"If there’s one thing that makes the success of a smart building, it is the combination of real estate, facilities, IT, hospitality, all those people in one organization that basically report to [the same person]… [And] if these people understand that they’re not building this building for themselves, but for the future employees of their company, then that makes a lot of difference.”
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Episode 32 is a conversation with Erik Ubels, who most recently was CTO at Edge Technologies out of Amsterdam, and now runs his own smart buildings consulting firm full time.
- We talk about Erik’s key role in the development of The Edge building in Amsterdam, which is perhaps the most famous smart building in the entire world.
- And since this is the last episode we recorded in 2020, we also look forward to 2021 and dive into Erik’s top three trends for our industry.
Mentions and Links
- Edge Technologies (1:09), The Edge (1:15)
- Deloitte (1:55)
- WEF report on the future of the construction industry (8:17)
- video of the edge (11:06)
- Ron Bakker of PLP Architecture (23:10)
- Mapiq (27:46)
- Episode 30 with Matthew Vogel of Microsoft (30:19)
- Rob Huntington, Airmaster (44:21)
- Willow (51:30)
You can find Erik Ubels on LinkedIn.
- Erik answers James’ favorite question: industry fragmentation, cost-cutting, and passing the buck (6:38)
- And the key drivers of change/progress on this front (8:50)
- Unpacking Erik’s experience developing The Edge, with the desire to attract talent driving the journey (11:30)
- Advice to other smart building champions (20:37)
- Points of pride: sustainability, and the connected, quiet environment (22:29)
- Mistakes made: the app (26:49)
- Experience with Microsoft technology in the development of The Edge, and Erik’s perspective on IT/OT (30:06)
- Erik calls out the inevitable end of BACnet (35:59)
- And other forward-looking trends in the smart building space (39:39)
Music credit: The Garden State by Audiobinger
Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!
James Dice: [00:00:00] Hello, friends. Welcome to Nexus, a smart buildings technology podcast for smart humans. I'm your host, James Dice. If we haven't met before, I write a weekly newsletter on the same topic. It's also called Nexus. Each week I share what I've learned, my opinions, and what I'm excited about in the quickly evolving world of intelligent buildings. Readers have called Nexus the best way to stay up to date on the future of this industry without all the marketing fluff. You can check it out and subscribe at nexus.substack.com or click the link in the show notes.
Since starting the Nexus newsletter, many of you have reached out to me wanting to talk shop, and we have. After a few weeks of those wonderful conversations, I realized I needed to record and share them with our growing community. So here we are. The Nexus podcast is born. This is our chance to explore and learn with the brightest in our industry together.
Episode 32 as a conversation with Eric ovals, who most recently was CTO at edge technologies out of Amsterdam, and now runs his own smart buildings consulting firm. Full-time. We talk about Eric's key role in the development of the edge building in Amsterdam, which is perhaps the most famous smart building in the entire world.
And since this is the last episode of 2020, we also look forward to 2021 and dive into Eric's top three trends for our industry.
All right. Hello, Eric. Welcome to the show. Thanks for taking the time. Can you introduce yourself for us?
Erik Ubels: [00:01:32] Yeah. So obviously, yeah, my name is Eric Googles. Uh, I've been in smart buildings now, roughly four, I would say 10 years. Uh, I started my career in electronics work for a while.
Phillips, uh, got involved in computer technology and then moved on to, uh, working for the big consulting companies and the last 22 years, uh, before I got into smart buildings, I worked for Deloitte. And at Deloitte, I had the opportunity also to run the facilities organization, which included real estate.
And then that capacity, I had this super opportunity with my team, to build the building. We became the edge building for the Lloyd's in Amsterdam, and that building went viral because at the time it was finished, it was considered the most sustainable and most intellectual building in the world. and yeah, they've got a little bit out of hand.
I take it with viral before we, uh, we could think about it, but that's what happened and that's of course pulled me into this whole spot building industry.
James Dice: [00:02:32] Got it. Yeah. I want to dig into the edge in a little bit. Can you first talk about, You know, coming from electronics and then, management consulting, and then you get onto the buildings world.
What was your experience coming into the buildings world and seeing how buildings get built and like trying to do something great with the edge building.
Erik Ubels: [00:02:51] Yeah, I've done a couple of buildings, but not, I mean, running the ITL operation for the Lloyds, uh, we've a building our networks and our building actually has a security camera technology, all of that stuff we've been taken care of for the lawyers.
So that's how we were involved in buildings kind of, but never, ever in the real construction of course, or in the sustainability of the building itself. Uh, I did a couple of data centers for the Lloyd's, which is a kind of other. You know, kind of building technology. but, uh, when we got the opportunity for this building, I needed to educate myself because the real estate developer, I basically was claiming we building a smart building for you.
And there's a, Oh, that's interesting. A smart building. So then they started looking at it and I. I got initially very disappointed because I thought, you know, my nest time was started as home. It's probably respond to that. The stuff you put in a building, uh, being a guy who loves technology, uh, and always on the brake of new, you know, the latest and the greatest.
Um, you, you start to realize that the building industry is a bit behind. And, I I've once was at one of the larger providers of building medicine systems in Boston though, mentioned them by name. but they do, you know, building automation as well as a lot of process technology. And they basically said there's a 10 year gap between those.
and, and that's when I started to realize, so, learning about smart buildings and then taking should not only be about Annecy preservation and optimization, because I think for law, smart buildings were about that. And I think for me, smart buildings was about what does it actually do for the people at the Lloyd at that time?
How does it help me to get through the day? How does it make me more efficient? How does it take away all the barriers? When I, you know, go through the building. The coffee machine does the work, the copy doesn't work. I can't find the desk. I can't find the room. All of that stuff was much more interesting than, uh, do you energy, saving at that time, I was not aware of this famous JLL, uh, you know, there's this famous three 3,300 ratio, but for whatever reason, call it pure luck.
