“I think that leveraging both is incredibly important. You need the software to be modular enough to merge everything together. But you need a willingness for partnerships to then leverage the benefits that come out of that.”
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Episode 36 is a conversation with Josh Adams, Chief Strategy Officer at Animated Insights—the company behind a new digital twin software called Pebble.
We talked about Josh's long history in the buildings industry, which stems all the way back to his high school days. Since then, he's worked in a bunch of different roles for Siemens, Johnson Controls, and Schneider Electric - three of our industry’s famed Big Four companies.
This history provides a great jumping-off point for: how these big guys can approach innovation, how startups can partner with these incumbents, how building service providers can digitize their offerings, and much more.
Then we took a bit of a deep dive, as we do, into digital twin software. I liked that part because it was grounded in actual use cases, which is a rare thing in the digital twin world.
Mentions and Links
- Animated Insights, Pebble (0:56)
- ECS Global Solutions (1:53)
- SimplexGrinnell (2:11)
- Globant (7:27)
- The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey (16:17)
- Azure (59:44)
You can find Josh Adams on LinkedIn.
- A new answer to the new favorite question: partnerships (9:05)
- What innovation looks like within the Big Four (13:49)
- An alternative to disruption; service contracts as an opportunity to innovate (17:36)
- Diving into Josh’s concept of digital twins, grounded in actual use cases (34:01)
- Pebble’s operations-first approach (45:24)
- Animated Insights’ perspective on open data and ontologies (57:56)
- Something to be excited about in 2021: Biden’s infrastructure package (1:00:29)
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: [00:00:03] hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.
This episode of the podcast is brought to you by nexus pro nexus pro is an annual or monthly subscription where members get exclusive writing podcasts and invites to members only zoom gatherings. You can find info on how to join and support the Without further ado, please enjoy this episode, the nexus podcast.
Episode 36 is a conversation with Josh Adams, chief strategy officer at animated insights, the company behind a new digital twin software called pebble. We talked about Josh's long history in the buildings industry, which stems all the way back to his high school days. Since then, he's worked at a bunch of different roles for Siemens Johnson controls, Schneider electric, three of our industries, famed big four companies.
This history provides a great jumping off point for how these big guys can approach innovation, how startups can partner with these incumbents, how building service providers can digitize their offerings and much more. Then we took a bit of a deep dive as we do into digital twin software. I liked that part because it was grounded in actual use cases, which is a rare thing in the digital twin world.
Without further ado, please enjoy nexus podcast, episode 36.
Josh Adams: [00:01:41] All right.
James Dice: [00:01:42] Hello, Josh. Welcome to the show. Can you introduce yourself?
Josh Adams: [00:01:46] Happy to be here? My name is Josh Adams. I'm chief strategy officer at animated insights and the ECS global solutions.
James Dice: [00:01:53] Cool. We'll dive into them in just a second. Let's talk about you for a minute. Tell me about your career history.
Like how'd you get to ECS? Uh, w what have you been up to?
Josh Adams: [00:02:03] So, so I started in this industry at a very young age. I was probably 14 or 15 years old, and, uh, my dad got me into a company called SimplexGrinnell actually was simplex before they merged with Grinnell at the time. All right. I spent all my summers working on fire alarm systems, uh, which, you know, it was a great experience at the time.
I'm not sure I necessarily thought so, but, um, you know, it led to a lot of other opportunities. So, from there, I eventually got to the point throughout my high school and college years where I took an opportunity to do internships for Siemens. And I leveraged the, what I had learned at simplex for now from a fire alarm standpoint, to get in and start working on building automation systems.
Uh, so while I was at Siemens, they, they taught me everything from, uh, you know, uh, because I worked a little bit on the fireside to everything from inspections and servicing a fire alarm systems that then carried over into the building automation side with a servicing and installing solutions for them on, on a construction level.
No, I did that for a couple, a couple of years there. And then I took an opportunity to do project management, um, to try to put those skills that I'd learned at Siemens to use, from, from that aspect. and I took a job doing project management with Johnson controls out in long Island, largely managing, mid to small size projects out there, uh, which eventually led to another role, doing project management, but for Schneider electric, at Schneider electric, I, I worked largely in a construction capacity, doing larger scale, building automation and energy solution.
