This article was originally featured in ColoradoBiz magazine. Click here to read the full feature.
In well-established industries, companies attempting to disrupt processes as they have been are often met with resistance and numerous challenges. Switch Automation, a Denver-based global real estate software company, is attempting to do just that in the real estate industry, bringing innovation and modern technology to the well-established processes of managing assets and building management.
The company’s software helps property owners and facility managers reduce operating costs, improve energy efficiency and deliver exceptional occupant satisfaction. Not only is the firm forward-thinking in its products, but Switch Automation has dedicated itself to practicing and promoting sustainability through its products and in its operations.
Best for Colorado spoke with the company’s Vice President of Operations Patti Mason and Creative Marketing and Brand Manager Sara Spangler to learn more about this growing company.
Best for Colorado: Can you tell us a little bit about what Switch Automation does and how you got started?
Patti Mason: Switch Automation is a global real estate software company that started in 2012. We’ve created the Switch platform, which allows property owners and managers to reduce facility costs, improve energy efficiency and remotely manage building assets. We help our customers by aggregating data in the platform, providing visualization to help them prioritize improvement projects, and we’re seeing that, in light of the current situation, there is a growing interest in the remote management aspect of our platform.
BFCO: Aside from the increased interest in remote management, how has COVID-19 impacted Switch Automation?
PM: Because we’re a cloud-based company, and because all of our teams are very comfortable using technology, the transition to virtual work has been pretty seamless. I think that’s because the majority of the work we do with our customers is virtual. We don’t have to go to a site to optimize buildings—that’s all done virtually. Of course, we miss things like having beer together on Fridays and face-to-face interactions, but we’re doing our best to keep our traditions alive on Zoom.
BFCO: What is a challenging aspect of Switch Automation’s work?
PM: Managing real estate assets and building management has been done the same way for decades, so we get involved in the change management space quite a bit, and that can be hard. Facility management has an aging workforce, so we’re trying to show customers that technology is not only going to make your building smarter, but also make your team smarter, more efficient and help recruit the next generation [of workers]. We find that exciting, yet this can be challenging when talking to someone who has 50 years in the industry and has only ever worked with spreadsheets.
BFCO: What role do you think your technology plays right now in the current health crisis?
PM: The greatest value right now is transparency. We offer our customers the ability to see the building through data and understand what’s happening. Let’s say I’m going back to a space in a commercial office building; I want to know what’s been done to ensure that I’m coming back to a space that’s safe and clean. A building management team can say to a tenant, “Yes, we’ve cleaned the building, and we’ve done a nightly air flush.” The Switch Platform can validate that through data and evidence. That’s the value that we’re bringing right now—this extra, and much needed, layer of transparency to building operations.
BFCO: What role do you think Switch Automation will play in future crises, like the climate crises?
Sara Spangler: For so long we’ve been making the case that smart building technology is the future and will make facility managers’ lives easier while saving you money and time. This product isn’t going to replace your job. Instead, it’s going to become a different kind of job that’s more tech focused. With the COVID-19 crisis it feels like we’re finally at the point where the market is realizing remote operations are the future.
PM: Buildings account for 40% of energy use and carbon emissions globally, primarily from heating and cooling buildings. The Switch Platform enables building engineers to set up better schedules for your heating and cooling system, and we can use our fault detection diagnostics tool for alerts when a system is starting to slip.
A new building is going to run as designed until you put people inside of it. Then, as occupants enter your building, our tool allows you to go back in and tune up the building. Having a smart, connected building helps you be more resilient, it helps you be proactive, and in the background, it’s also lowering your energy use. I think Switch will help advance grid interactive buildings and more connected communities; both of which are needed to achieve ambitious carbon reduction policy goals.
BFCO: How did corporate social responsibility emerge as a priority in your company?
PM: Corporate social responsibility emerged from our co-founder and CEO, Deb Noller. Her educational background is in forestry and natural resources management. During the onboarding for every employee, she shares her personal story of growing up in New Zealand in a time before plastic constantly washed up on the beaches. She leads by example and wants to ensure we pursue the B Corps certification and make commitments in the Best for Colorado program so we can demonstrate our commitment to sustainability.
BFCO: What is the future of buildings and what role does Switch play in that?
PM: I think we’re going to see more empowered tenants who will start demanding transparency and data particularly around employees’ health. I foresee air quality becoming a topic of significant discussion. New buildings install air quality monitors all the time. This is pretty standard, but that information usually doesn’t get out to anyone outside of the building management team. People are going to want to know more like, “What kind of air quality is my team in for 9 to 10 hours a day? What are you doing to ensure public health and safety?” I get excited about the opportunity to empower voices to ask those questions!