When Andrew Carnegie pioneered the use of steel, the aftermath use of the material in construction of skyscrapers was nothing more than an innovative afterthought. Subsequently, steel became the material of choice for developers and afterwards, the industry standard. Looking back at the advancements made in the construction industry from that introduction some pundits have termed the invention of steel the fuel that fired modern civilization.

Since then, the real estate industry has been seen as the laggard in adopting fast-moving technologies. Even now, the industry doesn’t move as fast as other asset classes like financial securities in the adoption of technologies. For all that, change is coming with the entry of smart buildings. New technology embedded in buildings, will change the way we interact with buildings as well as the way they are managed.

The question of what a smart phone knows is now too common place. The questions to ask in future will be what a building knows. The essence of a smart building is the ability to incorporate devices such as sensors and cameras all through the structure, even in the pre-construction stages, which collect and return data to the owners or managers of property. Such a system also includes software, hardware and analytics, and a connection to the internet via the cloud hence the internet of things.

The main obstacle so far has been the cost of smart building but technology costs have been known to reduce with time as adoption grows. The agenda then will be what to collect and how to make the best of the information that can be collected from buildings. With the increasing awareness about building safety, energy efficiency, and green buildings, the time is ripe to extract more information from the structures under our control.

We pride ourselves in the steps we have made toward ensuring the livability and usability of our living spaces and work places but smart buildings will make it super simple for us to carry out a range of household tasks as well as property management routines in the case of property managers. Tasks like opening and locking of doors and windows, when to turn on the light, when to change the air filters, when to pump more water into the reservoir tank, where the drainage system is blocked, household electronics management, structural repairs and many more will be taken over by smart sensors that portray the information to our smartphones or tablets by means of alerts.

A good example to use here is the Signature Residences in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa. Here residents are be able to control lighting and other features from a mobile device. This however, is a small sample of what can be achieved with smart buildings. The advantages are more glorious at a scale. Consider the cost savings as a result of detecting a structural flaw in the elevator parts prior to installation or an alert on a deteriorating part of the drainage system that urgently needs replacement but is invisible to the common eye. Cumulatively cost savings in time, repairs and maintenance, energy and security will be huge. Across a portfolio of assets, the savings could be immense.

Other benefits will include the generation of data that can be used to improve tenant needs and future projects by developers, improved workplace experience hence employee retention, time savings for individuals in their daily tasks which will result in more time for family and work, and many more.

The real deal however is the ability to interact with property like never before, thanks to the internet of things. As for the return on investment, a 2017 global outlook report by Earnest and Young says that it depends on the technology installed. For some the return will be within months while for more sophisticated technologies it may take as many as many years but that is nothing compared to the lifetime of a building and the benefits afterwards.