Buildings IoT

Co-Work Spaces Are Coming to a Mall Near You – Challenges and Opportunities for Property Owners and Operators

By Natalie Patton | August 10, 2018

Macerich, the luxury shopping mall owner, and Industrious, a high-end co-workspace operator, made news on Wednesday with the announcement that they’re teaming up to create the first-ever co-work space inside a mall. This introduces interesting challenges and opportunities for property owners to consider with their controls contractors and system integrators. But first, some more background on the news.

Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona, owned by Macerich.

The mall is Scottsdale Fashion Square, located in the downtown center of Scottsdale, Arizona. Industrious is picking up a space left vacant by Barney’s in 2016. They’ll be near a Shake Shack, a pub and a day spa in addition to the traditional stores you’re used to seeing in malls, the ones that sell clothes.

“We think a mall provides the type of setting that enables you to move around to different types of spaces, [with] great food and beverage, etc,” said Jamie Hodari, Industrious CEO in an interview with CNBC on the day of the announcement.

He went on to hint at potential future co-work spaces at Macerich mall properties in Santa Monica and Walnut Creek.

This got us wondering – how will this new type of tenant change the way that controls and integrations are done in malls? What will these new tenants require that base building systems will have to supply?

On the Facilities Side

At OTI, we have experience with controls installations and integrations for a major player in the data driven co-working industry and we have longstanding relationships with some of the largest mall property owners in the world. That is to say, we see both sides of this equation.

Co-working space operators are redefining comfort for the modern workplace, but often they are tenants themselves. Property owners are always looking for new tenants, but they have a multitude of tenants to keep happy.

In that CNBC interview, Industrious CEO Hodari mentioned one huge trend that co-work spaces and healthy workplace initiatives underscore at every turn – the need for natural light. This is not something that comes standard in a shopping mall, even an outdoor one. Next time you’re in a Nordstrom, count the windows.

So first we can expect demolitions and retrofits galore. With that comes the opportunity for controls contractors and integrators.

Key Differentiation

These co-working spaces compete to offer the most comfortable, collaborative and creative work spaces for their clients. Air quality and high standards for HVAC equipment feed directly into these efforts. Thus the building management system must provide real-time monitoring, predictive analytics, occupancy control, and people counters in order to offer intuitive, adaptive control of the space. This means lighting, access control, HVAC, video, everything needs to be integrated into one central BMS whose operator is aware of the goals of this and better yet all tenants.

Further, these co-working tenants are likely coming into the space with their own advanced conference room booking systems. They also likely have sensors to gather usage analytics for their own purposes. Integrating these elements into the BMS allows enables even more predictive control.

If an HVAC schedule is created from data in the room booking app, you can pre-heat or pre-cool. If your system is really advanced, it can even prepare the room based on the specifications of individual people.

High-End, High Value

The value of this for the mall as a whole is scale. Once the technology runs in the co-work tenant space it can be deployed in less predictable environments around the mall. This will introduce new standards of comfort to those tenants while furthering energy and operational efficiencies for everyone.

Just as Macerich and Industrious are luxury in their industries, this kind of building control is extremely high-end. But it can be done. The more fine-tuned these tenants get, the more they’re going to expect building systems to learn and adapt. This is surely just the beginning not just for a redefinition of office space and shopping malls but a redefinition of the entire built environment.



Buildings IoT

Could SpotHero and Autonomous Vehicles Accelerate Energy Efficiency in Parking Garages?

By Natalie Patton | July 13, 2018
Renting underutilized spaces to self-driving cars through SpotHero could present energy management opportunities for property owners.

Earlier this week, SpotHero, the Chicago-based parking space reservation app, announced it has outfitted 500 lots with sensors to accommodate autonomous vehicle parking. This could present new opportunities for energy efficiency in parking garages. Let’s explore:

How it Works

The way it works, and has been working for SpotHero since 2012, is the human driver searches the app for a parking space, reserves and arrives at the garage at the predetermined time. With autonomous vehicle-enhanced lots, the self-driving car will interact with the app through an algorithm. License plate scanners and internet-connected meters facilitate the process.

SpotHero software HeroConnect handles payments. HeroConnect also makes parking data available to entities like car makers, ridesharing companies, cities. And presumably anyone who wants it.

With autonomous vehicle-equipped parking garages, SpotHero is especially targeting companies like Uber, Lyft, and Waymo. These are the cars that will be on the road most, requiring the most storage and re-charging stations.

