Like all people with real influence in their industry, William Newton is unfailingly polite, gracious and engaging. No looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more interesting in the room, no diva moments – just an unspoken sense of authority and an ample dose of charisma. Maybe it’s because he’s just come back from an action-packed holiday in South America, but he is one of the most relaxed and patient photoshoot subjects we’ve had on our cover.
Newton is EMEA director at WiredScore, an organisation that benchmarks a building’s digital connectivity in commercial office buildings. Its Twitter bio boasts that over 350m sq ft of office space in 80+ cities are Wired Certified for best in class connectivity. Where LEED led on the environment and the wellness certification has a growing groundswell, so WiredScore’s rise in terms of recognition by developers, architects, owners, asset managers and leasing brokers has been little short of meteoric since its launch in New York in 2013.
The organisation’s founder, Arie Barendrecht, is a Berkeley graduate who served his time at the likes of KPMG and the Boston Consulting Group before setting up what was originally known as WiredNYC – formed in partnership with the New York City Economic Development
Corporation when Michael Bloomberg was mayor. Since then, WiredScore has expanded across the US – in Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco. “Arie realised the universality,” says Newton, who is charged with its expansion into Europe and beyond.
Where previously there was a lack of transparency and inconsistent information about just how connected a building is, in terms of internet sources from the server to the wi-fi signal, now tenants can make an informed choice. Landlords, on the other side of the fence, can make WiredScore certification as much a part of their promotional strategy as a plush marketing suite, glossy photos and slick patter.
Just as with the Bloomberg administration in New York, WiredScore in the UK has deftly positioned itself between City Hall and big business, forging a partnership with the GLA when it launched in November 2015, during Boris Johnson’s time in the London hot seat. Newton has some political chops to match his management experience, with time as a senior policy adviser in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office and, prior to that, a role as a business analyst at McKinsey.
I first encounter Newton at a proptech event in Huckletree in the Alphabeta building, where the Zuckerberg-a-like grey hoodies mingled with suits, and then both hunkered down on bleacher seating to hear an array of speakers including developer Jacob Loftus and smog-eating technology guru Allison Dring of Elegant Embellishments (see OnOffice 109, July 2016). He memorably tells the tale of a building in New York where one week there were problems with the sewerage and occupants stoically carried on. When the wi-fi went down the following week, the same building was deserted. “Connectivity is the lifeblood of a business,” he says. “As trends go, it’s the biggest one in our lifetime, yet some companies spend more on printer cartridges than they do wi-fi.”
Newton pares back what WiredScore does in layman’s terms: “How easy is it going to be to set up and how quickly can it be done? Remember this is what tenants are going to care about.” This means looking at existing internet service providers (ISPs) and the potential for tenants to bring in their own. “Secondly,” he continues, “the price tenants are going to pay compared to the speed. Thirdly, how likely is it that the internet is going to be down.”
There are two types of certification, one for occupied buildings and another for developments and redevelopments. The advantages they point out for the first one is to really take the pulse of a building’s connectivity in order to market the good bits of digital infrastructure and identify areas for improvement, as well as safeguarding a building’s assets from future obsolescence.
For developments and redevelopments, it’s about providing architects and engineers with clear guidelines in terms of digital needs during the planning and construction and avoiding retrofit costs for the connectivity demands of the future. The ratings take account of unusual local market set-ups – in Paris most of the cabling is through the sewers – or the number of ISPs a city has: New York has 21 compared to London’s 12.
There are five levels of rating, from Certified to Platinum. In the Big Apple, buildings gaining the highest WiredScore certfication include the Empire State Building and other recognisable addresses on Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and Times Square, while in London that roster includes the Shard, Tower 42 and the Walkie-Talkie at 20 Fenchurch Street.
Developer Derwent London has a raft of properties that have reached a WiredScore standard, including the BuckleyGrayYeoman-designed Buckley Building on Clerkenwell Green, the Johnson Building on Hatton Garden, the Morelands Building in Old Street and the Tea Building in Shoreditch. Meanwhile, smack bang next to Silicon Roundabout, its White Collar Factory – designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) – was the first building in the UK to be rated Wired Certified Platinum for Developments and Redevelopments.
Says the firm’s leasing surveyor Philippa Davies: “WiredScore’s independent connectivity accreditation allows us to highlight the first-class levels of connectivity at White Collar Factory and sets the standard for innovative and progressive landlords who hope to attract top businesses in London’s booming digital economy. With so many tenants in the creative and digital industries, providing world-class connectivity and infrastructure is vital.”
Neil Pennell, head of engineering and design at Landsec, agrees: “We’re proud that both 62 Buckingham Gate and One New Change have achieved Wired Certified Platinum ratings; with 62 Buckingham Gate the first development in the West End to achieve this highest possible rating for digital infrastructure. We know how important connectivity is to our customers, it’s become a utility, which is why we invest in building resilience into our developments as a priority.”
Outside the M25 is another part of WiredScore’s expansion plans. Manchester mayor Howard Bernstein is a supporter, Newton tells me, adding: “We are starting to work on a number of buildings in Bristol.” Elsewhere 1 Colmore Square in Birmingham, with Gold standard, joins others as far afield as Glasgow, Sheffield and Slough which have achieved WiredScore certifications.
France is among the countries next in Newton’s sights. At its official launch in March this year, WiredScore announced it had 4m sq ft committed to certification, including 14 buildings and real estate programmes in the Greater Paris area, among them the Duo Towers designed by Jean Nouvel.
When getting and staying online is one of the most critical requirements for tenants of an office building, Newton and WiredScore are providing a clear way of achieving that.