We've managed to exactly that one. Uh, the three others ratio, the people won. Um, yeah. And then of course, uh, to finish off the question or the answer is that, you got so much pushback from, you know, initially from the engineering, the real estate companies. And they all told me every single day, that's not how we do it.
That's not how this industry works. It will be too expensive, et cetera, et cetera. Well, if you tell me we kind of do it, that triggers me and then we will do it. And that's what we did. Okay.
James Dice: [00:05:31] That's awesome. Yeah. That's why I wanted to ask you about that. Cause I knew that you came in with ambitious goals for that building, and I knew you had told me in the past, you've met some quick resistance and just, basically bulldozed.
Through it. So, so we'll talk about that in a minute.
Erik Ubels: [00:05:46] You hinted at the funny one about that one, just to mention, otherwise I forget about it, but most this whole light is for fuck. So, so these people come in and they tell me I can have this traditional Fluor's at Joop light infrastructure, which, you know, from Phillips here in the diner, super efficient is almost as good as led.
And then as these people, so. We want to put this in the building and the building, which is ready and like three, four years from now. And you want me to put that in? I cannot explain to the young people, we want to hire a Deloitte when they come into the building and they see this fruit juice and they kept calculating it for me, it was all too expensive.
And I, it doesn't matter. It's not about, you know, the last few pennies. It's about how do you build this imagination of a super building? and we need led and that's how I approached it. Yeah. Love
James Dice: [00:06:37] it love it. So you've mentioned that 10 year gap. Uh, and one of the things I like to do on this podcast is ask people why that gap exists.
So what's your answer to my favorite question, which is why is building technology behind other technology?
Erik Ubels: [00:06:51] Yeah, you know, I think there's a fundamental issue in this whole building industry. Uh, and that's in the real estate development because it's super fragmented, compared to anyone else I would say.
and if I, make it very flat and bolt, uh, you know, in that's changed and that's the good news, it changed rapidly to the positive, but. For long, the real estate developer only wants to do one thing, get the building done as quick as possible and sell it off to an investment father and walk away.
And this is basically to, everybody involved. So if you're the general contractor or the engineering company or whatever, just get it over with and somebody else problem after that. You know, the tenants are the oldest problem, but ever happens with the building everything is driven from costs. So it's calculated with a lot of engineering, a lot of experience, so they know what it will cost.
And then the general contractors are starting to pit on the project. Uh, and they probably will add the bit. So there's only one way to make some money. Or at least not to lose some money and that's cutting costs and that's exactly what they do. So they are going to squeeze about anyone in the process, any engineering company.
And I think that has become the common way of doing business in that industry. Uh, so instead of looking, what can I buy? What technology can I invest in that actually helps me to create a better building with lower energy, lower maintenance, et cetera, et cetera. That's not how this industry is organized.
Uh, it will change. And that's this, famous document, a report from the world economic forum, which is now about three years old, it's called the future of A's the architecture, construction and engineering industry. And that is super worthwhile to read for everybody in this industry, because it exactly explains this whole issue.
About this fragmentation and that it has to change and that it has to digitalize and that there's still a huge amount of opportunities to do it better together.
James Dice: [00:08:45] Got it. Yeah. I'll have to look up that document and put it in the show notes for everyone.
Erik Ubels: [00:08:50] Um,
James Dice: [00:08:50] so what do you think the number one way that this fragmentation can change?
Like if that's the number one, obstacle that the number one reason we're behind, how do we, how do we get around
Erik Ubels: [00:09:00] it? Well, I think what's happening is that the big titles are now demanding that the buildings. so I think that's the number one driver. that's the pool from the, big denims, then the real estate developers start to realize that if they make a real swamp building the building have a higher value, the building oldest stopped to realize they can rent it out much better.
so, I think Yeah, the combination of those things, uh, here at Europe specifically, there's now mandatory, regulation coming in place that you have to build at a new building. at least almost energy neutral. Don't ask me why it's almost, because I think that's ridiculous.
It should have been completely. Um, and then there's this new, economic stimulus fund coming in, uh, because of COVID, that's actually going to post 300 billion here in Europe, to, towards the redevelopment of existing buildings and to make sure that also, you know, much better on energy performance, at least.
So I think there's a lot of, you know, people who are now pulling the strings to get better buildings and to change that. Yep.
James Dice: [00:10:03] Got it. Brilliant. Okay. So let's, dive into the edge and, and, I want to tell a story of how we've met, because I think it's funny. so a couple of months ago I was developing the nexus foundations course.
And you signed up and I didn't know who you were. Uh, we didn't know each other at that time. And I looked at your LinkedIn profile when you sign up the course. And I became immediately clear that you were far more advanced, of a smart building professional than I was intending for the students in the course.
And so I emailed you and you said, you know, I'm just curious, just want to, see what everyone's perspectives are. So I didn't think anything of it. I said, great. Uh, glad to have you. And so when I was developing. The week one week, one was all about, you know, let's present some high profile case studies of the smartest buildings in the world to get the students inspired for the rest of the course.
And so I'm putting this together. I'm putting my PowerPoint together and I come across the edge building and I'm like, well, I have to put the edge building. Let's, dig into it. And so I started watching the videos and all of a sudden. I'm watching the most high profile video, which we'll put in the show notes as well.
And all of a sudden, Eric Googles comes up and he's being interviewed about the edge building, which was just a hilarious, like full circle moment for me, where here's one of my quote unquote students in the course, it's now in the number one case study. Uh,
Erik Ubels: [00:11:24] so
James Dice: [00:11:25] that's a funny intro to this, but I wanted to ask you why.
Why is the edge building so famous, as we get started, kind of unpacking it.