On Physical Infrastructure

One key point to remember, SpotHero doesn’t actually own the garages. Property owners partner with SpotHero to rent their spaces. With that, increased sensors and IoT devices can mean new opportunities for energy efficiency in parking garages. Aside from the SpotHero pitch that renting out those “underutilized” spaces can add up to $120,000 per year to operating budgets (depending on building type), using that parking data could provide ways to better manage energy use.

Right now, the main (possibly only) data points from the parking garage in the energy management system are lights. Now let’s say the building owner is renting out five spaces through SpotHero in it’s self-driving-car-enhanced garage. Data on when those spaces will be occupied and for how long can inform schedules on those lights. In a truly data-responsive world, each space would have its own light fixture with sensors. Those sensors would be integrated to the HeroConnect API. The light’s schedule could then be automatically created when the spot is rented by the computer operating the car that will park there.

Energy Efficiency in Parking Garages – Strategies

To truly achieve energy efficiency in parking garages, additional strategies will be needed to handle the additional energy needed to charge all those self-driving cars. One would think those spaces would be more expensive to cover the cost. There could (perhaps should) be opportunities for energy management systems to track and bill that usage, especially at peak times.

Parking garages attached to retail properties considering this space-renting option should also consider the impact on mall traffic. It may become necessary to increase energy efficiency to offset losses in foot traffic of casual mall goers. Self-driving cars won’t make last-minute stops at the food court.

Challenges aside, the more start-ups that enter the buildings space, even on the periphery like the parking lot, the more opportunities there are to harvest new data sets for smarter operations. Keeping an eye on these ancillary innovations could present big opportunities to early adopters. To us, this is just one more reason to partner with companies that employ programmers and data scientists to constantly inform new strategies for your buildings.

*Photo by James Loesch on Flickr.

Buildings IoT

GGP, Brian Turner win Digies at Realcomm IBCon 2018

By Natalie Patton | June 7, 2018

At this year’s special Realcomm IBCon 20th anniversary edition, the Digie Awards didn’t disappoint. Our longtime client GGP was nominated in two retail categories and we were delighted watch them win for the Best Use of Automation in the Retail category. The award recognized the Advanced Energy Information Systems’ operational analytics platform initiative. This project was created to manage and monitor the GGP portfolio of high-end shopping malls throughout the country. We’re proud to work with this innovative and committed team and congratulate them on the well-deserved recognition from Realcomm IBCon.


We were also thrilled to see our own Brian Turner receive the prestigious Julie Devine Digital Impact Award, pictured above with Realcomm’s CEO Jim Young. We work hard to create new solutions for building owners and operators. It is great to be recognized for our efforts.

If you’re in Las Vegas at the show, we’ll be presenting a case study at this morning’s Showcase on the GGP Woodlands Mall peak demand response program. Come by the exhibit hall and talk with us about why this project helped GGP win recognition at the Digies.

Buildings IoT

Where to Find Us at Realcomm IBCon 2018

By Natalie Patton | May 22, 2018

We’re counting down the days until we converge on Las Vegas for another exciting and jam-packed Realcomm IBCon. This year is especially exciting for us because it marks the first time OTI is exhibiting. We’re a new company with a big history and an exciting future. We can’t wait to show you some of what we’ve been working on. We hope you won’t be able to miss us, because we’ll be right next to registration and badge pick-up, at Booth 153.


As in past years, Brian Turner will speak on several panels throughout the show, starting with the increasingly popular PreCon Smart Building Integrators Summit. “Dealing with a Changing Industry — Defining the Master Systems Integrator” takes place June 5 from 3:45-4:15 in Mont Royal 1. This continues a long-running discussion on what an MSI is and does in IoT buildings. We hope you’ll contribute to the conversation as well.

During the main Realcomm conference be sure to sit in Nolita 2 on June 6 from 2:15-3:15 for “Developing, Implementing and Maintaining a Building Network Strategy.” This one is straight out of our “IT, OT and business convergence” theme we’ve been exploring in different ways since our inception. It’s also something we work with every day, so we expect this to be a very informative discussion.

We’ll also be at the case study Showcase early on Thursday morning, showing off a GGP peak demand response program and an Infomart fully redundant, smart network control system.

Some other sessions we’re putting on our Realcomm show calendar:

“The Smart Building Technology Skills Gap”

“Location Services”

“Connected Multi-Dwelling Units and IoT”

“Understanding the complex relationship between tenant and landlord”

“Smart Buildings and Data Analytics — has reality lived up to the hype?”

See you in two weeks!


Integration Projects

New Case Study: Woodlands Mall, GGP property in Texas

By Natalie Patton | May 14, 2018

Soon we’ll be at Realcomm | IBCon in Las Vegas. This year’s show will be complete with an OTI booth, some speaking sessions and two case studies in the “Showcase.” In preparation, we’re live with our latest case study. This new report outlines our exciting demand response program completed last year for a GGP property just outside Houston.