Roll-outs. Uh, in New York city, which is by far the toughest construction market in the world, I think a very, very tough market, but an enjoyable one to work in it's it provides a lot of opportunity and I can promise you if you work in that market, you've seen everything twice. It's crazy. but th did that for a while there, and then it led to another role where I took on a global strategy role as a program manager for Schneider electric.
that was largely based around, um, they have an internal, change management program that they run, uh, called Schneider is on that's focused on the digitization of products and services at a global level as the main theme of the program. Um, so I did that for a little while and it gave me a global exposure, but you know, it also taught me how these companies actually incite change within their organism, where, whereas you think of a mom and pop business and changing 10 people is difficult.
Well, these, these companies have to change 10,000 people globally across all kinds of cultures. So. where I always thought it's should be changed and things should be done this way. I got hit with the hard reality of how hard changes to actually, and sight within these organizations. So I did that for a little bit, at Schneider.
And then I came back to the States and worked at a operational level in the buildings business for Schneider electric and managed, um, as a program manager, mission critical projects in the us where I oversaw, teams of project managers that were executing large, large scale and critical infrastructure projects.
Um, we're talking $5 million plus just on, on building automation side. Wow. Um, so it's a very large scale. A lot of customers like our Maresco and the FAA and yeah. Things of that nature. from there, I basically got to a point where, uh, you know, I had enough tools in my tool belt that these companies had taught me over the years that I really want it to be part of some, some innovation and drive some change in the industry.
so I was fortunate to come across a company called ECS global solutions and now animated insights that actually brought me on board. And currently I'm chief strategy officer, for both those companies. And what that means is I have my hands in a lot of different things. Uh, so I help, derive and develop this strategy.
and then execution of that strategy across both of those companies. All right. Can
James Dice: [00:05:51] you, and can you explain what both of those companies are?
Josh Adams: [00:05:55] Yeah, absolutely. So ECS global solutions is a lighting company primarily. Um, it started, it's been about around for about 20 years or so. And, throughout that whole 20 years, I've been, it's been a lighting company that does.
Uh, large-scale roll-outs of led upgrades and lighting controls projects. Okay. since, their founding, they developed a building automation, division to it as well. so within that company, we, we distribute a variety of building automation, products, and solutions and services, and have customers, like Tishman Spire, for instance.
And then on the lighting side, we have, we have. Customers like Macy's and Avalon Bay and JP Morgan chase, things like that. animated insights is actually a company that we, tried to leverage all of that expertise that that was built up within, the, the ECS global solutions business around building systems and leverage that and spun off a company called animated insights to really attack the market and provide software solutions for buildings and building systems.
Um, which we ultimately ended up developing a digital twin platform called pebble a lot of that, at that company. And, and partially they, they also oversee the ECS global solution side of things, but, um, we have a fantastic executive management team, a leadership team. There were. two of our EXCOM members, our CEO and COO, um, Luther Garcia and Anthony Huggett.
they both come from a background of building software solutions and, technology companies. they previously do all this. They were part of a company called glow bonds that I believe they have like an $8 billion market cap today. but that, that company was all, they built software for like electronic arts and Google and that sort of thing.
So we took their expertise, and the building systems expertise. And then we brought in a CTO from a FinTech background, Howard Davidson. to kind of bring in that, that final piece there, where he has a lot of experience directly building AI platforms and large scale distributed systems and merged all of that together into what we now have is his animated insights.
So I think we have a really fantastic leadership team there to build out a lot of these software solutions. Got
James Dice: [00:08:06] it. And if, if people that are listening to this, haven't heard of Josh or haven't heard of animated insights. Uh, I think you're now realizing why he's on the podcast. We're combining, you know, the big four experience and the, you know, long history in the industry with software solutions and digital twins.
That's kind of what nexus is all about. So thanks for coming on the show. it's also probably because. you guys are pretty much under the radar right now. So you're not doing a whole lot marketing wise at this point to kind of get your name out there yet, right?