Erik Ubels: [00:11:34] Yeah. So, you know, I'm super proud of what I did and with my team and all the people who were involved, so don't get me wrong. but of course, half of it is not true, uh, because you know, you have people who want to make nice stories in magazines and websites and webinars, and it becomes bigger and bigger by herself.
So, so the reality is of course, a little bit different, but then again, I think it is the unique. Situation, there was an economic downturn. We were getting out of the 2008, 2010, when the development side. So economic doubter, nobody's building new buildings. So if you build a new building by definition, you would get the attention from, you know, the architectural magazines, the engineering magazines, et cetera.
Now that's one part of it. Sustainability was a big thing here, Europe, there will be nobody building a non-sustainable building. Uh, and the real estate company, that was developing, it had very good track record in building sustainable buildings. And then you have this guy called Erica wools who basically got a, almost like a blank check from the board.
I had built up a tremendous credit at my it operation. I was asked to also run a facilities. and that of course was the unique combination of. If there's one thing for me that makes the success of a smart building, it is the, the combination of real estate facilities. It hospitality, all those people in one organization that basically are all reporting to me that is ice stake for the big tenants have this, super built, kind of, office and virus.
That makes a difference. If these people. Understand that they're not building this building for themselves, but for the future, employees of your company, then that makes a lot of difference. So that's a huge portion of it. And then the other thing is that, you know, companies like the Lloyd, this is true for all the big consulting, accounting law firms, banks, you know, with information workers, if you like, they always have the same issue.
As soon as the economy picks up, where do we get the talent from? And that issue is becoming bigger and bigger. So without maybe hundred percent realizing it, but that was on our radar all the time. We have to make a building that will, you know, showcase Deloitte as a super employer. Uh, which still are by the way.
It is though. No doubt about it, but also with that building and that's what happened. and then of course, when I start thinking about this whole led infrastructure and about sensors and IOT, because I like it, I said, why the hell are we not running the led from the power over ethernet? And if we have power over ether that in the fixture, why are we adding the census to it?
Because it makes sense. You pull one cable, you got it all integrated, took a little bit of, uh, work with Phillips to get it done. Deloitte, finally invested in it. and, that became a huge part of the success, but it's the whole combination. And I've seen people who claimed that there was this big master plan.
I mean, that's, that's just be Ash. There was no big master plan. It was just, you know, a couple of very, add to jesting motivated people who wanted to build the best building for the Lloyd. And that's what we did. I think.
James Dice: [00:14:55] So, yeah. You talked about attracting the future professionals of Deloitte.
So that strikes me as something that even that this building was built. What, what year did it open?
Erik Ubels: [00:15:05] it was delivered in 2014. Okay. So
James Dice: [00:15:09] yeah, earlier in this decade, so it's been a bit, and so there's newer buildings, obviously being built all the time, but what's something that's still relevant here is that that's it sounds like the number one reason why this building was as smart as it was because you were trying to attract future talent.
Yeah. That's super interesting. And it kind of, like you said, it's, it cuts through the fragmentation in the industry when the tenant or the occupier is driving that intelligence. That's really cool.
Erik Ubels: [00:15:37] Yeah.
James Dice: [00:15:37] So can you talk more about your role? So, and to use the terminology in the course, we talked about a smart building champion and smart building champion is needed to be on the owner side of things and drive.
The project towards intelligence. Right. So how did you do that? And what was your sort of, strategy behind kind of cutting through all of the ways in which we build dumb
Erik Ubels: [00:15:59] buildings? Yeah. So, I mean, obviously you don't do this on your own. You've got a team and I was lucky enough to have an amazing it operation already for years, a very successful, super high level, credit into company, people who.
Belief in my journeys and future and vision, whatever you want to call it. So I've been able and lucky to have very talented people around me. And we had a similar kind of, you know, facilities organization. So bringing those together and take them on a journey and say, we are going to make. The best building ever, for the people of the Lloyds, that got people excited.
And sometimes I told them, you know, don't do this for me. Don't do this because I'm asking you, but imagine that you and your career in the future, if you want to look for another job or whatever you want, you can say, you know what I, a spot of the building, I did it. and that's how you get people excited and on the journey.
And, uh, we started to think about, so, what should this building actually do? And then you start thinking about, well, you know what, when I get to the building, I don't want it. You look for my Cod with a lot of young people, half of them lose their cars in the bars on Saturday nights in Amsterdam.
So, you know, no costs, they don't lose their smartphones for whatever reason. So we want to have building access with the phone that was now very common thing. You know, at that point we were the first with, had to do that. So we wanted that. And then we want to be able to, you know, you should not be able to do, you know, hotel booking of a desk.
It should be automatically. I used to be able to find a desk. and now they call it use cases. We use personas, like in software development, we created hundred and 26 of them. Uh, and then we had to bring them down to a reasonable amount. So roughly 50 different use cases on how we bought to use that building.
Um, one of the first things I did when I got a job for facilities is get us decent cappuccino machines. We just talked about that before you started recording. Coffee is super important, especially here in the Netherlands. You do not start a meeting without taking a new cup of coffee. And, I always had the philosophy.
why do I get such. Lousy coffee in the office while I have this amazing machine at home, but I drink more coffee in the office. So what's, what's the logic. Uh, so we had the opportunity, you know, to buy very high at cappuccino machines. And we talk with the vendor and the manufacturer in Switzerland and say, you have to make this machine in such a way that it will actually recognize me.
And that it will remember my preference. and then the guy said, well, you know what? A lot of people drink a cup of tuna in the morning, but something else in the afternoon. Yeah. What's your problem because you can remember that it was morning or afternoon. Agree. And on top of it, we connected all those machines for the hospitality organization to monitor.
