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Building Community with Real Estate and Tech

Boston Built Tech founder Chuck Tanowitz sits down with guest host Molly Bales of Adappt to explore the emerging intersection of technology and real estate. “Companies need to get together and coordinate in some way,” Tanowitz says because so many of these companies are working in the same space, and it’s important that they find ways to work together. That’s why he created Boston Built Tech. Nobody was convening these groups.

Real estate technology is exploding now for a number of reasons. First, the timing was right. Cloud computing, big data along with sensor technology and mobile have arrived. In addition, money has started flowing in and the nature of the workspace has changed. Co-working is a new phenomenon revolutionizing the industry. This is particularly true in Boston.

There is a new expectation of flexibility and community in the workplace. In the knowledge economy, work has to be a place where people want to go, not just to a place where they have to go.

Built Tech is about building a community around technology and real estate, so people know what others are doing.

But real estate is still a very local activity, and it would be great to see Built Techs popping up in other communities too. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles all have their local tech markets emerging. It will be very interesting to watch them as they continue to grow.

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Episode 1: Meet the Real Estate Tech Guys

The intersection of real estate and technology is a hot market. There is so much tech available for consumers, but the real estate community isn’t adopting it or is very slow to adopt it. Why is this so? If the technology is there, why aren’t these large real estate companies jumping in and implementing this […]

The Dark Side of IoT Devices in the Workplace


On Friday October 21st, 2016 a complex and sophisticated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack led to numerous media outlets, social networks, and retailers going offline for a couple of hours in parts of North America and Europe. After realizing that they could not even tweet about it, many people freaked out. Here’s a quick summary- Certain Internet of Things (IoT) devices, like web cameras, were spewing-out ten to twenty times the normal traffic volume across a large number of IP addresses. This caused widespread server crashes within DNS providers, which many services rely on. Because of this compounding recursive traffic—yes, there’s a professional term for it, a criminal investigation has been launched to find the identity of the attackers.

This malicious attack highlighted vulnerabilities in both the security of IoT devices and infrastructure. Although the increased presence of IoT devices certainly offer new capabilities within workplaces, they also introduce security risks that have not yet been fully understood.

We will continue to live in a world that relies on smart sensors and actuators for gathering data related to human activity and the status of machines. However, with CrowdComfort’s “Human Sensor Network” approach, building managers can capitalize on existing, secure devices. Through smartphone reporting, facilities leaders can receive feedback directly from building occupants without worrying about security breaches.

The Human Sensor Network is more secure, reliable and integrated into work life than smart sensors, actuators and devices. Here are some real life examples-

  • If a parking lot is iced over, the facility manager can be called by the first person that notices it. By utilizing smartphones that are in every occupant’s pocket, facility managers receive a high fidelity report it that captures the occupant experience. At CrowdComfort, smartphones gather data that augment and provide quality control on IoT devices. This creates a full picture of office experience.
  • Let’s say an occupant reports a downed tree that is blocking an exit road from their phone. If this photo automatically alerts the real estate manager, the security office and facilities manager and friends and colleagues, won’t it get solved faster? The more venues of communication, the better. Peers can help information get to the right people at the right time. This defines the Human Sensor Network.

While malicious Internet attacks will never go away and IoT devices will proliferate, the Human Sensor Network represents a secure and more “human” way of communicating and data gathering on ambient control systems in the workplace.

The Future of Real Estate Tech: 60 Leaders Weigh In

This past Wednesday, September 28, 2016, we hosted the world’s first Human Sensor Conference. 60 real estate leaders arrived from around the country to discuss the ways that occupant-facing technology will shake up building management. They were most interested in a mutualistic relationship- how can occupant-oriented technology not only improve the experience of every person in the building, but also provide insights that existing machines or Internet of Things (IoT) devices simply cannot cover?

CrowdComfort defines a Human Sensor as A Person + A Smartphone.

  • A Person, armed with a highly evolved set of sensing capabilities, and…
  • Their smartphone, the most advanced computing device we all use today.

This killer combination helps us advance the way buildings operate.

How can we leverage the interface between people and their smartphones to drive the next phase of productivity growth in America? We dove deeper into the McKinsey Global Institute Report  of 2012, The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.  This report concludes that:

The most powerful applications of social technologies in the global economy are largely untapped. By using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent.

