• 9 min read

Microsoft unlocks the full potential of the smart building ecosystem

It is impossible to understate the profound impact 2020 events have had on the real estate industry. Buildings of all kinds, from commercial offices to retail, hospitals, manufacturing plants, and more, remain in need of transformative solutions that will enable employees to return to work safely. In times of crisis, it is innovation that transforms challenges into opportunities.

It is impossible to understate the profound impacts the events of 2020 have had on the real estate industry. Buildings of all kinds, from commercial offices to retail, hospitals, manufacturing plants, and more, remain in need of transformative solutions that will enable employees to return to work safely. In times of crisis, it is innovation that transforms challenges into opportunities.

Microsoft has maintained a steadfast focus to deliver new technology innovations that enable our ecosystem of partners and enterprise customers to create new smart building scenarios that will not only allow reopening of buildings, but provide lasting value for property owners, managers, tenants, and occupants.

Realcomm | IBcon, the “Smart, Connected, High Performance Intelligent Buildings Conference” is an annual opportunity to celebrate the progress of technology in the commercial real estate industry while coming together to discuss creative solutions to the challenges ahead.

Last year, we highlighted how Microsoft was accelerating smart building solutions with investments in cloud, AI, and IoT. Since then we have continued our momentum, maturing our Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge capabilities and partner ecosystem to solve complex scenarios and integrate previously disparate silos. This year, we are excited to showcase how, together with some of the world’s largest real estate owners and managers, Microsoft is empowering industry-leading smart buildings developed upon a thriving ecosystem of solution developers, device manufacturers, systems integrators, and service providers.

A flurry of innovation from Microsoft and our partners

In the past year, Microsoft has pushed forward with new technologies and experiences purpose-built to address the needs and feedback of our partners and customers in the real estate industry. Azure Digital Twins introduced new features including an open modeling language (Digital Twins Definition Language), graph-based relationships, and seamless integrations for advanced execution environments, input sources, and output destinations. We debuted Azure Maps Creator, enabling solutions to ingest computer-aided drawings (CAD) in order to visualize and analyze data in the context of indoor maps and floorplans. Computer Vision spatial analysis models can securely count the number of people in a given zone while calculating the distance between them to ensure compliance with public health regulations. Furthermore, specialized tools, such as the Workplace Analytics Business Continuity Dashboard, help assess the impact of and identify improvements for remote work and collaboration.

On the left, a picture of an indoor map with stylized floorplan for room types.  On the right, a picture of an indoor map with style overlays for current room temperature.

Azure Maps Creator automatically styles and labels floorplans ingested from CAD (left), and can integrate with Azure Digital Twins to power real-time data visualization (right).

Partners too have risen to the challenge, using these and other Microsoft services to create transformative solutions. For example, at the start of the pandemic PCL Construction and WZMH Architects teamed up to deliver self-contained COVID-19 testing units, powered by Azure IoT, Azure Cognitive Services, and Azure Machine Learning to keep healthcare professionals and patients safely separated. Furthermore, Bosch Building Technologies uses Azure Digital Twins to power its Connected Building Services offering, delivering an experience which improves the performance and carbon footprints of buildings. EDGE Next utilizes Azure Digital Twins also, leveraging the platform’s modeling and graph capabilities to collect and analyze data from building management systems, sensors, and other sources to offer actionable insights into sustainability, space efficiency, and well-being metrics.

RXR Realty enables the safe return to work

RXR Realty, the third-largest real estate owner in New York City with a portfolio of over 25 million square feet of space across the tri-state area, was already underway on its vision of digital transformation for its buildings when COVID-19 hit. By harnessing the flexibility and capabilities of Azure IoT cloud and edge offerings while also leveraging Microsoft’s partner network, RXR was able to quickly pivot to address the needs emerging from the pandemic.

The resulting solution, RxWellTM is a comprehensive, public-health-based, data-driven program that merges physical and digital assets to help keep employees informed and supported in their return to the workplace. RxWell offers a vital perspective to its property managers, tenants, and occupants by combining insights such as air quality, temperature scans, people count, social distance detection, facemask detection, and cleaning tracking to derive a Building Wellness Index, which serves as an at-a-glance indicator of general safety levels. Not only does the RxWell solution address many of the needs to facilitate the safe return to the workplace, but it has captured scenarios with true longevity which will endure past the pandemic.

