Future-Proofing Real Estate


Cisco’s Gordon Falconer: Applying building-management software to entire cities could be a game-changer.


By Sharon Simonson

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f General Electric Co. is the corporate champion of the Internet of Things then Cisco Inc. is claiming its counterpart to cities. The San Jose-based electronic networking company built its fame in the dot-com boom as an Internet darling. Businesses, public enterprises, telecommunications companies and private individuals have deployed its hardware to create voice, video and data connections within single buildings, across school campuses and around the world. Increasingly Cisco sells software and services, too.

Now Cisco is asking real estate developers and owners and the cities that host them to think of their relationship in an entirely new way. “Real estate assets are 80 percent of the assets of our cities. The intersection between the environment and real estate is crucial,” said Gordon Falconer (pictured above), a Singapore-based director in Cisco’s Urban Innovation practice.

[pullquote_right]“… [W]e knew we wanted the information technology to be a life-changing agent.” Tom Murcott, New York developer Gale International[/pullquote_right]”Building management systems manage whole buildings. They make sure that the lights are on or off. If you multiply that across the city, you see game-changing effects. Also the legacy infrastructure—roads, sewers, etc.—people are looking at technology and trying to do more with less. The idea is that rather than build more highways, you change the need for more highways,” he said.

Forget about the canvas of a single box or a campus of boxes. Thirty miles outside of Seoul, South Korea, Cisco has committed $47 million to a 1,500-acre development of a new city of 250,000 people with an industrial center of 65,000 workers and residents. The networking company is creating a digital backbone across the Songdo International Business District to deliver a range of services and advanced communications.

In 2011, Cisco said it expected to deploy more than 10,000 of its TelePresence units in the Songdo IBD by 2019. The units allow real-time video communication. Residents and workers can access concierge services, building and facility management, safety and security measures and connect to schools, banks and local government. After the build out, Cisco is to remain an investor and service provider to businesses and homes in the electronic network.

“Because it was green-field when we started [Songdo], we knew we wanted the information technology to be a life-changing agent,” said Tom Murcott, global foreign investment officer for Gale International, the New York-based developer partnering with Korean construction firm POSCO E&C to build the Songdo IBD. “The concept was to put technology into the buildings and work sphere to make people more productive and happier.”

“Korea is a very wired and tech-savvy culture. Lots of people will use it,” Murcott said. The Korean government, which developed the horizontal infrastructure for Songdo then sold the 1,500 acres to Gale at fair market value, sees the development as an economic driver to attract strong global talent and international companies, he said. Gale will build $2.7 billion in vertical development, about half of which is already in place. In October, the board of the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund selected Songdo for its headquarters over five other international cities.

In October, Cisco also unveiled a partnership with Lake Nona, a 7,000-acre master-planned community within the city limits of Orlando, Fla., being developed by the Tavistock Group, a private international investment organization with headquarters in The Bahamas. Like Songdo, Lake Nona is adjacent to an international airport, and Cisco will oversee the deployment of a vast digital network linking health care facilities, local law enforcement, emergency management and the justice systems, as well as the creation of a network of public spaces where people can work and use shared services such as wireless internet access and TelePresence and find business services like reception, catering and daycare.

In Barcelona, Spain, Cisco is involved in a project to deploy a massive network of telecommunications fiber citywide via underground corridors where workers can administer electricity, climate control and telecommunications equipment without having to dig up the streets. So far, there are more than 185 miles of fiber citywide. The “deep telecommunications infrastructure” is at the heart of the city’s economic development strategy, according to a 2012 publication of the Smart + Connected Communities Institute.

Cisco’s Falconer may be at a global technology company now, but up until about three years ago when Cisco nabbed him, he worked in the real estate industry. He was formerly with Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., a sustainable city project, where he led strategy and real estate. His responsibilities included utility integration across energy, water, infrastructure, information and communications technology and how they could be financed and deployed.

Gordon Falconer photo by Saul Bromberger/Sandra Hoover

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