"You dont want to bet your systems on the lowest bidder."
Now thats good advice for anyone, whether youre trying to get the brakes fixed on your car or youre over-seeing development of a $25 million office complex. Providing the lowest-bidder comment was Cory Hilde-brand, CIO of BPG Properties, during a panel presentation on "networked intelligent buildings" at the Realcomm annual CIO roundtable June 3-5 in Boston.
I was at the Realcomm event to present a keynote address and moderate a panel on emerging technologies, but even without those responsibilities, I would have attended the show. Amid Web-based social network applications; endless sparring between Google and all the search wannabes; and long discussions about whether were in the Web 2.0, 3.0 or some other dot-zero era, its a welcome relief to hear business executives talk about trying to solve real problems with technology.
At Realcomm, the discussions included whether real estate companies should invest in becoming IT service providers for their clients. The answer to that one was yes—if those companies are willing to take a longer view than simply trying to flip the property and make a few bucks within three years or so. Other topics included melding physical and technology security systems; using Web-based applications to smooth cash flow and make property decisions faster and more accurately; and using business intelligence to get all the information you need before leasing, buying or selling property.
Longer-range topics included instrumenting buildings for energy management; using networks to manage widely dispersed groups of buildings; and the need to get different property management groups—such as security, IT and building management—to stop protecting their fiefdoms and start working on comprehensive business plans.
The discussions were a bit reminiscent of debates Ive heard over the years about breaking down barriers among financial, sales and operations departments to let upper management get a real view of what was happening in the business. But the difference at Realcomm (disclosure: I am on the shows unpaid advisory board) was that the talks related to company infrastructure with which were all familiar, such as electricity, heating and plumbing.
And, in this green technology era, Id expect to see more and more vendors offering products and joining in these discussions beyond simply peddling new blade servers or new cooling plans for the server room.
On the way home from the show, I caught a radio report speculating on whether the new Apple iPhone, to be launched June 29, will really be as grand a product as was promoted by CEO Steve Jobs earlier this year. When I added that report to the Web speculation about Windows Vista as a home media server, the over-the-top coverage of the Microsoft Surface tabletop consumer prototype, and the much-anticipated but decidedly boring joint appearance of Jobs and Bill Gates at the D: All Things Digital conference, I was struck by how far afield Microsoft and Apple seem to be from addressing consumer concerns.
Shouldnt Microsoft and Apple be addressing—in a home-based version of the Realcomm agenda—how to control and manage your electrical, heating and cooling costs rather than offering up a new phone or digital photo viewer?
Sometimes the consumer market leads the business world, but sometimes the business world can lead the consumer space. This time around, I think the business discussions about how to marry IT with systems that provide heat, electricity, cooling and security for big real estate commercial operations are leading the way. The next wave of consumer interest wont be about adding one more media type to the home media server but about taking control of the home utility infrastructure.
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