Microsoft’s expansive set of edge and cloud capabilities, as well as our wide array of ecosystem partners were key enablers for RxWell. Pivotal to designing and implementing the underlying architecture is Infosys, a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting, who brings rich experience as a strategic collaborator with Microsoft in smart buildings and spaces solutions. RXR further embraces a hybrid edge-cloud architecture to integrate with bespoke sensors such as air quality monitors, as well as with Microsoft partner solutions such as Rigado, which provides Azure IoT Plug and Play certified infrastructure and devices for occupancy sensing in communal areas like restrooms and conference rooms, cleaning management, and safety signage. To bring all the data together, Azure IoT Hub provides a robust ingestion layer for data collected from Azure Stack Edge, various devices and sensors, and partner solutions.

Watch RXR’s Microsoft Mechanics architecture deep dive, read about RXR’s journey in its customer story, and find the RxWell solution on AppSource.

Brookfield Properties introduces digital twins to its showcase building, One Manhattan West

Brookfield Properties is a fully-integrated, global real estate services company that provides industry-leading portfolio management and development capabilities. As one of the world’s largest investors in real estate with over 500 million square feet of commercial real estate under management, Brookfield owns and operates iconic properties in the world’s most dynamic markets. Its global portfolio includes office, retail, multifamily, logistics, hospitality, self-storage, triple net lease, manufactured housing and student housing assets on five continents.

One of its most recent projects, One Manhattan West in New York City, is a showcase building standing at 67 floors and comprising 2.1 million square feet, combining dynamic design, exciting retail, and state-of-the-art office space. At One Manhattan West, Brookfield sought to optimize its operations while providing a modern, safe, productive and personalized tenant experience, quickly landing on Microsoft and Willow as key partners to bring their vision to life.

Willow is a digital native player in the smart buildings industry leveraging Microsoft’s technology with great agility and innovation. Its WillowTwinTM product is a software solution that deploys digital twins for the built world to collect, organize, and analyze data. With WillowTwin, building operators can easily monitor, visualize, and act on real-time and historical insights in their building. Furthermore, WillowTwin’s powerful extensibility capabilities enable buildings such as One Manhattan West to integrate other solutions and brownfield and greenfield data sources such as Building Management Systems (BMS), work order flows with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service, and more.

On the left, pictures of Brookfield's One Manhattan West building.  On the right, pictures of Willow's WillowTwin solution experience.

Images of WillowTwin’s experience (right) in Brookfield’s One Manhattan West building (left).

The key foundation to WillowTwin is Azure Digital Twins, which enables developers to create comprehensive digital models of entire environments. Willow has fundamentally architected its solution with Azure Digital Twins at its core, using the platform to model tens of thousands of assets and establish a live execution environment based on the real-time data from spaces, devices, and the relationships between them.

Azure Digital Twins, together with the rest of the Azure IoT platform services, provides the robust capabilities needed for Willow to build highly scalable, secure, compliant offerings such as WillowTwin. For example, WillowTwin consumes One Manhattan West’s Building Information Models to create its Azure Digital Twins spatial graph, then creates relationships with live data coming from the Building Management System through BACnet gateways. Azure Digital Twins’ modeling, relationships, and live execution environment power WillowTwin’s fault rule engine to determine when issues need to be fixed in office spaces or when building machinery needs to be taken offline for maintenance. As a result, Willow was able to focus on the value they provide to their end customers, ultimately enabling Brookfield to combine all their data streams into a digital model of One Manhattan West, optimizing its operations of complex building systems, saving costs on energy usage, driving sustainability goals, and differentiating its tenant experience.

Learn more about Willow’s smart building solutions and development experience with Azure Digital Twins at our upcoming IoT show.