So that instantly, they would know there's something wrong with the machine. If you, take away all of this kind of, I don't, you know, in a large company, when you walk through a copy machine that doesn't work, you walk to another one, nobody's going to call the service desk. Uh, this is the same. If there's something wrong with the restroom, this is also true with the coffee machine.
You always think somebody else will take care of it while they don't. So how about. We're going to make that super easy. We'd like an app where if you were in front of the coffee machine, you say, submit a complaint. And that the thing does not ask you, where are you? What's the number of the machine so that you have to look on the side and figure out though.
So take away all the hurdles. So, that's how we started to do it. Yeah, dreaming up more or less the, capabilities of such a building, how the percent wireless, presentation to the, to the screens throughout the building, a 4k screen, super quality. no crest on stuff on the tape. We were still using crestal, but there were no, you know, these in the meeting room, you have always this ugly black stuff with this place that never work at the cable.
Crutch. We did not have that. And that's how you create a smart building and that's what we did. And yeah, we kept pushing and pushing the vendors. And um, if somebody said we cannot do it so well, that's a shame that we have to find somebody else. So that's how we did it.
James Dice: [00:20:16] Yeah. So, I mean, you've told me in the past, and you mentioned earlier that you just got so much pushback.
So for the other champions that are out there trying to move their projects forward, how do you. Besides telling them we're gonna go to a different contractor. We're going to go to a different vendor. How did you kind of like during the design and construction process, sort of push through that resistance.
Erik Ubels: [00:20:38] I already made a remark. You know, I don't like people who tell me that you cannot do certain things. Yeah, unfortunately, I would say, in medical, and in healthcare, there are things we kind of do. Uh, we all experienced that over this year, over the last year, but you know, in everything, else in life today, we can do anything we want.
There's nothing that is stopping you all the technology's there. The knowledge is there. It's a matter of time and money and Gus, I mean, Elon Musk is going to Mars. Uh, probably, uh, I mean, don't tell me that we cannot do this in a building. The sensors are that they are cheap electronics are, that are building, it's a complicated thing to do agree.
I don't want to underestimate the effort, everything it takes, but at the same time as long as there are Ubers on, this globe, we are building. So by now, we should have a kind of idea how to do it. Um, uh, millions of buildings out there. it cannot be that hard other than I, and we discussed is that I fully understand that the environment you're in can be, a little bit hot, but I would say don't give up, Push it look for it.
There's the internet. You can find just about any product out there. you just have to, you know, tickle a little bit and push it, here or there, and then you can get it done. but don't, don't let anyone tell you that it cannot be done because that's basically not true.
James Dice: [00:22:00] Got it. Love it. That's so inspirational because I think a lot of people.
And I've learned this through the podcast, learned this through the course and the students is that a lot of people want to be a part of a smarter building, but there's just so much resistance and you can get, you can often lose momentum pretty easily. So
Erik Ubels: [00:22:19] you talked about
James Dice: [00:22:20] hype for this building. I want to ask you, what's not hype. What are you proud of, on this building? Uh, so it's often considered the most sustainable building in the world as well. So can you talk about like, but beyond the occupant experience, what's not
Erik Ubels: [00:22:33] hype,
James Dice: [00:22:34] that you're proud of.
Erik Ubels: [00:22:35] Yeah. So what does not hide? The building is super sustainable.
It has shown with the data over the last couple of years, that is even more sustainable than it was, built for. So, and as equals option, especially electricity. I only know the number from the first three years. but in the first three years, it never got above 50% of the expected at as equals, which is amazing.
Yeah. so yes, sustainability, super, uh, then the whole experience of being in the building and enjoying, um, for those who've never seen it, but it has a use atrium. So the architect, uh, pop out of London, Ron Bacca came up with this huge agent that people typically don't like, uh, when they build the real estate.
But this makes that imagine you're working for the lawyer, which is a very large. Company with a lot of young people and you are, you know, go to a traditional building and you'll go to the 26th floor. You could be all day long and therefore you have no clue what's going on. Who's in the building. You don't be part of a live system because of this.
in the edge, you are, you can see people, you see people working, uh, you may even see your manager or your peers without even talking. To them actually that day, but at least, you know, ah, they hear, you know, sometimes you, you start looking for each other because of that. So, that living part of the story is super, the daylight experience in that building is just beyond anything else.
I haven't seen anything yet that comes close and daylight is a super important part of your building experience, your health and wellbeing, the whole soundscaping of the building. I have done like thousands tools in the building. And every time people told me, how is it possible that such large open space is so quiet?
Uh, of course that has been designed into it, especially with the ceiling, the digital climate ceiling technology, we were using wishes. Like six, five more expensive than traditional heating and cooling and ceiling system, but it paid off because of, of that. then of course the integration of the services and the light, because the sensors are so fundamental to tell you exactly how the space is being used at what times of the day, where people are crowded or not, that allowed the Lloyd to.
Put so much more people in the same space when the economy came back, they started to hire much more people than I than we actually, uh, so, yeah, no, from that perspective is also, you know, pure on the, on the business case or much about the building than they ever expected. So that's perfect. All the features, you know, I'm a little bit of a autistic guy, to be honest.
So, to give you an example, all the monitors on the desk, every desk, I had a big monitor. The color of the moneys are, is white. You say what's so special about it. Why it's specially made, what is Deloitte? How style white. It's not just white. So Deloitte at that time, I still have the same three basic cause, which is white, blue, and green, and our house style, everything in that building is in that color.
So if you have a locker, obviously, which you can control with your smartphone and you can put your clothes in there, or some of your stuff, then typically such a locker would have a red led for being blocked or green for being free. Well, not a Deloitte is blue and green. It's the Lloyd blue angry.
And this is through the cables on the keyboards, on the cables. Everything is in the same color. And you say, why is this important? Well, I can honestly tell you when you walk into a building and everything is that style. It creates a kind of, I call it quietness in your eyes. You don't have a lot of holes in the ceiling.
