The following article appeared in Buildings magazine in January 1998
Tenants don’t just want plug-and-play computers. They want
From Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley, building owners and managers are
increasingly making smart money by marketing “smart” buildings.
What’s a smart building? Depends on who you ask.
It’s the latest version of the old mousetrap: “Build a smarter
building, and tenants will beat a path to your door.” The trouble is,
given current trends in buildings technologies, only one path is certain:
The future is user-defined.
Forget the cyberhype and the technobabble, but always remember the
customer. Only a potential tenant can define what “smart” means and
they’ll spell it out on a check.
The smartest building is the one that’s 100-percent leased.
Technology is both an asset and an amenity. Today’s businesses thrive
on information. The tools used to access, store, retrieve, manipulate, and
communicate information are critical assets no matter whether the
tenant is a doctor, lawyer, or Internet service provider.
To building managers, providing tenants with an infostructure offers
the ultimate marketing opportunity. Technology will attract tenants.
Offering the right technologies, however, will retain tenants first, by
keeping them in business; second, by growing with their needs.
Build gateways, not monuments. In the past, buildings have been
fortresses, shelters, addresses on a map. Today, buildings are gateways to
a larger, electronic world. Tenants want no-fuss, no-muss access for their
technological tools. From the tenant’s perspective, connecting a business
to the Internet, for example, should be as plug-and-play as turning on the
lights, talking on the phone, and breathing the air.
Building managers make that magic happen.
Image is as important as the Internet. Myth or reality, the idea that
flannel-clad guys and gals can launch a multi-million-dollar enterprise
from bargain-basement beginnings is remarkably compelling.
Don’t start building office furniture out of milk crates, however. Even
business upstarts require an image of success, particularly when investors
Don’t front-load or overload. As one wag puts it, “Any building can be
a smart building, if you pull enough wire.” Costly upgrades and the
“latest technology” might not be necessary for every application, however.
Better to identify market needs, or real tenant requirements, before
investing too much in a given property.
Another strategy is to partner with a third-party service provider. At
no cost to building owners, third-party providers can install systems such
as fiber-optic backbones, in exchange for exclusive rights to provide
service to tenants.
OnSite Access ( www.osaccess.net), New York City, for example, wires
buildings for high-speed voice and data. Building owners receive a
percentage of telecommunications revenues, and, according to the company,
gain more control over risers and conduits. Tenants plug into high-speed
and direct Internet access, and save on local and long-distance telephone
Recent projects include the 170,000-square-foot 1 Silicon Alley, a
modernized and remarketed 90 William Street.
Similarly, UltraNet (www.ultranet.com),
Marlborough, MA, installs a black box in a building’s basement to provide
high-speed Internet access. Building owners and tenants are billed on
usage, are supported by Ultranet’s 24-hour technical staff, and incur no
hardware costs for the “InterSmart” system.
Recent Ultranet projects include the Boston Technology Center, a
five-story office structure touted as a technology showpiece for
attracting Internet-dependent tenants.
Look smart, be smart, stay smart. For a price, buildings can be
automated, spindled, and mutilated into overwrought visions of the future.
Real building tenants, however, will be more impressed with nuts-and-bolts
tools than gee-whiz technologies.
A smart building may “know what the tenant wants,” but a smart building
manager will figure it out first.
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