Making the Most of Today's Building Infrastructure Technologies
April 01, 2002

By Staff
Appeared in Real Estate Weekly

For building owners and managers, keeping up with fast changing technologies is a difficult and costly proposition. However, as computers and telecommunications services have evolved from isolated technical specialties to essential office automation and business support systems, it has become clear that mastering information technology leads to competitive advantage in the marketplace.

To meet today’s technology needs the infrastructure design for buildings has become increasingly complex. This is partly due to the wide variety of technologies incorporated into buildings for the benefit of tenants as well as building owners and property managers. Another factor is the rate at change of technology. It is generally agreed that products for the information technology marketplace have, on average, an 18-month life cycle while the underlying technologies generally have a 24-month life cycle.

Given the challenges mentioned above, how can building owners plan technology upgrades to ensure they are getting biggest bang for their buck? To successfully market a property it is critical that the expectations of current and future tenants be evaluated so that the building's owners may optimize future return on investment.

Gauging Tenant Satisfaction

In occupied buildings, these techniques are recommended to determine current tenant satisfaction. First, distribute an information technology survey form to obtain a baseline profile of the variety and types of telecom services currently in use. Second, conduct a series of meetings with tenants to discusses the results of the survey for the purpose of setting priorities and determining the tenant's willingness to pay for these services and/or building features.

The property owner or manager should consider forming an information technology counsel consisting of tenant representatives and building management for the purpose of proactively communicating information about telecommunications services. Meeting about every six months for an hour at either breakfast or lunch, the counsel would hear from vendors, academics and consultants on the status of information technology.

This venue would establish a dialogue with tenants separate and distinct from that associated with lease negotiations and routine building management issues. It would also afford building management the opportunity to keep tenants informed of available services.

Defining Technical Needs

Some of the key areas for owners and managers to focus their attention include:

Internal AC Electric Power Distribution -- All tenants require quality power distribution to support telecommunications and computer equipment. Unfortunately, these types of equipment represent non-linear electrical loads that can overload existing distribution systems and, if not properly engineered, lead to overheating, equipment failure and, at the extreme, fire damage. Therefore, a complete review of the electrical distribution system should be undertaken.

Redundant, Diverse Building Power --It is essential that buildings offer tenants reliable AC power. In some cases it may be cost-justified to supply the building from two separate sub-stations via separate, diverse feeders.

Access to Telecommunications Service Providers -- Deregulation of the telecommunications industry has created economic and technological benefits for customers while at the same time it has created an equally complex matrix of alternatives. As a result, building management can create a marketing opportunity by providing ready access to alternative service providers and by simplifying the process of obtaining service from alternative carriers.

Satellite Communications -- If appropriate, the building roof should have the ability to support one or more satellite dishes; limitations on the size or type of satellite dishes that can be accommodated should be noted. In addition, the building owner may wish to provide tenants with a listing of the satellites that can be "seen" from the roof of the building.

Building Control Systems (BCS), Building Management Systems (BMS) -- Recent advances in technology provide the ability to distribute various types of value-added services to tenants. For example, it would be feasible to distribute security camera pictures from selected street lobbies, elevator lobbies, stairwells and outside entrances to all tenants. By making the BCS and BMS part of a building management local area network, building operations personnel can evaluate, diagnose and troubleshoot problems even when not on-site.

Tenant Environmental Monitoring -- Over the past few years, building owners have seen increasing interest in (and willingness to pay for) central monitoring of tenant power and environmental conditions. In most cases this sensitivity has been the direct result of the failure or depletion of tenant Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) on mission critical equipment. The purpose of this service is to notify the tenant's technical staff of equipment failure as quickly as possible so that service restoration may begin immediately.

HVAC for Tenant Spaces and Technology Spaces -- With traditional 9-to-5 work schedules are fast becoming the exception rather than the norm, property managers are being asked to provide tenant-controlled HVAC facilities to accommodate after-hours and weekend work schedules. Even when HVAC is not needed in tenant spaces, around-the-clock (24 X 7 X 365) HVAC is still required to remove excess heat from computer and telecommunications equipment.

Alternative Power Companies -- The recent deregulation of the commercial power industry has created the opportunity for owners to purchase electrical energy from alternative sources. The building owner should determine if its total connected electric load is sufficiently large enough to justify purchasing power from an alternative power supplier.

Business Center Facilities: Video Teleconferencing -- Companies are turning to video teleconferencing as a cost-effective means of holding client meetings, updating marketing teams, or conducting product introductions. While low-end ("talking heads" quality) video teleconferencing is now readily available, there is a definite market for high-end video teleconferencing services incorporating rooms designed specifically for that function (e.g. engineered lighting, acoustics and room layout) since PC-based system fail far short of the quality needed for professional presentations.

The Internet and Related Technologies -- No other buzz words are more important than Internet, World Wide Web, Intranet and Extranet. Taken in combination, these technologies are in the process of redefining access to information, business processes and communications. As such, they represent both a major evolutionary step in information technology and a discontinuity in communications technology.

Determining which technologies make economic sense for a particular building requires careful strategic planning. Armed with tenant input and a comprehensive review of all the options available, an owner is in the best position to ensure his building stays on the cutting edge of technology in the most cost effective manner possible.