Smart Buildings Require Smart Concepts: ECs’ future service opportunities

Published On
Aug 15, 2022

By 2030, it’s predicted that there will be a new name for “smart buildings.” They will simply be called “buildings.”

By the end of this decade, all the hoopla about the internet of things components in buildings will go away. Real estate developers, leasing agents and others promoting commercial office buildings and multiple dwelling units will rely on other features besides “smarts” to differentiate their properties.

Bragging about the integrated systems that characterize a smart building will be reminiscent of the signage on two-lane roads advertising that the next motel has TV and air conditioning in every room.

However, just as IQs are not distributed equally among human beings, some buildings will always be smarter than others.

Looking for a business opportunity

The silently shifting but tectonic-scale threat in this future scenario is that, before they know it, many ECs could lose out on the business opportunity that lies ahead with smart building technology.

Electrical contractors that create competitive advantage through close coordination and cooperation between their new construction and service-related business units have the best chance of capitalizing on the long-term potential in smart building systems.

Classically, ECs have made their first forays into service and maintenance by hanging around after constructing a new facility. Through this experience, some have come to appreciate that over a building’s lifetime, service and maintenance revenue amounts to four or more times the value of the original construction contract—and commands a far higher profit margin.

Two important concepts

This traditional form of entry into a long-term service and maintenance engagement with a facility owner is the best pathway toward working on a smart building. This introduces the contractor to the first generation of interconnected systems put in place. In time, they can progress to the next level. There are two major concepts ECs should know about smart buildings.

Concept 1: Unless an electrical contractor strategically targets the post-construction potential in a smart building, another EC may get the service and maintenance contract. Increasingly, service providers of a different pedigree will encroach on the opportunity that could have belonged to the original electrical contractor. And the original EC will have forfeited the most lucrative part of servicing the facility’s electrical needs in the future.

Concept 2: Most smart buildings are not nearly as intelligent as they really need to be. They fall far short of conforming to the requirements of enabling the kind of “circular economy” that will correct our current trajectory—in which people are expending natural resources at nearly twice the rate the planet can endure. While this kind of global conundrum is momentous, electrical contractors can contribute in some meaningful solutions.

LED lighting is a good place to start. Imagine that at the end of their useful life, all the LED luminaires that your company had ever installed were returned to your warehouse. How would the accountant classify them? Would your warehouse manager look at them as inventory or junk?

We all know the answer.

But what if these fixtures had been designed and manufactured with a circular-economy mindset? What if they had been at least partly constructed of biomaterials that could be returned to nature and had reusable components that could be readily deconstructed to fit a new purpose?

There are a small number of lighting equipment designers and manufacturers producing fixtures of this kind—in some cases with 3D printing—that are commercially available. There is a much larger presence of legacy manufacturers that continue to churn out products the way that they always have and do not show any signs of changing.

That brings us to the role ECs can play in making smart buildings smarter, at least with respect to their lighting equipment.

The taxonomy of the lighting world has well-known categories of players. It runs from manufacturers, to manufacturers’ representatives, distributors, designers, contractors and, of course, end-users.

While electrical contractors may protest that they are merely bit players, they are in the best position of all to become advocates for a better way of doing things.

Imagine your service and maintenance team pitching to a customer how their lighting retrofit job could be accomplished with luminaires that conform to the basic philosophy of a circular economy. That possibility comes closer to reality every day. Who will be making that pitch—your service and maintenance team, or someone else’s?

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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