GGP mall in Woodlands Texas, site of peak demand management project by OTI and Kodaro

The Woodlands Mall is a bi-level, enclosed shopping center located 30 miles north of Houston. GGP renovated the mall in 2004. Since then, General Growth Properties has included Woodlands in energy management upgrade plans that span their portfolio. As MSI of record, we created a peak demand management program based on advanced energy analytics and real time monitoring. Read our case study for challenges and success, which included a delivery date at the peak of summer heat.

Buildings IoT

5 Questions with Richard Miller, OTI’s New Vice President of Information Technology

By Natalie Patton | April 25, 2018

Richard-Miller-Ontai network-small

The conversation around information technology and operational technology has changed rapidly in just a few short years. First it was “IT vs. OT” as if the two disciplines were involved in a boxing match over control of networks and processes. Then it was more kumbaya and free love with the “One Network” sentiment which begged the question can’t we all just get along? Finally, I remember just last year sitting in a session at Realcomm | IBCon called “IT/OT Closing the Gap” where OTI’s president Brian Turner tried to strike a more nuanced tone as moderator between representatives from manufacturers, systems integrators and property management firms.

Things move quickly these days and what we believed was true yesterday could be upended by a new situation we’re presented with today. This is as true in commercial buildings as any other industry. The biggest take away from this shape-shifting IT, OT, IoT debate is that all levels of building construction, management and maintenance are experiencing changes in the ways they work and collaborate. Call it convergence, a takeover, a battle royal or a convivial camp fire but just don’t pretend it’s not happening. For OTI’s part, with the acquisition of an IT managed services firm and its six employees, we’re embracing the change, leaning into it with our whole business in order to build more robust, total building solutions.

To that end, meet Richard Miller, the head of the IT managed services firm formerly known as Ontai, now VP of Information Technology at OTI. We asked him five questions to get his take on how IT and OT can better work together, what “managed services” really means, and the projects he’s most excited to work on at OTI.

Rich, welcome to OTI! From where you sit in the IT world, what has been your experience of IT/OT collaboration? How has this changed and where do you see it heading now?

I compare the relationship between IT/OT to the experiences we all faced during the early stages of VOIP. There were two different worlds that were on a collision course and when that happened, the fallout that ensued had some people reeling. Those who embraced it were very successful.  We had “phone guys” struggling to learn enough networking to make their new breed of products communicate. Then we had “IT guys” struggling to learn the concepts and proprietary terminology of traditional phone systems.  There is a vast difference between making something work and doing it both correctly and securely. In recent years, OT systems and facilities in general can become much smarter and more sophisticated. Building tools to enable that sophistication is the real purpose and goal behind OTI and the acquisition of ONTAI.

Talk about the need to break down barriers. How can both IT and OT become more interested in each other’s roles and responsibilities? And why should they?

I’m not sure it’s about breaking down barriers to be honest. I think it’s more about establishing trust and leveraging that trust to help both sides understand the needs and goals of the other.

Thinking about OTI now having an IT department, how will the project process change? What will OTI projects look like moving forward?

Ultimately our goal is to provide the most secure and right-sized solution, on time and on budget. Of course there are unforeseen circumstances with every project, but this is what we’re working toward. As a contractor, our team has been side-by-side with OTI to overcome issues in gaining adoption, designing and implementing solutions. As a managed service provider, we were also implementing secure solutions for customers in in small- to medium-businesses. Those worlds are similar. That’s where we find the pathway to convergence in our businesses and ultimately in OT/IT building networks.

Can you define managed services for us? Are IT managed services different than OT managed services? Will OTI be offering both now?

The definition of a “managed services provider” is “proactive delivery of their service.” In that sense, the methodology and processes are very much the same. Moving forward, yes, OTI will provide managed services for both IT and OT endpoints.

Broadly speaking, what projects either already underway or on the horizon are you most looking forward to? 

The projects that most inspire me are those where we are retrofitting a building that was built well before OT or even IT was a concept. We’re coming in and transforming those old, inefficient systems to turn the whole thing into a smart building.  We have a number of those in progress and coming soon so it’s been great from the beginning.

Keep up with OTI projects, news and events – subscribe to our blog and sign up for our newsletter. You can also connect with OTI and Rich on LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter.

*Network connections photo by Claus Rebler on Flickr.