If you have a traditional ceiling, there's so many different things that are popping up in the ceiling are set zones, air in and out. You know, you don't have that. It's just a light infrastructure and there's a little sensor in the info, parking it in one way or the other. makes you less fatigue and it creates this.
Very quiet environment. So all of that, that's not hype. The coffee is not hype you're. The visual systems are not height. the app is a bit over-hyped, to be honest with you, not a huge success, uh, but because of the app, but we've avoided the first to apply an end user app. And at that time, I make the stage as well.
That's worthwhile to learn. Um, at that time, there was still a lot of debate, whether Microsoft would create a windows phone, or not, our people, obviously more than an iPhone for sure. Uh, and we were building a multi-tenant building. So we would not know what kind of phone do the other tenors use.
So will they have, you know, Android or iPhone or windows phones or whatever. So we need to make a system that is universal and will work on all those different platforms. It needs to work on tablets. It needs to work on a PC, on a Mac. So we decided to build it a hundred percent web based. Well, that's a huge mistake.
people don't want a web based solution on their iPhone. There was an app, a dedicated app. Yeah. That's one part. So now obviously that company, which is quite successful, a better IQ out of the narrows, has built an amazing app that can control all the different things in the building can do way finding room booking, et cetera, et cetera.
but we did not have the localization technology at that time. Phillips told us they did not believe that Bluetooth became so big as it was or is now is can you imagine. Uh, now everybody understands it, but what do you mean by
James Dice: [00:28:12] localization technology? Like
Erik Ubels: [00:28:14] basically your phone knows where you are locating people, because then you can of course provide the services related to where you are.
So you don't have to check into your desk if you want to control the light and the temperature, which the building does. That one way or the other, if you pick up your phone to do so that phone needs no wasteful. I do I all the control. Right? So you, use Bluetooth to localize your phone and tell your phone or the app specifically where you are.
This is also true when you want to open doors automatically. Uh, you know, when you get close to the door, it gets unlocked because of who you are, based on your authorization. Obviously it needs to know who you are and where you are. so that's fundamental, but, and that's now very commonplace in modern buildings.
You don't have that. So that was a bit of a, of a challenge. yeah, so, I mean, there's certain things that didn't work. Um, I can honestly tell you, even if you have a building app, but there are features that you can do without the app. People will let you use the app. So you can order a coffee through an app and you can recognize, but you have to walk through the coffee machine anyway.
So the big display say, I want a cup of tea now. I mean that's as easy as a phone degree, so it doesn't so, so yeah, you learn a lot of those things and, uh, it's an amazing building. I'm still super proud. It's, you know, I get seven, eight requests a day from out of the world of people want to talk to me about this building.
There's there's absolutely still fantastic. And to be honest with you in my current experience, It is still hard to convince people to do similar stuff while this building is now I've been in operations for six years. So, Hey, this industry is not always moving as fast as some others, so still a lot of opportunity also.
That's the good news. Tons of opportunity.
James Dice: [00:30:05] Yeah. So you mentioned Microsoft and I don't want to key in on the phone thing. Obviously we know how that turned out, but told me previously that this was built, all these solutions were built on Microsoft IOT infrastructure. So this was long before.
So two episodes ago we had Matt Vogel on, on the show. He talked about today's, Microsoft IOT infrastructure and the. Azure, digital twins. So back then, though, this was sort of just like a Apple and Microsoft eyes. So talk about how you use Microsoft on that project and then how you've seen that progress, that solution progress and why you're, I'm assuming you're excited about it.
Why are you excited about what Microsoft is doing
Erik Ubels: [00:30:43] today? Obviously one of the, the whole ideas about that building is that we would have one view on all the data of the building. So obviously working within a large company, you'll have these silos. I was running it super integrated, completely on Microsoft technology.
And then we had our facilities, organization, uh, different tools. I don't like that. I want to have the data in place and being able to say, Hey, tell me what's going on in the company. Uh, and, and especially on those assets. So we wanted to pull all of that stuff together. And at that time, even though we were using cloud computing, uh, our security people were not too happy to put this building, uh, on the internet.
That way I would have done it. Uh, I have a little bit more grave of that, but, uh, so we, we decided to build a platform ourselves. this was in 2010, when we started, so we basically connected all the different pieces of technology and we were using all of the traditional combos, like Microsoft SQL server, uh, Microsoft web services, early Microsoft IOT capabilities.
Just, just like the Lake of works, uh, Microsoft provides, but it was not a hundred percent. Cloud based solution. Uh, obviously that, that is a huge thing right now. interesting thing when we started to do this, Microsoft learned about it and they came to help us, to actually educate it. So, Matt you, so I almost, I don't met you in that and all of those guys, yeah.
They have been a super help to us to actually make it happen. Uh, and also to drive it all to this, this common, uh, Microsoft platform, which we were using at the time. And I also felt, already that, that Microsoft would be a huge party in this whole smart building industry. I'm a Microsoft adept. I'd never make a secret out of that.
I have a relationship with them for over 30 years. Uh, and, and I like those guys, for a whole bunch of different reasons, but. I think it's fundamental to understand that even people may not realize it, but in the embedded industry. So whether you're in machinery or in health care equipment or in just about anything, that's Microsoft insight, uh, you may not realize that.
So you can almost dream up that if the world is moving to IOT, which is. you know, happening of course, big time already at that time, you could just understand that whether you like them or not, they will be all over the place. They call it an ecosystem around the world. They got developers and that's how, how industry typically works.
They're not going to do crazy things. They will evolve. Uh, in that era, that was a huge, important thing. Uh, at that time to me, uh, on top of it, you, you know, that some of the big, building automation, building medicine system manufacturers are close with Microsoft, some of the elevated guys. So you could almost.