It is clear that this statement remains true today 4 years after the report was released.


There are 3 ways that the traditional approach to facilities issues wastes valuable employee time:

  1. Email: Reading and answering e-mail
  2. Searching: Searching and gathering info
  3. Communicating: Communicating and collaborating internally. In total these tasks were consuming 61% of time average worker spends outside of their role-specific tasks.

Human sensing is meant to easily fit into employees’ daily activities, rather than ask them to explicitly take on a separate action. By just taking out their phone for 30 seconds, an employee can add an important data point for the facilities and real estate team.

During the conference we asked our speakers and participants to share their ideas about where this kind of Human Sensor approach might further drive productivity for US corporations. Here is what they saw in the future.

Energy Efficiency/Comfort - Led by James Newman @ EYP

The energy efficiency team observed that there was a lack of real-time data at a granular level. Sure, many buildings have a BMS system that can modify the internal temperature in real-time. But if that was all that was needed… why is discomfort in the workplace so widespread? Over 55% of employees report frequent discomfort on average. They still felt that we have a poor understanding of how indoor set points interact with outdoor temperatures and variations in the building envelope. Additionally, we have a poor idea of the level of noise that employees are experiencing. Where are the loud areas, and how do employees react to the noise?

In the future, they hypothesized that a Wi-Fi based system will be able to locate occupants in the building and automatically measure their reactions. Occupants will be able to easily report thermal, acoustic and lighting complaints. An operations team will constantly monitor and measure employee feedback and trends going on around the building. They will be be able to automatically pinpoint sources of discomfort through a combination of occupant feedback and IoT devices.

This will be accomplished through a few new technologies. Demand response will be able to interact with employee feedback. Smart lighting will automatically adjust to occupant reporting. Occupants will be notified on their watch or phone when changes occur around the building. It will be incredibly easy to submit comfort feedback.

Productivity - Led by Tom Zampini @ Beco

We have very little information when it comes to real-time location and behavior in buildings. Meetings are notoriously inefficient – when one person is late, the other attendees may sit idly while they wait. Multiply this by thousands of meetings around a building per year, and you end up with hundreds of wasted hours. Even finding a room can be difficult – if it’s your first time in a building, you’re usually the late one who everyone is waiting for! And finally, meetings often end early, leaving the room empty (and wasted) while the reservation runs its course. The way to leap over each of these hurdles is data, in real-time and long-term.

Light-powered, real-time location beacons will inform facilities planners on what types of spaces that employees prefer. They will allow these planners to create the ideal offices for their employee interests. This may be done without explicit surveying, unimaginable in today’s reality. Employees who take frequent meetings will be able to end the cycle of waiting for others to show up for meetings, or feeling guilty for being mysteriously late. They will know exactly how far way their colleagues are, and will be able to resume other activities in the meantime.

Workplace Experience/Employee Happiness - Led By Michael Gresty @ Rifiniti and Greg Meyer @ HYFN

There are very few data points that workplace strategists and facilities leaders can measure to cite their success. The dreaded annual survey is a major source of employee feedback, which may experience low participation rates and a fair amount of begging to ensure completion. In fact, facility managers frequently avoid employee feedback, since only the unhappy put in the effort tos speak up. Even these do a poor job of understanding all the micro-interactions that an employee experiences on a day to day basis. When and where are the unhappy moments exactly? How can workplace strategists understand this in real time?

Mobile and even watch-based feedback will play a big part of solving this in the future. Workplace and facilities teams will capture micro-events, like completion of a work order or the occurrence of a widely reported issue, and use it to get a pulse on employee happiness. If the work order was not completed to satisfaction or nobody is addressing the issue, the teams will mobilize in real time. In today’s reality, they may learn about dissatisfaction weeks later. Employees will be able to offer detailed feedback, and building services will be able to constantly monitor their success through employee feedback.

Healthcare - Led by Stephan Herzberg @ Florida Hospital Innovation Lab

A high functioning hospital has thousands of constant moving parts, but there is no equally flexible communication tool to match. Nurses, doctors and other employees are required to use antiquated communication methods like phone, email or talking to a receptionist. This jeopardizes the fast pace and threatens patient experience. Up to 5 channels have little live accountability- drugs, inventory, assets, communication and facility services. Although there are strict protocols that generally keep everything in working order, the price of a missed order could be steep in terms of dollars and cents as well as patient well-being.