Buildings IoT

Utility Rates for Life of Lease vs. Tenant Billing Software for Charges Based on Real Consumption

By Natalie Patton | April 19, 2018

Tenant Billing: An exploration of pros and cons for property managers

Property owners are faced with two tough choices when it comes to tenant billing – establish a set rate for utilities at the outset of a lease agreement or bill by real consumption on an agreed-upon cycle. Each option has its pros and cons for property owners of all kinds from CBRE and JLL to GGP, Macerich and Westfield. Here we’ll offer details on what to consider as you explore the best way to bill your tenants for utility consumption from our experience working with multi-tenant, mixed use buildings across the country.

utility bills-featured

Option 1: Establish a set rate at the outset of a lease agreement

Prior to a glut of tenant billing software options entering the buildings market, property managers’ only choice for utility cost sharing was to roll up their sleeves and do some math. When a new tenant signed on, they’d take the total utility bill for the whole property, consider a historical reference of previous tenants with comparable space utilization needs or business operations, take the square footage of that tenant space and divide it by the total property square footage to come up with a diligent though approximate number.

While this is laborious and ultimately a “best guess” situation, just because there are other options available now doesn’t automatically make those new options better. So let’s set aside the historical precedent and any new-is-better ideologies to do some real side-by-side comparing. First, delving into Option 1: Establish a set rate at the outset of a lease agreement.

Pro Forecasting.

It’s true that real energy consumption fluctuates so having a set tenant utility bill for each month or year is good for budgeting purposes.

Con – Squaring up the books.

Although you have an agreed upon utility cost for the tenant, you still have to track real utility usage of each tenant space. You’ll need to pay the tenants back for any overages charged throughout the year.

Pro – If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Sometimes it’s easier and more cost-effective to stick with what’s working now. If your tenants aren’t asking for a different utility billing system then maybe you don’t need to reevaluate anything.

Con – Getting left behind.

We’ve seen software disrupt countless industries. Especially in the retail space, competition is fierce. Tenants are accustomed to incentives for long-term leases. Small differentiation could make a big difference for anchor tenants or new prospects.


Option 2: Use tenant billing software to charge based on real utility consumption

To reiterate, new doesn’t necessarily mean better. There is a fair bit of risk associated with changing workflows. And lease agreements are fragile enough as it is. But property managers are finding value in new software that plugs into existing building management systems. It’s worth taking a thoughtful look at the options available. Here’s our pro/con list for Option 2: Use tenant billing software to charge based on real utility consumption.

Pro The numbers are real.

As we already established, it’s reasonable to assume that energy consumption will fluctuate in tenant spaces. Maybe not by a lot, but then again maybe significantly. You already track information retroactively to square up discrepancies at the end of each calendar year. Why not do it in real time?

Con – The numbers are real.

We can’t understate the difficulties of change. There is a real fear that charging based on real consumption will tighten belts for landlords. While this is a valid concern, it should be weighed carefully with the following entry in the “pro” column…

Pro – Transparency.

Tenants are asking for this. By offering tenant billing based on real consumption at the outset of a lease agreement, your credibility goes way up. Everyone is weary of a black box these days because software has opened up so many avenues for transparency. Your tenants are consumers too. They know that big data has made it possible to track a lot of information in near-real time.

Con – So. Many. Options.

The software game is full of competition. Tenant billing is no different. Entrepreneurs seek to disrupt anything they can get their hands. It’s possible that you could settle on a tenant billing software from a start-up that runs out of funding. It’s hard to know which system will be around for the long haul. As we mentioned, it’s no small task to change the way your property management business operates.


Final Thoughts

One way to help sort all this out is to contact your systems integrator. They’re familiar with your existing system. If they’re good, they’re aware of the different products on the market. Your MSI can guide you through the pros and cons outlined here with an eye toward what will work with the system they’ve helped you build. For what it’s worth, OTI is having a lot of success with a tried-and-true tenant billing software application for Niagara Systems called TenantEye. We’ve been using it since it was part of a different brand and now we’re implementing the newly released Niagara 4 version. We could tell you more about why we like it, but that’s a story for a different day. You have enough to chew on.

OTI News

OTI Acquires Ontai Managed IT Services Firm

By Natalie Patton | April 11, 2018

Today we announced our acquisition of Ontai Managed IT Services, continuing our expansion of team members and solutions across North America. This acquisition creates a singular buildings IoT umbrella under which OTI will grow a robust suite of managed services.


“We’re thrilled to announce this acquisition,” OTI President Brian Turner says in the press release. “To have trusted and knowledgeable IT wizards working side-by-side with our existing team of OT building experts will prove invaluable for our new and existing building projects.”

As we build out our managed services portfolio we will update our website and documents so keep in touch!

