There are a multitude of hardware and software systems that are critical to operating, maintaining and creating engaging experiences within a commercial building. While those systems may operate well enough independently, at Cohesion we believe the greatest value is realized for all stakeholders when those systems are understood and managed as an integrated whole.
Achieving that level of coordinated success starts with technical integrations. For guaranteed high quality integrations, here are three things your smart building technology or workplace experience app should include:
Access to actionable data
Interoperability with other building systems
However, not all integrations are created equal, and the difference between high- and low-quality integrations will likely mean the difference between success and failure. So, what are the questions that anyone evaluating a SaaS platform for their building or portfolio should ask to ensure the best return on their investment in one of these platforms?
First, what does “integrations” even mean?
The word integration can have a lot of meanings in the context of CRE SaaS platforms (we’ll cover that in detail below). Generally, for Cohesion, the term integration refers to creating real-time connections to the systems needed to operate, maintain and engage with a commercial building (access control, visitor management, elevators, parking, HVAC, etc.). Let’s take access control, for example. A typical access control system is made up of both software (for managing users, access permissions, etc.) and hardware components (physical keycards, card readers, turnstiles, etc.). Historically, the set up and control of that system, as well as the data generated by that system, stays in the system and is accessible to a small subset of people, with physical proximity and direct access to the system. That means simple tasks, like a tenant adding new employees to the system, issuing a keycard or changing access permissions, would require coordination with the system operator and usually hours (if not days) of delay.
By creating an integration between our platform and the access control software, when a tenant manager adds a new employee to the Cohesion platform, that employee’s access permissions are instantly uploaded to the building’s access control system.
And, what about the hardware side of the equation? The new employee still needs a keycard. When the new employee signs into the Cohesion mobile app, with a single tap, an integration provider of the digital keycard downloads a secure digital credential onto their phone and immediately communicates and, through our integration, applies that key ID number to the employee’s profile in access control. Further, through an additional integration, that mobile credential is instantly recognized by the hardware card readers and the employee can gain access to the building in seconds, not hours or days. All happening in the background, seamlessly, effortlessly, thanks to integrations.
What are the different types of integrations?
The types of integrations you may encounter generally fall into one of three categories, URL redirect, hardware overlay, and API based.
URL Redirect – This style of integration is the simplest to create. When the application producer needs to incorporate access to a third party, they simply embed the website address (URL) as a link the application. Clicking that link takes you to an outside web page in the browser or as embedded web view within the app. While sometimes the only option for incorporating a third-party service, it can be disruptive to the user experience. The look and feel can be inconsistent. People may encounter separate logins when trying to access the content or service.
Hardware Overlay – This type of integration installs a proprietary connected hardware solution over an existing system. Imagine an internet connected device or “relay” that lets the user activate a physical control remotely with their app (sending a command that physically “hits” the button beneath a security desk to allow access through a lobby turnstile). While a simpler solution from an app development perspective, this technique introduces greater time and complexity at the point of interaction as well as long-term hardware maintenance requirements.
API Based – Requiring more upfront development work, this type of integration delivers the most seamless and consistent experience, regardless the underlying system. By creating direct, base-level connections, API based integrations allow for the creation of unique, unified user flows that seamlessly incorporate functionality across several underlying systems. And they create greater data availability, granularity, and transparency for operators and owners.
Why should you care how they’re done?
The method of integration has a significant impact on what types of experiences a platform can offer as well as what level of insights one can derive from its activities. URL redirects tend to take users out of the app experience and offer little in the way of trackable, attributable data that the building or app creators could use to offer a more relevant or generally improved experience. Hardware overlays may offer a fast path to adding some remote operation to a physical system, but again, they won’t allow for reading the state of that system or retrieving any sort of operational data while adding complexity to the system setup. API-level integrations, on the other hand, offer the ability to involve multiple systems simultaneously in a single user flow and to create more seamless experiences. They can provide bi-directional interactions with systems and deliver far richer data about those interactions to drive more actionable insights.
Best-in-class API level integrations allow for aggregation and normalization to offer portfolio-level analytics and the ability to compare operational efficiency between buildings. The API integration should be certified by the vendor of the underlying integrated system to ensure proper long-term support. And, most importantly, they should “just work” for the people using these solutions in commercial buildings every day. That’s why Cohesion is continually adding to our library of API level integrations to ensure we’re creating the most engaging, seamless and data-rich building experiences in commercial real-estate.