Josh Adams: [00:08:39] No, no. It was a strategic choice that we made within the company itself to really put everything that we had into the development of the product itself.
so we've been working on this for probably four years now, I would say, And have some rollouts done and customers that we work with on it, but yeah, we put rather than doing and spending a lot of money on marketing, we would put it all into the product.
James Dice: [00:09:02] Got it. Cool. I'm excited to unpack that and just a minute, okay.
So if you've listened to the podcast before there was a, uh, an old favorite question. So for 2021, we have a new favorite question, which is what's the number one thing you think needs to change to unlock the smart buildings industry.
Josh Adams: [00:09:20] Partnerships, I would say it's it's partnerships over anything else.
And the reason I say that is that, buildings in general are a very, very complex ecosystem and it's a complex ecosystem that. is not only on the solutions that are deployed, but it's also with the services and stakeholders that are a part of that ecosystem. Um, today all of the, the solutions that are out there, services and stakeholders, they're all operating in their own siloed environments.
and there's no real product out there that can link all those together. And to a unified vision or a work stream together to be able to efficiently manage infrastructure assets or service them, or even do purchasing of these assets in an efficient way that takes into consideration. No economies of scale, uh, negotiation, tactics, even.
so I would say those, those ecosystems are really, really important to focus on. And the only way to really, break those silos is for multiple different stakeholders to come together, through the way of partnerships. one other thing I would say to that too, is that, uh, legacy systems today, just don't have the ability to really be built on top of nor were they designed to.
To be built on top of, to really accomplish that end vision and that, that product that can link all those customers and services together. So what's really interesting is over the last probably 20 years, I mean, technology has come such a far away and you can see it in everything that's around you and especially in consumer products today.
so that, that same technology, can be used and leveraged within the infrastructure industry to really build out a fresh new take on some of these products and services.
James Dice: [00:11:02] Got it. And how would you describe, so this resonates very high with me with the curriculum in my course. So it's all about, I mean, there's an entire week on identifying stakeholders and then figuring out what the silos are in the existing building and then figuring out.
Yeah. So. my question is like, can you explain for people that don't see the silo world? So I think a lot of problems we have in our industry that are stemming from that is that everyone has their own lens. So when they say, I mean, the controls world is such a great example of this. When I say smart building, if I'm looking at this from a controls lens, I'm thinking BMS, or I'm thinking Tridium, or I'm thinking backnet right.
Like those are the immediate thoughts that are coming into people's mind when they're viewing it from the siloed lens. how do you get people to sort of shift in? The way I like to say is like shift up a layer and the architecture, something like that.
But the reason that I wanted to ask this, because you're describing a different way you're describing it and partnerships people. So it's not a software layer, right. It's, it's partnerships with people. And it's interesting because you're coming at this from a software perspective. So how do you, how do you think we can develop.
The software layer and the partnership layer at the same time, or are they not, are they not mutually exclusive?
Josh Adams: [00:12:23] I mean, I think they're really important to each other. Um, the partnerships are incredibly important, from just a stakeholder management standpoint and to really get these things to work, but, um, the software is equally important.
So I think that they, they go together really well. what, what first has to happen is that you end actually, I think they have to happen in tandem together because if the products that you have and the solutions you have today, and the services you have today are operating without any connection or consideration for each other, then there's no way that those partnerships can, can then also happen.
But when you flip it on the other side, if you have an unwillingness to partner. Then you might have the solution, but it, you won't be able to get the, the, the end results, to happen there. So I think that leveraging both is, is incredibly important. You need the software to be able to, be modular enough to include all those and, and merge everything together.
But you need a willingness for partnerships to then leverage the, the benefits that come out of that.
James Dice: [00:13:28] Yeah, I totally agree. I think stakeholders is the first step. And the smart billing process. Cool. I love that answer. Thank you for that. So let's talk about the big four and I guess you didn't work at Honeywell, so you can't speak your experience there, but you worked at all the other places, right?
Uh, although I even back into high school, that's amazing. I didn't realize that. So let's talk about innovation within the big four. So what do you think keeps them from innovating?
