The Intelligent Buildings conference (IBcon), presented by RealComm, is one of the most important gatherings for the commercial and corporate real estate, facilities, and technology industries. I attended the 2017 IBcon in San Diego, California on June 13–16. This event brought together leaders from more than 20 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and many countries in Europe and Asia.

I attended all four days of the conference. Seven pre-conference events were held on Tuesday, June 13. These were followed by two full days of education sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, June 14–15. The conference concluded with nine Real Estate Innovation Tech Tours on Friday, June 16.

It is no surprise that technology is advancing and converging upon the commercial real estate industry, transforming virtually all aspects of building operations. But what may be surprising to some is the rapid pace of change. HVAC, lighting, access control, surveillance, parking gates, and even irrigation systems are being integrated into unified building networks.

These growing and evolving technologies increase opportunities for energy conservation, operational efficiency, cost reduction, and productivity gains in many types of buildings. But these technologies are also doing something more powerful together that they cannot do alone: They are creating synergies that make buildings more intelligent. We are on the cusp of truly smart buildings. We're not there yet; but we're closer than ever.

As I reflected on what I saw and learned at IBcon, I was able to synthesize my most important takeaways into the following three points:

1. Emphasis on the 3-30-300 Rule

I came to appreciate the 3-30-300 rule more than I had in the past. This rule of thumb suggests that organizations spend, on an annual basis, approximately $3 per square foot for utilities, $30 per square foot for rent, and $300 per square foot for payroll. While these figures are obviously very rough estimates of average costs, they emphasize that the three expense areas differ by one or two orders of magnitude.

According to the 3-30-300 model, the greatest financial savings from greening a workplace may be realized not from decreased energy use but rather from increased productivity. Although a 2% improvement in energy efficiency might result in savings of 6 cents per square foot, but a 2% improvement in employee performance could represent added value of $6 per square foot. As beneficial as energy savings are to an organization's bottom line, sustainability investments that boost employee wellness and productivity deliver exponentially greater value.

2. Advancement in IP-Based Wireless Sensor Technology

I learned about significant advancements in wireless sensors, which play an important role in fulfilling the Internet of Things. New wireless technologies are not limited to HVAC applications. The range of wireless sensor capabilities has expanded from recording temperature, occupancy, and amperage to detecting water leaks, managing electrical outlets, and even assessing toilet paper supplies in bathroom stalls.

Each of these sensors sends real-time data to the cloud for monitoring. These data streams can also be integrated into new or existing Fault Detection and Diagnostics (FDD) platforms that analyze the information to optimize operations and save money.

3. Challenge of Building Integration and Proprietary Controls

I was struck by the seemingly ubiquitous challenge of integrating diverse building systems into a single network, because many vendors have entrenched proprietary controls. One of the most critical requirements for systems connected to a network is the ability to access and retrieve data from those systems. Data analysis cannot occur without data collection. Getting that data is the first step in an organization's journey to better understand how to optimize the systems in their buildings.

Despite the growing demand for access to the data captured and stored in all kinds of equipment, many manufacturers are simply not yet working towards that goal. Their lack of cooperation could be due to concerns that proprietary knowledge will be revealed or that their equipment will be compromised, or due to ambivalence about investing their own money in IT enhancements that may have no effect on their revenue. Whatever the reason might be, proprietary controls do present hurdles in the path to smart buildings.

From the perspective of RealComm, the commercial and corporate real estate industry has experienced five major phases of automation over the past 30 years. The IBcon website describes these five phases as follows:

This year's IBcon by Realcomm was a rich source of information exchange and business relations for Sieben Energy Associates and for all professions engaged in smart buildings and smart cities.