RealEstateCore, Idun PropTechOS, Vasakronan, and YIT provide industry-leading modeling and solutions with DTDL

Azure Digital Twins’ open modeling language, Digital Twins Definition Language (DTDL), enables developers to describe twins in terms of their state properties, telemetry events, commands, components, and relationships. To accelerate time to results, we partnered with RealEstateCore, who brought deep industry expertise to develop a smart buildings ontology with DTDL which could be used by all developers.

We are announcing that we will be releasing an open source Smart Buildings DTDL repository, aligned to the RealEstateCore domain ontology. RealEstateCore is a common language used to model and control buildings, simplifying the development of new services. The ontology is rich and complete, while providing simplicity and real-world applicability with proven industry solutions and partnerships. RealEstateCore specifically does not aim to be a new standard, but rather provides a common denominator and bridge with other industry standards such as Brick, Project Haystack, and more. The DTDL-based RealEstateCore ontology will not only accelerate developers from the “blank page,” but will also facilitate business-to-business integrations between vendors in a smart building. Since the DTDL-based ontology will be open sourced, developers can easily annotate existing models while contributing their own domain expertise.

One solution powered by RealEstateCore is Idun ProptechOS, which enables real estate owners to analyze and optimize sustainability, well-being, and productivity of their buildings. ProptechOS is used by a number of significant customers at scale, including Vasakronan, Sweden’s largest property company comprising 174 properties and 24.7 million square feet of real estate, as well as YIT, the largest Finnish and a significant North European construction company and urban developer.

Oxford drives asset value with standardized digital twin modeling

Oxford invests in, develops, and manages some of the world’s most transformative places, spanning four continents, five sectors, and over 100 million square feet of real estate. With its unique breadth of assets consisting of distinct age ranges, industries, infrastructures, and other variables, Oxford has recognized the significance of embracing a variety of building and platform technologies, including digital twins. Driven by its strong belief that a modernized building is a more valuable asset, Oxford is continuing its digital transformation journey, including digital twin pilots with Willow and real-time building performance optimization with Switch Automation.

It is pivotal for building owners and managers with diversified portfolios like Oxford to streamline and standardize the way they model and onboard buildings. The DTDL-based RealEstateCore ontology has enabled Oxford and Willow to achieve their goals. Willow was a key collaborator on the development of the new DTDL-based version of the RealEstateCore ontology, and Willow has already seen over 200 hours of developer time saved in a single month by leveraging these models in its WillowTwin solution.

Oxford already deploys Switch Automation across parts of its portfolio to scan building systems, sensors, and devices to continuously assess connectivity and controls network integrity. With real-time insight into building performance data, Oxford is approaching $1 million per year in avoided operating and energy costs. Since WillowTwin uses the DTDL-based RealEstateCore models for its ontology, these partners can seamlessly integrate with the digital twin infrastructure of its buildings.

DTDL-based RealEstateCore integrations come to life through several other Microsoft partners involved in Oxford’s projects. For example, Oxford is excited at the potential for Microsoft’s recent partnership with Samsung to deliver meaningful new insights across the commercial real estate value chain, using DTDL as the underlying modeling language to consume data from Samsung’s HVAC systems, appliances, and other SmartThings devices. This data will be integrated with Dynamics 365 Field Service to streamline Oxford’s building operations and maintenance.

Next steps

Digital Twins have proven to be the key to unlocking the full potential of smart, connected buildings. Microsoft will continue to develop industry-leading capabilities for our intelligent cloud and intelligent edge platforms, as our goal is to simplify IoT and foster a synergistic ecosystem of partners and solutions for the smart buildings industry. We’ll also seek to amplify and democratize digital twins use cases, best practices, and ontologies through our role as a founding member of the Digital Twin Consortium because the real estate industry benefits as diverse stakeholders assemble to drive innovation forward.

Realcomm | IBcon, as the rest of the industry, certainly looks different this year but Microsoft is enthusiastic about the announcements and discussions that will take place. Alongside numerous industry partners, we will be participating in the conference’s virtual tracks October 26-28, 2020. Stop by our virtual booth, attend our speaker sessions on compelling topics, and learn more about the case studies of our partners’ success empowered by Microsoft.

Additional resources

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