Josh Adams: [00:13:56] So I, I think that's a little bit of a, um, I think it's a little bit misunderstood. A lot of these companies actually.
Yeah. So, so I think, a lot of them spend a lot of money on R and D. Um, you know, I know Schneider electric, they actually plowed quite a bit of money into R and D, but what ends up happening is, I think two things ended up happening here. One. Is that you get, this bubble development mindset to where you have done things in a certain way for so long it's been working and you, you ask yourself why change it?
So your R and D processes and what you're looking to do ends up being a bare bones of something that could be much greater. Um, I think that's, that's something that really happens. And especially when you look at changing these organizations internally, that's really hard to, to change that mindset of do what works versus let's take that big leap and try something new here and out of the box.
So I think that's one thing that that really happens. And then the other thing is, is a lot of these pieces that are out there are in silos. So the development also happens in silos, with everything. And, within these silos, what it's created is a lock-in with their products and services with customers as well.
You don't have the, I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the, the solutions and services from a legacy standpoint that are installed for the number two thing here is. they've been working in this method for so long and they have such a high price tag for the infrastructure. That's installed that to rip it all out and do something new for our customers.
It's not going to happen. So these companies end up just incrementally changing their products, just enough to kind of just satisfy what they need to do. Um, they have customers that have been locked in for the last 20 years and there's no reason to do anything. so I think they kind of do bare bones approach to that sort of a thing.
But on the flip side, uh, there's a lot of innovation that happens with within the space as well. Um, it just, I see a lot of it happening within startups that are out within the landscape itself right now. Hmm, cool. Yeah,
James Dice: [00:16:08] this, this is something that I kind of wanted to call the nexus community out on a little bit.
So I just got done reading. I think I was telling you this. I just got done reading this book by Jim. McCalvi called the innovation stack. And if you don't know who Jim McCalvi is, he's a St. Louis icon as well. I'm from St. Louis St. Louis icon founded square with Jack Dorsey. Um, so great book I'd highly recommend it, but what he talked about in the innovation stack is that squared didn't disrupt the incumbents.
Their innovation was not going to kill. Visa or MasterCard or like American express, right. They weren't coming into, you know, disrupt and, and like with startups and small software, especially we have this thing where like, this incumbent's going to get disrupted. Right. It's, we're obsessed with this word disruption.
But what he talked about was innovation is actually really all about sort of growing the pie. Democratizing technology and making it more available or more useful to more people. And I think that's especially important for our industry because we have so many buildings that haven't quite digitized at all.
There's so many buildings that really don't get access to technology. Maybe they're too small or maybe they're even just not fully utilizing it. Right. So we have so much more to go in terms of like, Really getting it out to everyone and getting it used and getting it used as well. Right. So what does that bring up for you in terms of like, I know that nexus pro members sort of like think that the big four are going to get disrupted and they're not going to be around anymore.
So what do you, what do you think about that?
Josh Adams: [00:17:46] So I'll, I'll say this, that everybody loves the David and Goliath story. That's, it's easy to fall in love with that, but does that first off, is it the most common thing that happens in any market and, is it the best result? You know, it's, it's funny, you see very, very.
Few cases, this word disruption really happens. You have the Uber's and you have the Netflixes, but more often than not, it was because there was a reluctance to innovate in those few paces. But, you know, in other industries, if that same situation were to happen, I'm not sure that the same result would have happened.
so for me, when I, when I look at that, You know, I think that, square does a great job. They, they really focused on doing partnerships and, and, you know, they, they partner with everybody in visa. They do a fantastic job with that. I, I know they have a partnership with Platt and, and twenty-six, and their whole goal with that is, is to really extend what they're offering their customers today.
How can we, if we can't innovate this in house, How can we extend our reach to more customers through these partnerships with startups? How can we. Leverage these startups to enhance our own products and services that we're giving out today. so, you know, when we apply the same kind of thinking too, um, and that's what FinTech, uh, so when we apply the same kind of thinking with infrastructure, you get kind of a unique take on it.
