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

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.

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

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.

Master Systems Integrators

What We’re Planning to See and Hear at AHR

By Natalie Patton | January 3, 2018

As you probably know, AHR’s Chicago show is the largest gathering of HVAC industry professionals in the country. They’re expecting more than 65,000 people at McCormick Place Monday, January 22 through Wednesday, January 24 and we’ll account for a few of them. We’re attending the show to take a look at the latest in HVAC product innovations and to hear from industry leaders the behind-the-scenes scoop on what they see on the horizon of our industry.


It’s our job to know what’s happening on the granular device and network level so that we can bring the best value and building automation innovation to our clients. This year, we’re encourage by the future-focused approach of vendors and show organizers alike. Here’s a few sessions we’ve definitely put on our agenda:

  • Global Trends in HVAC This is a very big umbrella, but we’re curious how BSRIA Ltd. Handles the topic.

On the whole, we’re product agnostic, approaching each job with an open mind to whatever devices the new or existing system will need to perform at its peak. This expo wouldn’t be as big or as bold as it is without the numerous manufacturers displaying their latest product lines so we do have our eyes on a few not-to-be-missed product showcases and booths. Here’s a quick rundown:

Belimo Sensor Technology – Setting the Stage to Create the Future []

We like the wide adaptability of Belimo sensors, and also appreciate their ability to collect reliable data. We’re interested to see how they talk about what’s next for them.

Of course, the biggest thing we look forward to with each Chicago AHR is the personal connections we make with existing and future clients. We’re planning lots of one-on-one meetings and we’d love to connect with you. To get the conversation started, contact us through

Master Systems Integrators

The Role of the OT Master Systems Integrator

By Brian Turner | September 22, 2017

A good Master Systems Integrator (MSI) can do a lot of things. Primarily, MSIs help building owners and IT groups navigate the IoT. The MSI should offer a host of system-specific knowledge. This includes deep understanding of HVAC controls, lighting controls, or energy monitoring in any number of combinations.

The most successful MSIs also have some IT expertise on staff to help with the design and implementation of the OT network.

master systems integrator for building controls projects


The OT challenge for IT is never the connection. The process to connect OT devices is no different than the process for most IT devices. The biggest knowledge gap between IT and OT teams is the application of the devices. Also, how the OT systems transmit and use the building data.

This chasm will not close quickly because OT devices like sensors are rapidly multiplying within buildings’ OT systems. In these discussions, the MSI is a consultant to the building owner. MSIs point out the right course for optimal OT functionality within the IT purview. They also represent the owner in discussions with the specific OT vendors.

A key thing to note: it is rare for MSIs to actually install the OT systems connected to the IT backbone. This remains the domain of controls contractors, and rightfully so.

Rethinking the MSI Role

So far, the MSI has not been elevated to the role of an architect, security consultant, network provider, or ERP. It is common for enterprises to standardize on technology like Cisco for network infrastructure and operating systems. It is also common to standardize on access control and video platforms, even contractors. But there is little standardization among electrical distribution systems, HVAC control, or lighting control.

Given the growing role of data, semantic tagging, analytics, network access, and customer specific knowledge required for successful IoT projects, it is now time to consider building-wide standardization for operational technology systems, and to rethink the owner/operator relationship with master systems integrators.

Most MSIs today grew out of HVAC controls companies. So in many cases, HVAC controls are still in their DNA. This knowledge, when applied to OT is invaluable. But that controls background has made it difficult for some MSIs to put the controls business in the back seat as they work to determine what makes sense for a building owner and their IT team. This history can also make it difficult to be objective when an owner wants to use a technology other than the one the MSI has most familiarity with.

Evolve or Perish

While the term Master Systems Integrator may be a new one for the building automation industry, those who call themselves MSIs today don’t just have former HVAC controls contractors to worry about as competition.

There is a growing crop of IT consulting firms working on building problems. They have full knowledge of how to perform the MSI role without legacy loyalties to specific products. These IT MSIs also don’t get bogged down by implementing OT sub-systems. Those IT consulting firms don’t yet have OT fully figured out, but you can bet they’re working on it, through acquisitions, field experience or both.

While there is a bit of consulting in the MSI role, master systems integrators must provide more than an analyst’s-eye-view of challenges. We will need to engage with clients for many years, with active roles and solid seats at the decision-making table. Where I believe MSIs can offer the most value is in OT infrastructure, integrated databases, building analytics and data visualization.

These areas are increasingly relevant to IT groups and the C-suite they answer to. While the MSIs from legacy IT consultancies get up to speed on OT systems, those with controls experience will rise. That is, if they’re able to translate system-specific knowledge to broader understanding of a whole-building network.

With all of these changes and new opportunities, it’s an exciting time to be in the expanding building automation industry.