With a human sensor network, all employees will be perfectly in sync without phone calls or bothering receptionists. It will be perfectly clear where different assets are located, and what drugs are running low. Facilities teams will be able to instantly respond to urgent issues. Nurses and doctors will not need to interrupt their daily lives and waste precious cognitive resources on reporting issues with assets. Simple reports will mean precious resources are always in the right place at the right time.


Early versions of these solutions have already been commercialized in some cases. In other cases, researchers are actively working on developing them. One golden question remains: who will push the industry forwards? 60 people attend the HSN conference. Who will join them? These early adopters are the key to the success of any of the technologies listed above. Only these innovators will push the industry forwards.

We also wanted to extend thanks to EYP, Beco, HYFN and Rifiniti for sharing their space analytics technology and the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab for leading our healthcare group.

Join us next year!

Make “sense” of building performance with CrowdSense


We are excited to launch the arrival of our new informational tool called CrowdSense! The tool was built from an interactive visualization of 200+ smartphone reports sourced from one anonymous enterprise customer. In just a three-month sample, CrowdSense shows two previously unknown HVAC problems that the BMS (Building Management System) was unable to find.

“No facility has enough guys to cover every square foot. But with CrowdComfort’s technology in the hands of our students, it’s like having two thousand sets of eyes and ears out in the field,”
says Howie LaRosse, the Executive Director of Facilities Planning at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design. LaRosse is describing CrowdComfort’s end-user app.

Smartphones users (students, office employees, etc.) submit reports that go straight to a facility, property, or real-estate manager. The managers also use the app to address concerns and reports in real-time. These reports are also geolocated, the same technology seen in popular apps like Instagram.


CrowdSense offers a way to understand the data that CrowdComfort’s “two-thousand sets of eyes and ears” provide. Facility Managers can view specific details of a maintenance report and thermal report including time submitted, photo included and location down to the nearest square foot. It gets as granular as a specific floor’s coffee maker overheating. These detailed reports are highly actionable: we were able to identify two HVAC issues that were causing employee discomfort in 2 separate parts of the building.


Currently, CrowdSense is viewable (http://www.crowdcomfort.com/crowdsense/) as a demo and requires no external software as it is web-hosted.

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CrowdComfort on 2016: New Year, Same Passion



CrowdComfort is tremendously grateful for the support, enthusiasm, and results we’ve generated in 2015. It’s been a blockbuster year for us—in terms of getting to work with some of our country’s most influential companies—and we can’t wait to carry this success into 2016.


To this effect, we thought we’d share a brief, heartfelt explanation for why we think facility management is such an exciting space, and why we’re so proud of CrowdComfort to be a part of it: Read more

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These are the Most Advanced Facilities to Date.



Smart building tech, as a market, is valued well into the trillions. The potential to give facilities an artificial intelligence, to promote productivity, has already seen hard, current results. What are the best and brightest examples of these “smart buildings/facilities?” What applications, features, and platforms do these structures have that are lacking in less advanced facilities? 


Well, let’s jump in then, and learn about the Most Advanced Facilities to Date: Read more

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Data will lead to “Better Building”



At CrowdComfort, we’re huge fans of data. The more, the better; give us 100,000 pieces of input, and we’ll show you a trend that’s sure to have an impact on your business. So, it might come as no surprise that we got a bit sad last week while considering how few data streams architects can currently wield to gather insights about their work. A building goes up, and the architect’s connection to that work typically ends. Read more

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Facility Managers and “Digital Care”




As discussed last week, we’re observing a consistent trend in business: the shift from physical spaces to digital ones. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that the office isn’t disappearing—it’s just being reformed from a wider range of building blocks (spanning both bricks and pixels). For facility managers, this means that future success will be found in adapting to better maintain both physical and digital spaces within their building. Read more

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Smarter Working Conditions for Smarter Facility Managers



Facility managers’ effectiveness has always been limited to things they hear and see around their buildings—whether first-hand, or through tenants’ reports. But, what about the things they can’t see?


In many cases, invisible issues ultimately end up becoming visible only once they develop into a full-scale problem (such as when a corroding pipe finally starts to leak on those below). And, while many problems are as simple as a mop and a repairman, others—such as faulty electrical systems—can potentially create life-threatening danger. Read more