Interview with Eric Pozzo-Deschanel, Bouygues Immobilier

A key figure in French and European real estate, Bouygues Immobilier is positioning itself as an urban developer-operator.  For more than 60 years, the group has been developing homes, office buildings, shops, and modern neighborhood planning. The company is focused on addressing major urban, environmental, and societal challenges, making “better living” central to its operations.

During this time when our ways of living and working are in upheaval, Eric Pozzo-Deschanel, Director of the Smart Building Division, tells us about the rise of smart buildings and the place of connected solutions in homes.

1. What is Bouygues Immobilier’s vision for automating buildings?

We need to make a distinction between residential and non-residential buildings. Bouygues Immobilier has spent a lot of time pondering what future offices will look like, which will undoubtedly be much different in a few months or years. This does not necessarily mean that there will be a lot more automation, but rather changes in how connected objects and artificial intelligence are integrated to create BMS advancements.

In homes, the trend seems to have become widespread. Everyone is getting connected, with IKEA and Lidl following in the footsteps of Big Tech. Although they’re able to reach as many people as possible, their challenge is to prove the effectiveness of the solutions in order to revolutionize the market quantitatively.

And all that’s at stake: offering simple, interoperable solutions that are easy to grasp. Voice assistants are very easy to use.  That’s what we need to move toward, by partnering with big players like Google and Amazon. Our role is to provide a technological platform for using these kinds of solutions from the moment the resident arrives. It needs to be scalable and adapt to people’s needs, controlling the heating, security, and more.

It is also important to think at the building level, moving from “smart home to smart building” and the services offered to residents or operators, such as an elevator, a boiler room with predictive or preventive maintenance, access control/video surveillance, and parcel boxes. That’s why I would bet more on an evolution, rather than excessive automation.

Finally, the major challenge for developers lies in the changes that need to be made in their operations to achieve low-carbon objectives and move toward ethical buildings and neighborhoods, with smart, intuitive solutions in buildings.

What impacts has the Covid-19 pandemic had on your contracts?

The first lockdown mainly forced us to close our sales offices and no longer see our customers and prospects. At the same time, some of our projects were put on hold until the appropriate protocols were put in place. The second part of 2020 was very active despite the significant impacts (delays, additional costs) experienced in the first half of the year.

In terms of homes and lifestyles, the pandemic is expected to have a profound impact on what customers expect, particularly in terms of what they need in their interior and exterior spaces, storage, workspaces, and services. This makes us think about smarter, more modular layouts, with the need for an isolated space to work.

This basically advocates for single family homes, but the fight against urban sprawl requires that we promote collective housing. As you can see, the problems are complex, and the issues are important.

You mentioned services. What services does Bouygues Immobilier offer?

A connected object makes sense and serves a purpose only if it generates its own service. An air quality detector, if used only to give PPM values, is not very useful. On the other hand, if a smartphone app translates the information into a message, such as “Warning: There are pollens in the air, affecting the air quality. You’d better postpone your morning jog.” That’s a real service. In this way, connected objects can help people make the right decisions about comfort, security, and consumption.

Customers today are willing to invest in a suitable service that provides real added value. Here’s an example: If there is a water leak, my insurer can be notified immediately. Rates will probably be lower because the problems are taken care of more quickly and cause less damage.

Without this, the product ends up being gadgetized, which makes no sense to us.

Our Flexom application currently provides a first level of information, particularly on consumption. Now, we have to take the next step, with products and services that offer more added value to support, help, and serve our customers in their day-to-day lives.

How are you addressing the challenges of interoperability in smart housing and buildings?

I believe that, in addition to interoperability, which is an ambitious objective, compatibility between objects must be non-negotiable. One issue concerns the shelf life of objects, which is currently fairly short. Products are changing very quickly, and it’s hard to say that what we install today will still be working in 10 years!

That’s why we need to distinguish between what can be provided as solutions in homes, which may or may not consumable, at least for those that have no real estate benefit, and another range of solutions (objects and services) to be offered at the building level, which must be sustainable.

Interoperability among connected objects must therefore go hand in hand with sustainability, ease, and scalability. Today, big players like Google, Amazon, and Somfy are making decisions and identifying strategic paths for establishing a common language. Bouygues Immobilier, which has to anticipate the changing needs and expectations of its customers, has decided to work and move forward with those who are active in this process, rather than with those who want to stay in their corner.

How has Overkiz helped with your connected projects?

We’ve been working with Overkiz almost since the start of the Flexom adventure. Initially, Overkiz acted as a “temple guardian,” guaranteeing that the data brought out of a home is secure. 

These days, Overkiz plays a much broader role, giving us more support. Their role is to ensure that our new Flexom Pro (for installers) and Flexom (for occupants) applications work with future buildings.

Several factors, including the pandemic, have unfortunately slowed down our development projects a little. We chose to focus on the applications, the features we needed, and our hotline. Originally operating “in the shadows,” Overkiz now covers the entire spectrum of what we offer.

How have you benefited from this collaboration?

Ensuring the continuity of the products and services installed in our 14,000 homes is a big plus. We have not changed the technical specifications, which is truly an asset because our company is highly fragmented, with branches all over France and a hundred external stakeholders. Keeping these same specifications has saved us time and reduced the risks associated with changes in our solution.

The process and methodology have changed to integrate changes and meet expectations.  Installers find it to be quite simple since there is an application just for them that meeds their exact needs. Meanwhile, customers enjoy all the usual features and find it to be flexible and easy to use. We managed to develop a simpler application, with the peace of mind that comes from working with a reliable, economically sound partner that has real technological expertise in the field and understands our need to offer ease of use for end customers.

We have established a trusted relationship with Overkiz, which has allowed us to gain peace of mind and develop a solution that is easy to understand and easy to implement. It’s a solution that meets our needs and those of our customers, and it actually makes connected homes easy.

What are your plans for innovation in the coming months and years?

We are working on the expansion of electric vehicles. Our customers have a growing demand for these, and they now expect that vehicle charging infrastructures are taken into account and functional when their property is delivered. We currently only offer pre-wiring. In the future, we have to be able to offer equipment along with services, such as access to the parking spot, if the tenant is not home, so that others can charge their vehicle.

We are also working on the home’s heating, energy consumption, lifecycle control, and carbon footprint. The construction sector is not the most ethical sector when it comes to sustainable development. These issues require a lot of attention so that we can develop more sustainable buildings.

Finally, there are topics related to coliving. Our KoumKwat concept, for young active adults, aims to test people’s appetite for these new ways of living together by developing spaces that are fully integrated with the local urban landscape and forging new connections with residents at the neighborhood level.

Bernard Mounier’s recent appointment as Chair will surely also have an effect on the Group’s vision and its strategic priorities. However, one objective should remain: to initiate a strong recovery in the market and the perceived quality of our products.

Bouygues Immobilier in Numbers

1,904 employees

€2 billion in sales in 2020

18% of office real estate

82% of homes

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