I, I, for one, don't think these, these big guys are going anywhere. Um, you know, they're, they're full of very smart people and infrastructure inherently is an entrenched business. it takes a huge upfront capital cost to, to be able to install this infrastructure. So to just rip it all out and start over is something that is, it's a crazy thought because it's, it's largely not possible for most customers to begin with.
so for, for me, I, I think that, The, the way that these, companies should be looking at it or could be looking at it is to have their, their legacy products installed solutions and services, but the real innovation and development is going to come from the startup world. But it should be leveraged for these big guys too, to be able to extend their products and services or extend their customer reach.
When you have a bunch of startups that are out there, innovating on a crazy basis and, you know, trial and error, trying new hypotheses with, with different customers, seeing if it works. These big guys can then look at that market and say, okay, that guy is doing something networks. We should partner with them and see where this goes.
Or this guy over here has a new way of interacting with customers. Let's, let's give it a shot. This is out of the box thinking, but maybe this will benefit us. And ultimately those startups that are in the space that benefit the entire ecosystem. This is end customers as well as the service providers.
They're going to have the most success, I think. And at the end of the day, that's really what we're trying to do here with an infrastructure. We want to satisfy all the stakeholders on the customer side. But there are massive efficiencies that can be gained just by partnering with these legacy infrastructure companies that already maintain these, these fantastic relationships that they've built over the last 50 years with these customers.
So I don't think I'm approaching it in a way where I'm going to get out there and disrupt you and knocked you off your block is necessarily the best way to go. I think a partnership approach to benefit the entire ecosystem is something that. We'll likely get the best results and likely have the highest, rate of success.
James Dice: [00:21:21] it. So, one thing about the big four that often gets brought up on this podcast, and it's not just the big four, but a lot of our industry is sort of driven by service contracts. Right. And you mentioned maintenance kind of same thing, maintenance, contracts, service contracts. And within that sort of category of discussion there, we have the silos as well.
Right? So you might have a control service contract, a mechanical refrigeration, whatever, all the way down the line and have different, you know, a portfolio of buildings could have, you know, hundreds of service contracts. Right. So how do you think about, I guess, partnerships in software and innovation in terms of.
That whole old paradigm of, of service contracts. Cause There's a lot of momentum behind it because sort of old ways of doing things, with those sorts of, contracts.
Josh Adams: [00:22:09] Well, I'll tell you there's one, there has to be an opportunity. So. The first thing that I see with all of that is that there's an opportunity to innovate because service contracts have been the same for many, many years.
Basically. It's, it's a model that's largely been built off of. , an approach where it's a scheduled maintenance to where. We're going to sign you up for a service contract.
I'm going to give you a discount on parts and labor, and I'm going to send a guy out there four times a year to check on your system. Well, in reality, is, is that the best way to approach not only managing these assets and servicing it, but just handling and interacting with the customer. You know, when I look at that, if I owned a building, I wouldn't necessarily be counting on the service that I'm getting, because how much can you actually do?
In a 3 million square foot building four days a year, you know, what I'm signing up for is the discount on parts and labor. So at that point, is it even a service contract anymore? And that's, that's just from a building automation standpoint. And, you know, there are other, other things in other contracts that are more service applicable, but I think that there's a lot of benefit from, but the first thing I think is that there has to be an opportunity for innovation, where I see that as a great opportunity in leveraging data.
And technology to really deliver a service experience. That's not only on demand, but is, more predictive and attacks the root core of whatever issues are at your building. For instance, when you deploy a building automation technician to a site, they have to sift the lines and lines of code manually.
Just to find issues and figure out what's going on, uh, leveraging enhanced service tools that can cut that time down and, and you software to do it is, is a really unique approach to the situation. So, so there's opportunity to innovate the traditional service contract. Um, that's number one, and then number two to go in and just disrupt all of these guys that have been servicing these buildings.
I don't think that's a great idea. There, they have the relationships, they know what they're doing. These, these are smart guys that have businesses that they've built over 20, 30 years. The way to do this is to give these people the tools and frameworks to innovate and to provide innovative software solutions or, service contracts.
