings the way they are – shared communal spaces with low visibility into facilities, systems, processes or personnel. With their inherent ability to spread disease and the lack of meaningful insight into their occupancy, these spaces have come to resemble “vertical cruise ships” now more than ever.