The commercial real estate market is constantly evolving, and the emergence of new technology tools has brought radical change to the sector. At the forefront of such tools, Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are most likely to leave a significant imprint on the market in the coming years.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, the IoT is "a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies."

Through the use of identification, data capture, processing and communication capabilities, the IoT makes full use of objects to offer a wide array of services and applications, while ensuring that security and privacy requirements are fulfilled.

Major players in the construction sector have already begun taking advantage of the IoT and, above all, of IoT-generated data, to offer construction professionals better tools, but also new services with high added value. Introduced in the 1990s to collect telemetry information, sensors, for example, are now part of the basic equipment of new construction machines. Nowadays, data flows in real time over mobile networks, before being stored in remote databases and processed by advanced analytical tools, allowing live enhancement of construction processes and ensuring unprecedented responsiveness to specific construction needs.

A great number of contractors are already benefiting from the IoT without actual knowledge of it: IoT can be as simple as a light on a construction machine blinking, signalling that one of its parts needs changing. Only a few users of such machines will know that to achieve this result a connected sensor detected some kind of abnormality, collected the relevant data and sent it to be analyzed, which eventually enabled the machine to signal accordingly.

This data collection process for the purpose of analyzing a situation in order to achieve added value for an object is already undergoing fast-paced growth in the commercial real estate market, changing the deal for stakeholders, especially with regard to management, space usage and energy efficiency. For instance, sensors placed in a building can detect sudden change in energy consumption, enabling building managers to alleviate the costs at a very early stage. Another example would be sensors placed in the parking lot of a building to detect how many parking spots are actually used throughout the day. This data can then be used for future projects, and increase cost efficiency.

BIM, the other game changer, mainly consists in providing relevant actors with efficient tools to share reliable paperless information throughout the life of a building or infrastructure, from design to demolition.

BIM achieves such purposes through the use of specific working methods and a 3D parametric digital model, which is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of the building that contains intelligent and structured data.

BIM is often reduced to a mere software or technology, while it is actually much more than that. BIM is in fact a series of processes or work methods used throughout the design, construction and use of a building. It defines who does what, how and when.

The 3D model is first created in the hands of the architect, and is then made available to the various design offices in order to be completed or even technically modified. The model will most often be replicated into several distinct, activity-specific models. For instance, the architect will keep their model, while the general contractor will work on their own model reflecting their own specific needs, the same being applicable to the electrical engineer, the heating engineer, the plumber, the mason, and all others involved in the construction process. All these models are merged into one master model to detect and resolve any conflicts between them. The reconciled master model is then used to produce the execution plans that will be distributed at the construction site.

Construction companies also use the model to carry out their measurements, planning or phasing. During the work, the model is kept up to date by the designers and builders so that at the end of the work, the model is exactly in accordance with the structure as it was built.

This model, delivered to the project manager with the keys to the property, gives them the capability to manage the building electronically, in order to carry out subsequent work, manage the assets, integrate home automation systems or carry out various simulations.

BIM is therefore a transposition into the world of commercial real estate of construction processes that already existed in other industrial sectors such as aeronautics or the automotive industry.

Combining both BIM and the IoT could bring even more changes to the commercial real estate market.

Currently, BIM allows contractors to communicate with architects and project managers. They have a digital avatar of the building that allows them to manage their assets collaboratively. Combined with the IoT, such parties would be able to inject further elements into the BIM-created model of the building, for example, energy consumption or more advanced data. It will become possible to integrate information on the equipment that has been installed in the building into the BIM-created model, and regulate the properties of each object in a building through a simple click, from a partition, a window, a boiler, or a component of the air conditioning system.

Some contractors have already implemented this type of integration, which means they can now monitor the energy consumption of all their buildings, with an instant view of consumption. While it is possible to integrate IoT-collected global energy consumption data into BIM, it is also possible to take a granular approach, and integrate data generated by multiple temperature sensors, presence of people, lighting information, etc. The possibilities are endless.

When considering the average operating life of a commercial building (usually 30+ years), the savings that can be expected from such an approach are potentially much greater than those that can already be achieved during the design/construction phases. There is therefore a great potential for gains by using BIM combined with the IoT for any building.

While it appears clear that BIM will make life easier for architects, engineers and contractors, allowing them to work on a common project and to profit from cost savings, the technology behind BIM could also have advantages from a legal point of view.

Indeed, it seems reasonable to imagine that the use of such technology could be extended to answer all the legal obligations that arise during the building construction and operation process. As an example, BIM could be used to make certification reports automatic. Competent authorities would be able to allocate all required certifications via BIM based on the data collected and injected into the model, which would save time and money for all parties involved. BIM technology could also be used to ensure that all applicable legal standards are complied with at each stage of the construction, as the building process goes. The same could apply to energy efficiency certification for instance.

Some countries have already taken a step further, by making it a legal requirement to use BIM in certain construction projects. In 2016, the UK became the leader in legally requiring all publicly funded projects to use BIM. Other countries soon followed, such as Germany, which will require the use of BIM in all transportation projects as of 2020.

BIM combined with the IoT will have a game-changing impact on the commercial real estate market at large, allowing stakeholders - as well as legal and compliance professionals advising them - to design and manage buildings in a drastically more efficient fashion, leaving them time to focus on value-added tasks.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.