Um, so that's where, you know, digital twins for me come in to be that basis of everything. cause when you catalog. And make a 3d representation of the, of your asset that you're dealing with and ingest all of that dynamic and static data and the things, you end up with the foundation to be able to provide all those future, solutions and services that then all these existing vendors can, can start to leverage and benefit not only themselves, but also their customers.
James Dice: [00:24:50] Yeah, we made it almost a half hour without talking about digital twins. I want to pause on that real quick though and go back to the service. So I think there's been in sort of the nexus community and some in my writing, other podcasts. We've been talking about this, this like new service contract.
Right. And so if I can just summarize it right. There's you have your service contract and that was built on a certain number of hours, right. I'm going to go to the site, certain number of truck rolls. I'm going to do a certain number of checks. Right. and what we've talked about, is the new service contract, which is I'm going to have some sort of.
Remote analysis happening. Right? Maybe I got a really smart tech back at the office. He's got access to some monitoring software. I'm actually just waiting until something is going wrong. Now set PM's aside. You got to do your PMs, but like, yeah. The service side of things is when stuff needs to be serviced, then I will roll the truck.
Right. So there's the savings and labor savings. And, will just providing better service. Right. And then there's also the savings from less catastrophic failures, like things like that. So what we're really talking about is a new, entirely new way of doing things. To me, it. It was all sort of labor base before.
And so now it's like a new sort of business model. Now it's labor plus software. Right. And that has a new value. And so how are you seeing the. Like, this is really a business model transformation as well, or we're digitizing something that wasn't digital. So how are you seeing like service providers out there that are doing this really well already?
How are you seeing them sort of make that transition?
Josh Adams: [00:26:31] No, for me, I see it as, as a must, right? Like in a natural progression, they things. Um, there's massive efficiencies and benefits for their customer, from getting that service in that way. but also for the companies themselves, do you know how many buildings somebody could service remotely without having to travel to each one, check into the building.
Locate what they, they have to get to, to actually, uh, service the building. maybe the guy isn't there to let them into the room. There's all kinds of issues that come up with that that are just inefficient ways of doing things. So, this whole business model idea, I see it as something that's.
Inherently going to happen. And, and a lot of these vendors should be excited to adopt new ways of working for this. Cause they're only going to benefit from it. And at the end of the day, the customers are going to benefit from having better working products and to receive the service at a much faster pace, you know, even when you consider customers that, that service their own buildings largely, and they just leveraged service contracts or vendors to kind of assist them.
We're we're going into a period within an infrastructure where over the next 10, 15 years, there's going to be a massive skills shortage to where these customers are going to need more help, which means you're going to have to provide more support and service. Now, are you going to hire another 10, 15 guys and just.
Load up manpower on these sites, or should you leverage technology to be able to use one guy to service more sites, by leveraging software tools. And, and my argument would be do the more efficient thing because everybody's going to benefit out of that. What about
James Dice: [00:28:08] price? So if I make that transition from old way, new way, now I'm adding this fixed cost, which is like an annual SAS fee.
Am I then able to try to eat that as a service provider and just assume that I'm going to have provided better service and therefore it's worth higher value. Or am I pricing that in for the building owner? How are you thinking about that? Or how are these guys thinking about that?
Josh Adams: [00:28:34] The cool thing about, technology and software is that there's services that you can build up on top of that.
So where It may be where you have to justify, okay. The customer maybe wants a discount because you're not sending somebody there every day and you're using a software product. Well, you actually are going to be able to provide more software solutions on top of those service contracts then.
So my argument would really be, there's added value in additional solutions that we'll be able to bolt on top of a traditional service contract. that becomes very attractive for a end customer. so guys that are concerned that they're going to lose revenue, or they have to reduce their service contracts costs.
By moving to this new model, I would argue that you're only opening a new sales channel for yourself by moving to this model. And you're actually going to increase your revenue on a service standpoint over time by bolting on additional products and services to this offer. so I think that that's, something that really should be looked at, you know, there's all kinds of things that you can do with a building today to increase those service contracts.
And they are human to stay in efficient to keep my contract value. The same, seems crazy because efficiency does always win out. Technology is always advancing and inherently the most efficient solution is going to win over time. Totally.
