The opportunity for smart buildings in the Middle East: reflections on WiredScore’s launch
11 / 2 / 2022
The last time I attended a launch by WiredScore in person was in September 2019. We launched WiredScore in Leeds, UK alongside a selection of local developers and asset managers. If memory serves, about half of our UK office members were there to support too.
On 12th October 2022, I found myself in a situation that was somehow both familiar and altogether totally different: WiredScore’s launch in the Middle East. As I sat in the St Regis hotel in Downtown Dubai, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far we had come since that rainy launch evening in Leeds: WiredScore had survived and thrived through the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we had held four launches virtually, one for Italy, one for Iberia, one for Europe as a whole, and one for an entirely new product – SmartScore; we now had certifications and Accredited Professionals live in over 36 countries; and we had increased our global headcount almost four times over.
The culmination of all that work from the last few years couldn’t have been clearer to me then. Overlooking the stunning view of Business Bay, welcoming over 60 attendees from all across the region, WiredScore was officially launching in the Middle East.
The tone for the evening was set wonderfully as Middle East Lead, John Hilliard, took to stage and welcomed the room like he was addressing a group of old friends. Since joining WiredScore in January 2022, John had traveled countless times to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Riyadh to initiate and build WiredScore’s journey to launch. It was clear to me then how much effort had been put into building superb relationships with building owners, developers and consultants alike as John concluded his opening remarks and presented our launch clients ICD Brookfield Place and Msheireb Properties, alongside some 13 AP organizations including Knight Frank, IT Serve and AESG.
Attendees were treated to a fireside chat between Knight Frank’s Faisal Durrani and WiredScore’s very own Tom McClellan, followed by a panel discussion from ICD Brookfield’s Haithem Ibraheem, JLL’s Hala Yousef and WME’s Kareen Ruhi. From these discussions there were three major themes which stood out to me: the opportunity in the Middle East market; the need for smart buildings; the ESG+R imperative.
The pandemic has given way to a whole host of change across real estate. Not least, that companies across the globe are drawing from a talent pool which knows that a building could, and should, do more for their experience as an occupier; so argued John in his welcoming statement. In response to this, Faisal examined the clear opportunity for the Middle East market because of this expectation. Global occupiers are waking up to the idea of their office space as a ‘showroom’ for talent, after research showed that, despite the pandemic, there had been a three year high on business KPIs in the Middle East.¹ The challenge, however, is that 54% of the office stock in the Dubai International Finance Centre was built over 10 years ago, when technology standards were wildly different to today. The opportunity then, succinctly put by Faisal is that ‘refurbing will soon be the only way to avoid obsolescence’ for the Dubai market: an opportunity which the WiredScore and SmartScore certifications are well positioned to help solve.
Haithem had been able to see first hand through the SmartScore certification at ICD Brookfield a scorecard which brings them a ‘huge pool of criteria from global markets’ which has enabled them to iterate and improve the user experience in the building, through their upgrades to the technology in the building. Indeed, the user experience, as Hala argued, is the fundamental differentiator for SmartScore because ‘it will be able to show you what measures have been taken to make the building better for the end user.’ This theme of the ‘human’ element in buildings rang true throughout the evening. All parties agreed that smart buildings directly challenge the link between smart building technology and the benefit (directly or indirectly) to all building users, be that the occupier, management or an investor. This was topped off by my favorite quote from the evening by Kareem: ‘Smart buildings are a no-brainer – everyone is going to be happier in a smart building, environmentally and operationally.’
Indeed, happiness is just one of the metrics which is essential for business leaders to understand about their employees. As part of the ESG+R spectrum, there are myriad data points for business owners and real estate professionals to consider. If you take the two key themes from the evening that I’ve discussed above: the opportunity for Middle East real estate, and the importance of smart buildings, the conversation about ESG+R becomes a little less daunting. Hala pointed out that more than ever there is both a corporate and personal desire for high levels of green credentials – individuals want to be associated with a company whose brand is environmentally conscious. Not only that, but there are now over $120 trillion dollars managed globally by funds which are demanding ESG legislation,² making the levels of corporate adherence not only a nice-to-have but nigh on obligatory. And even though UAE ranks 14th globally in terms of green-rated buildings, and the likes of Blackrock and Aviva are not yet in the market, there is a huge opportunity for building owners to develop and retrofit buildings which subscribe to globally recognized standards of ESG compliance and will therefore appeal to globally-reputed occupiers.
So with that, I felt incredibly excited by the prospect of WiredScore’s arrival in the Middle East. The opportunity for real estate in this market is astronomical: WiredScore’s mission to make the world’s buildings smarter and better connected aligns perfectly with the ‘mission to smart’ which is currently underway in the Middle East, and the appetite for globally recognized standards in the region aligns exactly with the building ambitions of the property sector. And so with a ‘Smartini’ in hand and numerous clients and Accredited Professionals sticking around for the networking session, I felt delighted to be working in a region with a clear vision for what the next ten years hold, and an infectious enthusiasm laced right into it.