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A Building’s Digital DNA Can Save It In A Post-Pandemic World

A Building’s Digital DNA Can Save It In A Post-Pandemic World

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we interact with each other and the built environment. No small matter of concern is whether a residential property has the level of digital infrastructure that is now required by society’s new behaviours and attitudes.

“This crisis has evolved people’s digital needs rapidly,” Velocity1 Managing Director Mark Kellett said. “Before this crisis, most developers focused on enabling the entertainment aspects of internet use, to ensure people could watch Netflix smoothly after work, for example. Today, they need to ensure smooth enough connectivity to facilitate home schooling as well as working from home. No tech company such as Zoom envisaged such mass adoption so quickly. Can building owners handle it?”

In the build-to-rent sector particularly, are buildings able to cope with the new direction of society? Are they intelligent enough to deploy new monitoring technology, and fast? Velocity1 has made answering these questions a priority at Wembley Park, where the company has designed, deployed and manages a network that provides fibre broadband to its residents alongside a backbone infrastructure that converges management of both the building and the public realm.

The overarching question for a developer looking to rent or sell apartments is how to make their building attractive to a generation that is now acutely aware of health. Whether a property is in planning, construction or operation, by taking certain measures to improve digital connectivity now, a property owner can safeguard a building’s appeal.

Create A Digital DNA

“When constructing a building, you need to consider the physical building core — the lift shaft, the walls and so on,” Kellett said. “You also need to consider the virtual core, which is the network. Now more than ever the network infrastructure is critical to the building’s DNA. Wireless doesn’t just mean WiFi or 5G, but the entire wireless IoT network protocols such as ZigBee, Z-Wave and NB-IoT, for example.”

Kellett argued that there is a digital divide in the UK’s rental sector; there are those who have strong connectivity and those who haven’t. Given the increased use of digital connectivity that will now be required, countries around the world must create broadband strategies that eradicate this divide or risk creating an unbalanced society.  

“There are many challenges to ensuring a building’s digital DNA operates smoothly,” Kellett said. “For example, sensors all operate differently as they measure different factors, such as heat or air quality. Lots of IoT technology operates on different protocols — how can they operate in a consistent fashion? How can an old building be retrofitted to have the right digital DNA?”

Air quality sensors showing office humidity levels

Measure And Report

With the digital infrastructure in place, a property manager can make use of the growing array of sensors and reporting measures on offer. Proptech has a growing role in making a building safer, not just for tenants but for management teams.

“Indoor air quality is a big topic,” Kellett said. “There are companies that offer air quality certifications that rate a building, but this tends to be a one-off measurement. In Wembley we’ve deployed a real-time platform to constantly monitor any factor of air, measured against the WHO’s scoring system. We can say whether we have a healthy building on an ongoing basis.”

A recent study from Harvard found a direct correlation between poor air quality and deaths from the coronavirus, which made global headlines. Occupiers in cities are going to be far more aware of the wellness aspects of properties from now on. Data from air quality sensors can be put alongside other measures to allow the property management team to carry out the level of proactive maintenance that occupiers expect today.

Air quality sensors showing humidity level

New Technology

No one was prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, but a lot of people are already looking at innovations that could be refocused to support the fight against disease and management in the built environment. From no-touch entry systems to health apps, landlords and property owners must be ready to implement such proptech when it is ready.

“We’ve been working on a project in Saudi Arabia which is bringing together UK and international businesses in areas such as contact tracing,” Kellett said. “The result could be a piece of hardware similar to a Fitbit that is worn on the arm to monitor the movement of people with symptoms around a building. There are wider conversations to be had concerning GDPR and privacy, but many apps are being developed to offer health services — how will these operate in a modern building with excellent insulation that might block signals from devices?”

When new health technology is added to the array of sensors that are already available to implement in a building, the result could be a digital management system that benefits sales and lettings teams hugely. A property manager will be able to show that a building is the fastest place to work, that air quality is excellent and that it has the technology in place to help with social distancing. In an as yet unclear post-pandemic real estate market, this edge could separate the popular buildings from those that will remain empty.

This feature was produced by the Bisnow Branded Content Studio in collaboration with Velocity1. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.