Kind of see that that would come together at a certain point, with the brag of IOT at that moment. And now with digital, it's been happening beef time. Yeah.
James Dice: [00:33:49] Yeah. This is an interesting,
Erik Ubels: [00:33:50] uh,
James Dice: [00:33:51] so the, the podcast episode after you, will be about the whole it versus OT situation. That, and I think it's interesting to get your perspective on it.
So do you think there should be two separate types of technology or you think it all should be one? It sounds like.
Erik Ubels: [00:34:07] It's won. And at the edge we built one, I integrated or converged network as they call it. I would not have it anywhere else, even though, obviously we also have, at that time already discussed with some of those people.
Uh, the philosophy is most of the time that they want to separate the network because the security, difference between those environments. a lot of people say we don't trust the building security or the IP backbone or the guys running the building security. Well, if that's the case, I would definitely go after it and take care of it.
That's one part of the story. The other part is that if you do trust your corporate it environment, And what these guys are doing for you that I definitely would put the building behind it because that it would be equally secure with the same tools. That's one reason the other one is if you really think about sustainability, that's not just about energy or a smart building is not just about providing services to people.
It's also about the fundamental drive. To lower the amount of material we are consuming as people, so less copper left, less electronics, less metal, less material, uh, an IP bag, quality, the building with all respect that is such a small compared to a corporate IP backbone in size and capabilities that any corporate IP backbone you would put in the building can easily also do on top of it, the smart building part of it. so if you split them, you have to build the infrastructure twice. You have to buy the switches twice, everything else, twice, which will be consuming energy, you will replace them at a certain point of time. And I find that very hard to explain, because there's, technology-wise no reason you can separate this traffic.
very easily, on the network nowadays. So, I would put it all together. the disputes are more, a little bit of a longer term story. Now I'm going to say something very different, difficult, or dangerous, but this back, that stuff will go away and it'll take 40 years, but there's no logic in the long run.
It will all be how the percent IP enabled a native IP period. Of course, for backwards compatibility, we are gluing all of this stuff together, backing it and make it difficult. But in the long run, it's going to be a hundred percent IP enabled. What we now have in hardware in buildings will, will change into software mostly.
Uh, obviously you've seen this in controls and VAVs and chillers. There's a lot of electronics already. There's a lot of software and that will move on and move forward. IP is just cheaper at the end of the day. So that will be a big driver and at a certain point in time, You heard the whole software, the building management system is nothing else than a piece of software, uh, connecting and directly talking to a lot of IP enabled devices.
Hence you're basically, uh, to what the IP or the corporate IP network already does today. So, And so a lot of people don't agree with me, but that's fine.
James Dice: [00:37:07] That's the fascinating piece is that you have strong opinions here and then others, the people that, some people that are listening to this right now have other like diverging opinions.
So whenever I find those things I like to dig into, so people that are listening to this can expect me to go down a little bit of a rabbit hole, uh, in the, in 2021 on this. So. I appreciate that. Thank you for that first week before we move on from the edge though. So I understand that that the edge has turned into a development company as well.
I don't really understand
Erik Ubels: [00:37:39] how this works
James Dice: [00:37:40] also now into a software company
Erik Ubels: [00:37:43] as well. Yeah, no, that's a bit of a story, uh, that, might be usable. Everything is as right now as devices. Yeah. Uh, well, first of all, their building was cool at period that there was this a real estate developer who actually developed the edge building on behalf of Deloitte together with Deloitte wasn't existing real estate company, uh, which had a very good track record in making sustainable buildings.
And therefore they built a developed a couple of buildings with Deloitte. then. with the ass, even though there was a lot of pushback, initially, obviously when the building was sold off much better than anyone expected to at a certain point of time, uh, the company, the real estate developer did also realize that they should not only make sustainable buildings, but also smart, intelligent buildings. Okay. So, then at a certain point they hired me at, I joined them to actually develop a smart building platform, smart buildings, as well as a smart building platform, uh, that would come along with their own. real estate developments initially.
but, they also decided later to make that platform available just basically for any building. so fairly much like any other, you know, smart building provider has the ability to do this for brand new buildings or existing ones. And they changed the name to add stick. What was, is obviously, uh, I mean, There was such a huge, you know, advertising, uh, free, marketing.
What, what do you want to call? So it would almost be silly not to use that. Yeah, that's what I did. Yeah. Okay.
James Dice: [00:39:22] Yeah, the neatest announced,
Erik Ubels: [00:39:23] I think this past fall that
James Dice: [00:39:25] that software is available to anyone that wants to use it, which is super interesting. Cool. So let's, uh, let's shift. I want to ask you about, okay. Given your, your you're now fully into the smart buildings world. So before you were just kind of like, uh, an entrant and you know, how can we figure this industry out and make it more intelligent now you're in it. So when you think about, we're kind of in this transition 20 to 20 to 2021, I want to ask you about sort of forward looking trends, because I want to hear what you think.
So. Let's start. So you provided three, three big trends for me. Uh, so let's start with, and this kind of goes along with what we were just talking about. Let's start with the human centric design. So yeah. If you think about the past a smart building was like a BMS or getting into maybe doing some analytics analyzing data.
And so now we have this trend towards designing buildings with the human in mind, designing buildings with the tenant in mind, designing buildings with the future Deloitte employee in mind. Right? Like you said, so how are you seeing that changing? right now and in 2021,
Erik Ubels: [00:40:34] Yeah, I, I think we now see this happening big time.
almost unfortunately boosted by COVID, but the whole realization that, uh, first of all, we built buildings for people at the end of the day periods. Uh, they have to live that work that go there, whatever they want to do. So that's the number one reason second, or for all of the large companies, whatever the economy does at the moment in the longer run, we've run out of young, talented people to do all the work we need to do.