Buildings IoT

5 questions with Rob Vandenberg, OTI’s new director of managed services

By Natalie Patton | March 7, 2018

At first glance, aviation and commercial buildings have little in common. In aviation, equipment and assets are typically a matter of life or death. In buildings, often the worst-case scenario is a lot of hot/cold calls. With managed services, commercial buildings can learn a thing or two from aviation. Our new Director of Managed Services Rob Vandenberg comes from the aviation world and now he’s here.

We talked with Rob about what commercial buildings can learn from the airlines and how software can be an equalizer.

Rob, welcome to OTI! I know you’ve only been with us a short time, but let’s look at the commercial buildings industry. Do you see any parallels with the aviation industry when you started there 20-or-so years ago?

Thanks, I’m happy to be here! There are definitely similarities that come to mind when thinking about aviation and commercial buildings. First, assets in aviation contain many sensors that generate a lot of data about operating conditions. Second, several decades ago, an industry-wide infrastructure called ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) was created. The purpose was to transmit messages between aircraft and ground stations.

While this was a common infrastructure, many software systems – particularly asset management and performance monitoring – were built in-house by airlines.  We needed software systems we could apply more broadly. But that transition is still ongoing.

When I look at commercial buildings today, I see many parallels to the aviation industry at that time.  Sensors and meters generate data. That data is available through a common, standard infrastructure. And the industry is looking for commercially available software to optimize the operations of their assets.

At this point, is software built on the same principles no matter the industry? Is this a development advantage?

Right now, enabling technologies have made it so that software can move much faster to deployment. The commercial buildings industry doesn’t have to invest in an infrastructure like the aviation industry did several decades ago. Instead, it can leverage the infrastructure and technologies that are now available to all industries.  I’m thinking the Industrial Internet (also known as the Internet of Things or IoT) and the Cloud in particular. So, we’re not building nearly as much enabling tech just to get started. This is a huge development advantage.

What are some challenges you ran up against with your airline asset management software? Have you identified any particular hurdles yet in the commercial buildings space?

Aviation is heavily regulated. The only industries I can think of that are more regulated are nuclear and potentially healthcare. So regulatory and compliance factored heavily into the software we built. Also, aircraft and aircraft engines are large, expensive and complex assets requiring equally large and complex organization to manage them.  When you add in the operational context – the assets are continuously moving all over the world! – the result is a set of requirements for a very large and complicated set of software solutions.

Another challenge we continuously confronted as we were trying to build a commercial solution was vastly different legacy systems within organizations with little existing integration or standardization. This made projects longer and much more complex. We also found that while we were on the way to  building a standard commercial solution, it was difficult to move aircraft operators away from of their unique requirements. This resulted in highly configurable systems that are frankly difficult to build and maintain, and projects that had a lot of customizations. That’s difficult to scale.

With buildings, I see an opportunity to move faster. There just may be more appetite for more universal systems in the commercial buildings industries and that is very exciting to me. I haven’t run into any real hurdles yet, but it is still early!

In this industry, there is much talk of siloes that run in every direction – siloes between devices that don’t talk with each other, siloes across networks, siloes within the C-suite. Was this true of the airline industry as well? What’s your advice for using software to overcome those issues?

That was definitely true of the airline industry in my experience. We took on massive integrations on the systems side. Then we had to get everyone aligned on the organizational side. There was a continuous effort to re-focus on the problems we’re trying to solve and get everyone on board with those goals.

As for advice, “Don’t try to boil the ocean,” is one phrase I like to use. We can’t try to deliver on every feature all at once. The key is to deliver value early and deliver it often. Ultimately, we’re envisioning cost-saving solutions. Those are always harder to get attention for within an organization, compared to projects that open new revenue sources. So, to overcome that natural inclination, our cost-saving measures have to show value early and they have to lead us to become valued partners to our customers – both through the life of a project and through a long-term relationship. And finally, industry standardization cannot be overlooked. Proprietary options are always going to cost more while working on more limited scale.

What are you most excited about when you look at the to-do list for your new position with OTI?

Prior to working in aviation, I worked on a project to build a condition-based maintenance system in an industrial steel mill. What’s exciting is there is more standardization today and the enabling technologies have made tremendous gains. Plus, data is more readily available. So, I’ll be able to build something much more robust – and much faster – than I was able to over 20 years. OTI has a very strong customer base that is receptive to asset management and performance monitoring offerings and OTI has already made significant investment in the backbone infrastructure that will run these solutions.

Follow along as Rob and OTI work on the next generation of asset management for commercial buildings. Subscribe to out blog. Connect with OTI and Rob on LinkedIn. Follow us on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter. Exciting things are on the horizon – we hope you’ll join us.

*Featured photo by Joseph DePalma on Flickr.