The Changing Role of the Building Operator

City StreetBuilding Operators perform a variety of tasks in their roles nowadays. With the advancement of building technologies and automation, a role that was initially limited to general building maintenance and tending to tenant complaints, now includes responsibilities related to HVAC systems, BAS controls and even mechanical maintenance and plumbing. With the increasing application of green technologies and smart controls, energy management is required to measure and verify the viability of these new technologies and controls. Data and analytics are driving the advancement into new technologies and the building management and operation is changing at a pace not seen before. New and complicated incentives and programs are being offered by governments, aspiring to promote themselves as environmentally conscious, in an effort to encourage green technologies and reward those who curb their energy use. In most cases, the implementation of green technologies and knowledge of energy saving incentives and programs also becomes the responsibility of the building operator. Property and asset managers depend on their building operators and facilities managers to determine the viability of these programs and to analyze vast amounts of data being accumulated by BAS and on site equipment. Needless to say, all of these responsibilities are a bit overwhelming and they also require expertise and training that is not entirely inherent to the building operator’s role. With this field becoming increasingly specialized and technical, the demands placed on building operators are much higher than before. It should also be noted that most building operators aren’t young. In fact BOMA Calgary estimated the average age of building operators in Canada to be 55 and most have between 10-20 years of experience in their positions. The change in technology during this period of time has been tremendous and we find a sharp contrast in how buildings are operated now versus how they were operated 20 years ago.

The primary role of a building operator is to satisfy the tenants and keep them happy by making sure they are comfortable, ensure that the building is being operated well and maintenance work is being performed timely and effectively. Keeping the tenants happy can be considered the first priority of a building operator as tenants consider them to be the face of the property management. In Dimax’s portfolio of buildings, there are cases where the tenants are happy with the building’s management even though they have issues and complaints about building comfort. As long as the tenants see the building operator trying to fix issues and maintaining a good relationship with them, the tenants don’t seem to mind an extra delay in HVAC maintenance and BAS control issues being resolved. If the building operator spends most of their time in front a computer learning about energy incentives and analyzing data, it takes away from him/her performing the primary functions of their jobs, which is to satisfy tenants needs. Energy management and data analysis should be outsourced, either to another department of the Property Management company or to an external organization if it is cost effective. For larger property management companies it may be easier to use their own personnel for these tasks. Some Property Management companies may even have an entire team whose sole purpose is to analyze data and derive information from it. However it is much more difficult for smaller Property Management companies to do the same due to the limited amount of available resources. Whether small or large, Property Management companies will benefit by outsourcing data analysis to firms who specialize in this field because these companies have a diverse portfolio of buildings which allows them to leverage information across different types of buildings. This way the building operator can focus his/her time on tenant satisfaction and running the building and the equipment effectively.

The ageing population of building operators also poses another more sinister problem for Property Management companies where they risk losing building knowledge and expertise accumulated over the years when their building operators eventually retire. This is especially true for small and medium Property Management companies. According to a report by BOMA , one of the main challenges faced by recruitment agencies was a shortage of applicable skills from the applicants. The future generation of younger building operators will operate buildings quite differently from their predecessors. We see this phenomenon now in our current portfolio of buildings where young building operators rely more on data and analytics to troubleshoot problems. Young operators also rely on remote BAS accessibility and control so that they can modify buildings operating conditions from the comfort of their offices or from their mobile devices to allow for quicker turnaround on tenant complaints. In order to prepare for and train the next generation of building operators, Property Management companies will need to change their approach as to how they operate their buildings and how they manage and train their future building operators.

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