So this fight for talent is war on talent. As they call it in the U S I think it will come back. It will become huge. so you have to provide a very nice environment to work, even though you may work a lot from home. Or you still need to go to the office now and that, and the office will not be a traditional office.
It will be, I always imagined it would be like a superstar bridge, um, where you meet with people and customers and you make
James Dice: [00:41:27] your Starbucks. Okay.
Erik Ubels: [00:41:28] And, so they have to provide it to be attractive and, and to find talent. That's, that's a huge thing on top of it. People start to realize that the building, if you spent so much time inside, That this really hurts.
If you're not in a good quality building your health and wellbeing, your energy level, your creativity. we always made, a nice comparison if you're in a bad meeting room, your CO2 level, you know, and just like an hour or two can go up to 1200 or 1400 PPM. that's exactly the same as consuming three glasses of wine.
Uh, which basically means at the end of the meeting, when you make decisions, you were all drunk. So that's not a good situation we're in, other than that, you get fatigued and that, that you don't have energy anymore and for whatever. But, so I think this whole health and wellbeing is super important. now with COVID, we have to prove to people that the building is safe and secure.
I don't think that will. That will go away. So it's not just temperature, humidity, CO2 level, but it's air particles. It's fiancee, it's noise, it's daylight, all of these things, you now have to more or less proof in a building. and that's only that, you know, the technical act quality kind of thing, if you, if you like, but obviously also the whole environment from.
Your living room kind of meeting rooms instead of the traditional setup that you feel more relaxed. If you talk to people, different kinds of choices you need to have, depending on the task you have at hand, they call it a activity-based working. Or there are all kinds of fancy names for it. Yeah. But, but basically it means you go to the office and whatever you need to do, there's an environment that best fits that activity.
and that can be, you know, an open desk way. You have a couple of people you can chat a little bit now. And then we do have colleagues that can be a single phone booth. Well, you have very concentrated phone call equally. You could have something like a video conferencing, larger groups, uh, coffee, uh, I mean all kinds of different settings to actually optimize that.
and this is not only true for, for the meeting space in the area. But also the foods you will get, do you have like, a fitness area, all of that stuff actually contributes, uh, to make a, make a superbill. Got it.
James Dice: [00:43:52] All right. Um, I love that.
I don't think that one is going to surprise a lot of people given the pandemic and where we're at right now in the industry.
This next one might surprise a couple of people. So you talked about a full IP enablement. We talked about it a little bit earlier and with that going away from DDC to more IP enabled you, call them integrated controllers. I thought this was funny because this there's a LinkedIn discussion that happened this week, where Rob hunting in from Australia, he said the sun is setting on BMS.
As we know it. And change is coming through building operating systems and packaged equipment control, which is, I think what you mean by integrated controls. Which when delivered together will eliminate the need for field fitted BMS control altogether.
Erik Ubels: [00:44:39] So
James Dice: [00:44:40] I think that's kind of the same thing you're talking about here, which is super interesting to me.
I'm actually writing a piece about this right now. Or what are you seeing in this area? And what do you think it means for disruption of maybe the big controls companies?
Erik Ubels: [00:44:55] Yeah. I know that some of these big control companies are actually working on this technology. So I don't think that there will be other players, but also the traditional ones will, be there for sure.
So I'm not too worried about that. but for me it makes a lot of sense. Why, why would you buy a DVC is basically a PLC. Uh, we successful 40 years, is a bunch of iOS, digital, analog, couple of protocols, whatever. And then you have to specifically program this thing to do whatever you wanted to do.
well, a building is a very specific thing. You want to manage temperature? Uh, lights, the blinds. so why would I need to take this big universal, which as a huge capability, don't get me wrong. I mean, industry desert, a lot of reasons why you want to buy it, but in the building, you can almost dream up what you want to do.
So you can create this at much lower costs, much less programming. And what I did not say, but we were really talking about, you know, running out of talent in the future. This is, this is true for anyone in the world. So even deploying and commissioning this as a building, which now takes quite an amount of labor and programming and specific knowledge.
That is also a reason why it has to go to a easier, a much easier solution. And that's what this integrated technology proves, to do. It will be lower costs. Because even if you buy the DVCS, every time you buy too much, basically it has too much, iOS and stuff in one place. so. You can reduce the amount of electronics, which is good for, you know, waste and that kind of thing that obviously relates to cost.
Then it will do exactly what you want to do. And those control light, it allows you to do temperature humidity, drive the , the blinds, whatever you have in a room in a much simpler way. It does have a percent IP enabled. It degrades localization like Bluetooth, ZigBee, whatever it integrates. So that's a lot of reasons to believe that that is happening.
and yeah, there are some examples in the industry. Now I did not know about this, uh, this article or discussion are we referring to, but we'd love to see it. And I don't think it will happen, for a lot of good reasons. Yeah. Okay.
James Dice: [00:47:10] Yeah, I'll send you, I'll
Erik Ubels: [00:47:11] put a link and send it. If it's not true, then it will still prevail because it's lower cost.
So. Hmm. Where have you seen calculations from Snyder? A Snyder provides this. I'm sure the others are doing this as well. If you compare it one-to-one so you would lay out exactly the same building and you go for DCC or integrated, you will see that integrated is lower cost. So
James Dice: [00:47:35] Yeah. It'll happen on some. Yeah, I've always said that. I think the opportunity that I see for this it's that, today's BMS is. Terrible at supervisor control and I've written a ton of essays on this. It's just If you, if you walk into the average building, there's a ton of opportunity around doing that layer better.
and so what I'm seeing is like there's these overlay platforms, software platforms that can take on that responsibility, cut it out of the BMS layers. Right. And then, okay. If that layer is cut out and then you're what you're talking about is the edge controllers that those being done differently, other than we start to have a different VMs all together.
