Proptech Pushes the Right Buttons for Elevator Operations

Technology firms attempt to make efficiencies go up and costs go down for building owners

reprints


In the world of elevators, what goes up must come down. That goes for safety — and especially for building owners’ elevator costs, often the second-highest maintenance expense behind HVAC.

A number of proptech companies are addressing elevator operation efficiency and cost reduction, with owners of offices, hospitals, universities and multifamily buildings clamoring for their services. It’s a huge market, after all, with at least 900,000 elevators in the U.S. and 1 million when you add elevators in Canada, according to the National Elevator Industry, a trade organization.

SEE ALSO: Venice Community Housing Awarded Up to $65M for 120-Unit Project in L.A.

Elevator maintenance is a prime target for proptech disruption, said Rob Wurth, CEO and founder of Lift AI, a Birmingham, Mich.-based elevator maintenance services software company founded in 2019.

“When I started Lift AI there was a lack of data-driven information and insights in the industry,” said Wurth. “So I felt there was a lack of transparency as a result of that. We started out, and are continuing today, to bring a software layer or approach to the industry that enables the stakeholders — namely the building owners and facilities managers, the maintenance company and then sometimes the elevator consultant — to have a common set of data that is transparent across all of them so that they can make better decisions on how to maintain their equipment in the built environment.”

Wurth says his company does this through taking a “holistic” approach to data. 

“We typically think about it as the equipment and then the maintenance that’s being provided for that equipment,” he said. “Those are the two key components. We have a sensor-based device that is like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. It goes on top of the elevator and uses sensors like an accelerometer to measure the performance of the equipment.”

Lift AI also gathers data from the elevator maintenance company itself, including the maintenance contract, spending data, invoices and repair proposals, as well as the work orders for the actual work being done, Wurth said. 

“We take all that, our software ingests it, organizes it, and standardizes the data so that the building owner, the facility manager, and the maintenance company are working off a single system of record across that data set,” he said. The goal is to bring those entities together to better assess and lower owner spending on elevator maintenance.

“It really enables a much more transparent and communicative approach as they’re thinking about maintaining these assets in their building that are really critical infrastructure.”

Working toward digitizing elevator maintenance with Lift AI, Wurth noted that he was born into the elevator industry. His father, Steve Wurth, is CEO and founder of Wurtec, a Toledo, Ohio-based company that over 40 years has grown from manufacturing tools for elevator maintenance to elevator components, Rob Wurth said.

Another elevator industry scion who turned to applying technology to the sector is Ash Wilson, founder and CEO of AuditMate, an auditing and management software company.

“I was raised in the elevator and escalator industry,” said Wilson. “I’m a self-proclaimed elevator baby. I joined the industry in my early 20s. I was being mentored by the U.S. CEO of one of the four major elevator companies, and participating in global research projects for the organization. And this is where I discovered that customers really didn’t understand their contracts, which are vague and confusing. And also property managers, frankly, didn’t have the time or the tools to properly manage and audit their elevator contracts.”

Founded in 2019, Brooklyn-based AuditMate is another proptech startup that is finding demand for its services among the office, multifamily and health care sectors for real estate, said Wilson.

“We are the first ever elevator and escalator contract auditing and management software, focused on triangulating contract terms and conditions, equipment, health and compliance regulations,” said Wilson. “Essentially we turn the contract into data points, ingest all vendor data directly from the elevator vendors themselves, and then audit the contract terms in accordance with the contracts. So this is maintenance testing, compliance and all financial activities.”

Part of AuditMate’s commercial appeal stems from elevators’ complex — and niche — nature, Wilson said.  “Most on-site staff within your property management organizations, even with vast engineering teams like hospitals, find that the vertical transportation expertise is extremely limited,” Wilson said. “So there is a need for building owners and managers to understand more about their contracts. However, consultants are expensive and typically not using a data-driven approach. Auditmate provides real-time data and recommendations on solutions based on that data and auditing the contract.”

While proptech firms are mainly addressing maintenance and management issues of legacy elevators, the sector poses newer challenges, as well.

“The biggest challenge is the proprietary nature of some of the advanced equipment, primarily the destination dispatch equipment,” Wilson said. “Once a customer purchases a destination dispatch elevator, they’re essentially married to that elevator company for the next 20 or so years. This can make the type of contract and its pricing extremely hard to negotiate, which, when your elevator company is performing well, that’s totally fine. If your elevator company is not performing well, the customer has very limited options on recourse and enforcement.”

Another elevator proptech issue is security, said Bernie Mehl, co-founder and CEO at Kisi, a Brooklyn-based access control company that focuses on that aspect of overall building safety.

“We bring physical security into the cloud, and, as part of that, also enable the workforce to use mobile credentials, including Apple Wallet, so you have a better experience in the building’s workplaces,” said Mehl of his global company founded in 2014. “We deal with all sorts of different access points, from the IT room door, to the office suite, the parking garage, building turnstiles, and elevators.”

Tenants are demanding more convenience in securely accessing elevators, said Mehl.

“They need for their guests — visitors from other offices or job candidates — to get into the building easier, which is a problem because at the same time there is a higher security need and an awareness of many companies that they need to be more compliant in making sure their equipment and workplaces are safe,” he said.

In addition to proptech working to maximize elevators, major owner-operators like Manhattan-based RXR have worked with Columbia University’s engineering school to study the sector, Andrew Min, RXR’s senior vice president of strategy and digital initiatives, told PropTech Insider in an interview in January 2023.

“We did an elevator optimization model to try to understand the optimal way to run a destination dispatch elevator system,” Min said at the time. “We finished the elevator optimization project, which was really exciting because we essentially learned how our elevators are programmed today and how in some ways that’s actually suboptimal.

“The thesis there was that with the advent of hybrid work, the number schedules and the patterns at which you match people to different elevators is actually suboptimal relative to when people were in the office five days a week. We’re still trying to analyze the best way to implement that purely because obviously the return to office keeps changing and the number of people back in the office keeps going up.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com.