Making the transition from residential to commercial buildings and vice versa
Ivory Egg’s Mark Warburton writes about integrators transitioning from residential to commercial and vice versa. The built environment is a big world and this article helps traverse the vast market.
When it comes to the built environment, it’s a big old world out there. Every town or city has a myriad of different buildings designed for countless different uses. Some buildings are even completely repurposed to fulfil a current market need. Office buildings being converted to flats is a great example and as disruptive technology continues to change the way we live and work, it’s fair to expect even more buildings to evolve over their lifetimes.
When developing a smart building, KNX provides the perfect solution given its ability to control any aspect of a building. KNX is as comfortable in a single dwelling home as a large commercial building. This means, once you are familiar with KNX, the opportunities for integrators to operate across both residential and commercial property are vast. The much bigger challenge is for an integrator to evolve their business from one sector to another. This could be because of a change in the way a project is delivered, the types of products used or even the payment terms. So how can integrators make the transition from residential to commercial buildings, or vice versa?
Residential to commercial
If you have experience working in residential homes, you are probably used to working with a complex range of products, particularly if you often take control of everything in the building. This complexity is where most integrators thrive and it’s certainly a key strength of KNX, as you can easily find a solution to whatever problem is posed by the client. Whilst this problem-solving mentality can be extremely useful on commercial projects, it can often be necessary to change to a far more regimented and structured approach.
When you start dealing with bigger systems with many products, and more complex KNX topologies, getting the initial scope correct is critical. Even a minor change can have a massive impact on your ability to deliver the project. Being clear on what your remit is and sticking to this will ensure you can successfully deliver the project. Preventing scope creep and undocumented changes is one of the main challenges, especially when you have had to tighten the margins and pricing to win the work in a competitive environment.
Residential projects are generally managed directly with the end client, often without complex contracts and payments terms. Being able to navigate this world is a big part of moving from residential projects to commercial ones. One obvious change is the requirement to fund the project, as few commercial companies will accept proforma terms for the purchase of equipment. If you are planning offsite commissioning works and haven’t agreed offsite inspections or handovers, then you could be looking at paying for product many months before you can claim payment. The impact this has on cashflow needs to be understood, especially if you have multiple projects happening simultaneously.
You may also need to evolve the product set you are using and potentially learn about new technologies and control philosophies. The recently updated KNX Advanced course is a great step for this as it covers topics such as DALI control, BMS integration and Advanced Visualisation. The ability to process and manage large datasets also becomes more relevant. Dedicated building servers may be necessary such as the EisBaer solution from Alexander Mair or the NETx BMS Platform. Both allow you to integrate and manage numerous systems, whilst processing and visualising massive amounts of data.
This may all sound daunting, and it certainly would be if you jump from delivering a 5-bedroom home project straight to a tower building or airport. But there are a lot of smaller commercial projects that are accessible to residential integrators. It could be a local doctor’s surgery or private hospital, offices for an expanding local company or your children’s school.
Commercial to residential
Moving the other way can be just as fraught with complexities. Homeowners are looking for a very personalised solution and relationship, which can be a big change from working with building engineers and specifiers. You can certainly add a lot in terms of documentation and planning but make sure to leave time to work with the clients to adjust the system and programming to meet their needs as the project evolves. Bringing a more commercial attitude to the completion of the project is a major benefit but, frustratingly, this can create more friction with the end user. It is important to be clear how the project will be delivered as well as your approach to variations and project changes.
The time it takes for decisions to be made can also be a real shock, especially when it comes to the design and finish of keypads. Being able to offer a wide range of styles is key and it may mean jumping from supplier to supplier to find the right solution. This is also true for the technical requirements, which are often for more complicated than in a commercial building. You are more likely to bring everything under your remit instead of working with other providers from the BMS or Lighting control. An easy solution to this is to work with a KNX distributor instead of direct with a manufacturer. They will be able to offer a wider range of designs and have access to numerous technical solutions instead of just having a single product set.
One real benefit is the customer will be much more willing to accept terms requiring payment up front and the projects can happen a lot quicker. This can be a massive boost when you are waiting for the next large commercial project to get started. Just keep in mind that the customer will expect an ongoing relationship which can become tenuous when you are trying to get an airport to work! Having a support department or even introducing them to a local smaller integrator for ongoing support, will ensure you keep everyone happy.
Making the leap from one type of project to another can bring major benefits to your business. It might be something you do during a slow down or delays to planned projects. It might even be the next step in your growth and expansion plans. Having a range of projects, covering different sizes and in different sectors, means you can maintain a high level of work without facing the risk of a market downturn effecting your business. By using KNX as your preferred solution, you can work on all types of projects with the same tools and system designs, reducing the complexity and overhead.
Maybe the built environment isn’t such a big world after all.