How Microsoft plans to transform buildings worldwide

This is the last of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In one memorable scene from the 1987 movie "Wall Street," Michael Douglas stands on a beach, hair slicked, wearing a black bathrobe, barking orders to his protégé via a brick-sized cell phone as the waves crash behind him.

It was one of the first times a mobile phone appeared in a movie, and at the time talking on the phone on the beach demonstrated the high-tech fruits of a stockbroker's wealth and power. Twenty-six years later, the scene feels dated – solely for technology reasons.

That brick with an antenna that Douglas is holding? That is the current state of commercial buildings, says Darrell Smith, Microsoft’s director of facilities and energy.

“At first, all mobile phones were bricks – basically two-way radios. Now, in just a few short years, they have advanced to become a laptop in your hand,” Smith says. “Buildings are still that brick phone. We want to get buildings to where phones are.”

Microsoft’s campus went from bricks to brains, and Smith believes all commercial buildings can follow suit.

Jessica Granderson, a commercial building and lighting research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agrees. She says smart buildings are becoming more prevalent, and the commercial real estate industry is going through a “time of rapid change and maturation.”

Granderson, whose research focuses on intelligent lighting controls and building energy performance monitoring and diagnostics, says the commercial real estate industry is reaching a major tipping point as people realize the power of capturing and analyzing data from buildings.

Granderson says it’s still not as easy as it should be to get data out of today’s buildings.

“There are two sides to the coin, really. There’s data that is out there that’s not put to good use, and businesses that aren’t using it. The other side of the coin is that once we do become in the habit of making use of what’s there, then you quickly realize the challenges of getting what you really need and want,” she says.

Another challenge is having the right people in place to analyze and interpret the data and act on it.

Granderson contributed to a white paper on Microsoft’s new software, “Energy-Smart Buildings: Demonstrating how information technology can cut energy use and costs of real estate portfolios.” The paper investigates and evaluates Microsoft’s smart building tool, which Granderson says deserves to be held up as a best practice in the industry.

“It’s one of the more sophisticated implementations that I’ve seen,” she says. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned (in what Microsoft created).”

Probably the most important takeaway from Microsoft’s smart buildings breakthrough is just how much money and energy businesses can save with relatively little up-front investment, says Jim Young, CEO of the commercial real estate and information technology company Realcomm.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

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