AHR Education Session | Insights, Trends, Perspectives: An Open Conversation with Industry Influencers

AHR Education Session | Insights, Trends, Perspectives: An Open Conversation with Industry Influencers

At the 2022 AHR Expo, HVAC Concepts President Steve Dodd participated in the ninth annual Connection Community Collaboratory, where he joined a panel of industry experts who discussed a variety of subjects that are playing a role in making the built environment smarter and sustainable.

This open conversation with industry influencers included insights on the impact of COVID, the value and ownership of data, responsibility around cybersecurity, and how providers can further support the outcomes and objectives of their customers.

Read below to learn more about Steve’s thoughts on these topics and more, and how we can move the industry further to make buildings even smarter.

COVID: What lessons have you learned over the last two years from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Many important lessons came out of COVID, primarily the importance of planning. We learned to plan for everything from the supply chain impact to understanding which sites we could and couldn’t access. We also saw, and continue to see, heightened awareness on air change and quality. And we’ve noticed that there are still a lot of price-driven solutions on the market.

CLIENT EXPECTATIONS: What are the new expectations you are seeing from your clients and customers regarding the operational side of their buildings and the management of their buildings and facilities?

What we’re seeing as far as expectations are that the customer is looking for assistance to offset labor shortages, and they realize the value in building automation controls and smart buildings, as a smaller workforce can better manage the remote operations, controls, and monitoring of the buildings.

TECHNOLOGY OR BUSINESS: Today, our industry is driven both by technology and business. From your perspective, which one do you see us being driven by?

I still see our industry driven by business. The technology is there, and it is intriguing but showing the return on the investment hasn’t been presented well to the end-user. And so ultimately, it’s still a dollar-driven decision. Customers need to have the justification in order to invest in the technology, and if they can’t fund it and don’t have a simple return, they aren’t going to put in the financial investment.

OUTCOMES: What type of outcomes are your clients and customers asking you for, or what outcomes are you trying to lead the customer down that can produce and perform for them?

Outcomes are simply market-driven. From a healthcare perspective, it’s healing time and a return on patient ratio. In the industrial market, it’s about waste and how well/fast it can manufacture goods. Within the commercial office markets, it’s all about tenant retention. Our customers are looking at how they can reform their areas so that tenants are comfortable and feel that they are in a healthy space. Another factor is the cost-effectiveness of a building. Building owners understand that the last thing their tenants want to experience is an increase in lease costs because of building automation technologies or excessive energy use, so they are looking to us to meet that expectation. We understand that tenant retention leads to a large return for our customers, while finding new tenants can be a costly endeavor.

DATA: We know the value of data. In your opinion, who owns the data and who should own data that is generated from buildings?

The customer owns the data, but it does have to be a collaboration. Cohort analysis is much stronger and provides better results than just linear regression. Looking at what other buildings are doing, comparing that, and looking for optimization and/or improvement areas is key.

CONVERGENCE: OT and IT have converged in our industry. Based on your interactions with your clients, are you seeing a convergence of the operational side and the workplace side?

We are seeing an increase in convergence, and it’s being forced because of concerns surrounding cybersecurity and remote access into systems. This includes password and hardware management, shutting down, and opening the right ports. This is especially critical in remote work settings as more people are accessing those things in an off-site, virtual workplace.

RESPONSIBILITY: Health and safety concerns are driving the occupant experience, and these drivers include indoor air quality, changing role of the environment, etc. Who is responsible for these initiatives – the building owner or the tenant?

This is a shared responsibility. It’s up to owners to get a building’s infrastructure into place, so that the tenants can stay in incompliance and/or add to the ESG.

AMENITIES: Do you think we will see customers offer their tenants new amenities around the indoor air quality health and safety?

I don’t see lease managers or property owners promoting this because tenants don’t see those amenities. It’s enough for managers/owners to ensure that they can provide comfortable spaces that are well lit, ventilated, and filtered.

DIGITAL TWINS: What is Digital Twins? Is it a technology? Is it a practice? How do you see it fitting in to the built environment?

Digital Twin and BIM modeling are very similar. One is operations after its built and the other is pre-construction. You have to have someone who has a life-cycle mindset and understands the impact it’s going to have. It’s just like analytics. It hasn’t taken off like it should have only because it hasn’t received the buy-in. Customers have to understand the value of it, see they have to see the results, and have to have the case studies to show that it works applicable to what they do. They then have to apply it to their business metrics and find a way to mix the two to really show a good payback.

But is it a technology? Is it a practice? Is it a combination thereof?

It’s not new – it’s a mix of technology. There’s software that makes it easier. From the initial cost of a building, it’s hard to justify at times, because it takes extra time for such things as paying for software licensing.

CYBERSECURITY: We know cybersecurity is paramount to every building, but who is responsible for cybersecurity and ensuring there are responsible procedures in place?

Cybersecurity is a joint responsibility. It’s critical to work with customers’ IT departments to ensure the cybersecurity of their buildings is secure. Still, we have an added responsibility because in construction, it’s common to use a branch name and/or phone number as a password. So, it’s our responsibility not to make it easy for people to access a building’s systems. And it’s the customer’s responsibility to work with us to make certain essential actions have been taken to further ensure cybersecurity, including ports not being open, we aren’t broadcasting, and that the hardware is locked down.

ENVIRONMENT/SUSTAINABILITY: As electric vehicle (EV) charging stations continue to progress and become increased at locations, should they become part of the building operating management platform that is running that building?

Now with ADR (automatic demand response), smart panels and EV charging stations play an integral part because you may have to do load rolling and shedding. The last thing you want to do is charge off someone charging of their car, leaving them unable to drive. It’s a fine balance, so the smart grid is integral in that decision.

ESG FACTORS: Which factor do you think will have the most significant impact to ensure a successful ESG program implementation?

Accountability. With the benchmarking that took place and how it dropped off a few years later, accountability is important.

THE LEAP: What do you think will be the biggest leap we will experience in our buildings and facilities this year and three years from now?

The most significant leap is going to be talent acquisition and finding people who can deploy what our customers need. We need to promote this trade to the high school level and that it’s an outstanding balance of tech and hands-on work.