Erik Ubels: [00:48:12] So, yeah. And the love of that capability will actually be driven to the edge devices. Uh, because you don't need to push all the data from all the sensors directly into your cloud environment, that that's a little bit unnecessary. So there will be a lot to happening on the devices. These edge devices become smarter and better.
So they will also run some of the AI. You needed a building. Uh, so yeah, I mean, it's a very logical, evolution. They might've paid.
James Dice: [00:48:38] All right. Let's transition to, so number three, this relates to what we were just talking about. So you said a pure. Software layer. Right? So pure, intelligent building management platform, as you called it, basically, an overlay sitting on top of all this. Right? and some people call this a digital twin.
There's a little bit of confusion around. So what are you seeing in this area?
Erik Ubels: [00:48:59] Yeah. I mean, if there's one person believes in digital twin, then for sure, that's me, I think without realizing it, but, after realizing the adjunct, talking to Microsoft, the team at Bedford over Matthew Foco, those guys started, this is smart spaces, development, which is now that digital twin, I think a digital twin is fundamental to just about any industry.
Or anything you want to do with IOT? So it's a logical consequence of IOT. Not very well understood and like any new technology in ADA industry, over-hyped by a lot of people that be, if you would go to, well, we cannot go to a trade show, but one of the last trade shows I was, was, IOT called grass in the Barcelona.
And suddenly everybody has a digital twin, just because it's a marketing hype. So that's of course not true. So I honestly believe whoever listens to this. Make sure you understand the fundamental difference between a real digital twin and the marketing hype and the digital twin is not a 3d design of your building on this screen that you can play with video mouse, very useful, but not, and then have the data plotted on the traditional building matters system and database onto that screen.
That's another digital thing, but that's 99% of what you see out there. Right. This is all trailers about modeling your building. So you use a descriptive language to basically explain how your building looks like and how it's built up. and then it allows you, or basically knows. to give you an example.
If you look at a floor plan of a building and you see on that design, the temperature that you made it to you to see you to the number of people in the room, we as human beings know that that's all related to the same room. So we immediately in our brains, we know that it's connected to each other, a real digital twin allows you to associate.
If you like. For another better word. but that knows that these things belong to each other, that they all belong to the room. So they're not individual data points taken from a traditional database, but they belong to each other. Therefore you can also apply methods to, as you can query that kind of data.
And that is fundamental in the long run to allow machine learning and AI to be applied to it. So. Yeah, again, Microsoft does all this out there, but Microsoft is doing an amazing job in this space, together with a company called Willow in Australia. There's a couple of others out there, but they are doing an amazing job to, to bring this to the marketplace.
And if you don't understand, you know, check it out and make sure you understand digital twin on top of it, just, beyond smart buildings, this is identified as one of the top. 10 technologies in the next decade or in this decade. So there's, uh, autonomic costs. there's, uh, machine learning does AI and that's digital twin.
So it will be huge throughout just any industry.
James Dice: [00:52:04] And this is something that it's just so hard to cut through the hype and this industry on this. What do you think is the key to educating building owners on the value of digital twins?
Erik Ubels: [00:52:14] Yeah, I think the digital twin on itself is a little bit hard to explain, especially if you look into it.
I would say. You know, at least you need to understand that's pretty fundamental to get it right for whatever you want to do in the future with the buildings. Obviously people are much more looking into, I need to manage my energy or my space or my health and wellbeing and that's driving their, their concern.
but I would say, that make yourself known a little bit about digital training. You don't have to be an expert, but at least try to figure out what's the difference between. Marketing hype and real and choose whatever product you can find that actually does use a digital twin behind it, because it's so fundamental for whatever you will do.
And, you know, if you buy energy management platform or space optimization, whatever, you don't buy those things every week. So typically, you know, you buy it and you have. like three, five, or sometimes eight years, go along with that kind of technology. So you better make sure you buy the right thing.
James Dice: [00:53:15] totally.
Erik Ubels: [00:53:15] Yeah.
James Dice: [00:53:16] I think you've covered it. Well, it it's, it's just like we have to get past the hype as an industry and get into what it actually is. And I feel like we're, yeah, I'm a part of so many panels and so many discussions around just like. Clarifying myths or busting this clarifying what it is.
And like, maybe in 2021, we, as an industry can just like get past that piece and get into like actual case studies, cause I think that the struggle with building owners is. With the digital twin that we're realizing the value is kind of, also realizing a different way to do business, right?
So whatever business you're in, whether it's commercial real estate or you're a hospital or your school district, there's a different way to run your organization, that digital twin enables. And until we get to that piece, that realization, I think they're always gonna like limit the value. Consider it sort of a point solution or just like not get it.
And so we have to get over that hump and I'll try to do my
Erik Ubels: [00:54:12] best to get us there. I mean, th this whole digital trade is fundamental to be able to pull all of those different data sources together. You could theoretically do this in a traditional technology, but this is fundamental that it is a, it's a layer that allows you to.
So I call it associated probably, you know, one of the guys that Microsoft is going to kill me over it because I haven't found that all the better word for it, but. Just the fact that this system is able to understand itself, how it relates to all those different other pieces. That is the fundamental difference.
In my opinion of this at the end, we all want to have the single pane of truth. We want to look at the screen and know what's going on in all those different systems. And the dishes ultimately plays a very important role into that. yeah, so we cannot express enough how important it is. Awesome.
James Dice: [00:55:04] All right, Eric.
Thanks so much for your time. This has been this funeral.
Erik Ubels: [00:55:08] It was fun. Yeah. Looking forward to it. Thank you so much.
James Dice: [00:55:12] Alright, friends. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Nexus podcast. For more episodes like this and to get the weekly Nexus newsletter, please subscribe at nexus.substack.com. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. As always, please reach out on LinkedIn with any thoughts on this episode.
I'd love to hear from you. Have a great day