Photo 118204985 © Oleg Dudko |
Could AI be a game-changer for building operations?

AI and Building Operations: The New Real Estate Frontier (BOMA 2024 Preview)

June 26, 2024
Where should building owners and managers start with artificial intelligence? AI has the potential to dwarf the capabilities of previous solutions, but potential pitfalls make AI investments tricky.

The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) is growing, and with it comes a growing interest in how to apply this technology to commercial real estate. This isn’t your father’s building automation system—in fact, AI’s potential stands to dwarf the capabilities the industry is used to from its technology solutions, from performing sophisticated analyses to arming incoming building engineers with all the history they need to learn to do their jobs.

But where do you start? What can AI do now, and how can you integrate it into your operations in a way that makes sense?

Brian Uher of Wall Wright, a consultancy for sustainability, resiliency and risk management, will moderate a panel on the morning of Monday, July 15 at the 2024 BOMA International Conference & Expo aimed at answering those questions and more. “From OT to AI: The AI Frontier” will bring together three panelists who will explain how AI can fit into building operations, what’s involved with developing and deploying an AI solution, and how to partner with providers to make sure you meet your goals and maintain control over your data. The panel will feature:

  • Andrew Rodgers, cofounder of ACE IoT Solutions, a software development company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Anthony Demattos, a full stack developer for SETTY & Associates
  • Drew DePriest, director of real estate operations technology for McKesson

“We have to ask ourselves the question, what does the transition [to AI] look like, how is it going to be paid for and what’s realistic?” Uher explained. “This panel will simultaneously create excitement around the possibilities of solving real problems you have that you persistently can’t solve yet, and on the other hand, being realistic about what it’s going to take to deploy it, what it’s going to cost and what those timelines look like, so you can position yourself as a BOMA member in this space and make it happen. It’s a practical approach to an impractical space.”

What to Know About AI and Building Operations Today

The integration of AI into everyday building operations is in its infancy, explained Uher. Building owners traditionally are cautious and conservative about spending and risk, with good reason. However, AI is currently capable of safely assisting with things like optimizing setbacks and making predictions about energy spikes to keep your demand charges low.

“The machine language algorithms—and now, AI enhancing those algorithms—are actually pretty good at getting those predictions mostly right,” Uher said. “There’s a fighting chance today that you can use energy management software to predict your spikes so you can control your carbon exposure and your utility bill exposure.”

AI is at the precipice of achieving even greater things, but because there’s not a clear path to obvious value, AI-powered solutions haven’t achieved widespread adoption yet. Building owners and management teams are watching to learn more about the value proposition of AI before investing.

They’re also watching to see how privacy concerns unfold, Uher noted. Public AI chats, such as ChatGPT, are trained on publicly available data. Once a user gives it proprietary information, the AI learns from it and applies what it learned on your data to the analysis it gives everyone else. Some real estate companies are building bespoke AI engines that are unique to them to avoid these and other issues, but having your own AI engine tends to be more expensive and less practical than partnering with a vendor specializing in AI.

“I’ve already heard from large REITs and large real estate owners, who have incredibly sensitive data they’re using in their [bespoke] AI engines, that they will not permit their personnel to use public AI because they would have to put proprietary information in it,” Uher said. “You may have signed an NDA the day you walked in, promising you’d never share that data, and now you’re dumping it into the world through the chat. It’s a huge issue. Data privacy and data control are two concepts we’re going to touch on.”

How to Navigate the Marketplace

Partnering with an AI provider can be complicated. Some AI providers are replicating the issues users have had with building automation systems, where some models are proprietary and can’t speak to other BAS brands. “They’re stuck with the provider they get. If the quality of that provider is poor, they have very little recourse,” Uher explained. “Also, the equipment was cheap, but the service provision is expensive. It’s the printer model—I can buy a printer for $90, but the ink is $30, and I go through it. This is the same.”

With AI, some vendors are offering turnkey solutions where they’ll set it up for the user, but they also own the data pipe and the language it uses to communicate. They also maintain the user’s data in their database. “You should always own your data pipe, and you should only be negotiating with end software providers unless you’re going to build a bespoke stack,” Uher said.

“In choosing one, anyone who comes to you and says, ‘You own your data, we’ll just give it to you,’ ask the details of that transition,” he added. “Ask the details of that maintenance. Can I always get to my data? Are they going to put it in their database, so it’s updated in real time? It’s not that these guys are good or bad, it’s that there is a proper process to protecting yourself, your data, your privacy and your flexibility going forward as technology changes. And, as 90% of these companies leave the market in bankruptcy, and another crop comes through, what are you going to do if you got into bed with a company that goes bankrupt in 18 months? That’s what we’re proofing ourselves against as buyers of the technology.”

The panel discussion at the BOMA International Conference & Expo will demystify these issues so that BOMA members can explore how to incorporate AI into building operations and portfolio management while avoiding potential pitfalls in the market. “You’re going to be excited about being in real estate,” Uher said. “Real estate is now a part of the future and it’s going to be a proving ground for a lot of what comes in technology. That’s an exciting place to be.”

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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