James Dice: [00:29:54] How about from the owner's perspective? How, how are you seeing this play out from, from their perspective?
Josh Adams: [00:30:00] So from their perspective, I mean, largely I think that they're going to benefit and they liked the idea of having an enhanced service and making sure that they are getting a higher level of service for everything that they're doing. You know, when I talk about our skill shortage, that is a very real thing where.
These, these people that manage buildings, they're not going to have the same labor pool, to be able to hire from, to manage all their assets that they have. So they're going to be looking to service providers to help offset that and be their trusted advisors. to help offset the reduction in labor that they're going to force.
You know, when you have a guy that has been in the building for 20 years, let's say, and he knows where everything is. He can find it, all these services that himself, well, what happens when he retires now, you know where you're going to hire somebody to just pick up all that knowledge, you know, that's where, again, you, you just keep coming back to software to, to catalog that knowledge.
To hire on, uh, service providers that can really help you through that transition to those new models. And then ultimately there's new solutions and services that you'll be able to put on top of that to, only enhance the customer experience at the end of the day. Cool.
James Dice: [00:31:11] So before we get to digital twins and I'm just like delaying, delaying us that topic because, want it grounded in reality, before we get into like, You know, demystifying the buzzword a little bit, but before we get into it, I wanted to ask, so, okay, now I have the software layer, right.
And I'm using that software layer to provide better service and knock down the silos. Right. So I'm assuming we're connecting the silos with that software layer as well. So what do you imagine would happen to then all of those siloed service contracts or. Ways of doing service. Right. Are they all, like you mentioned, partnerships, does the software provider then partner with each one, each service provider that was providing the silo?
Or like, how are you thinking about that?
Josh Adams: [00:31:59] Yeah. So these, these software contracts, they're not going away. I wouldn't say that, but you're still gonna need people that go to the sites. there's going to be situations where you have to dispatch somebody to a site. And these trusted vendors know these sites.
They have the customer relationships, they have the product access to supply the materials that are needed. So I would say that those service contracts aren't going away. And, this is where I, I keep looking at the industry and say, okay, customers, whether you know it or not want a higher level of service, they're not getting their buildings to run efficiently today.
They'd need that. The help to really help manage these assets in a much more efficient way, especially with these things like skill shortages and labor shortages that they have. So I see these, these service contracts largely staying the way that they are. From a labor, providing an end product, supply standpoint, but they roll up into a tool that manages the entire process.
And from that, that's where you get the efficiencies. That's where you get the benefits from the customers. And on the other side of the service providers. so yet to answer the question, I don't see them going anywhere. Uh, the labor is still going to be needed on site today. you're going to have instances where you have to dispatch somebody to change a valve or to change a VAV controller.
Um, but the software is only going to enhance that and make it a much smoother and easier experience for all involved. Interesting. Cool.
James Dice: [00:33:26] Hey guys, just another quick note from our sponsor nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.
This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the email@example.com lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview.
Josh Adams: [00:34:01] All
James Dice: [00:34:01] right. Now let's talk about digital twins.
Josh Adams: [00:34:03] Uh,
James Dice: [00:34:05] so the reason I've been delaying it is cause I've recently learned that there's a large subset of This community, but then in the wider buildings, community, that just sort of scoffs at the term.
Um, everyone knows unbeliever pretty much through and through, but. How do you define it? I guess is the inevitable question. How do you define digital twins and how do you guys kind of think about the concept, differently if it's not already obvious, but you know, the last 30
Josh Adams: [00:34:33] minutes got it. So digital twins to me is a 3d as accurate as possible model of infrastructure, that integrates to software services.
Um, that includes dynamic and static data. so I would say to sum up that it's a 3d model that's spatially accurate that has, static and dynamic capabilities and, integration capabilities into that. And the important thing for me, when, when I look at what a digital twin is, is that it's as accurate as possible.
Meaning that it's a living document or a living kind of asset registry of, the space itself. And that's really what a digital twin is at its core. So when you look at, Making a digital twin of a building, for instance, um, on the construction site, it's very easy to look at, okay. Through the BIM model process, it creates that 3d model.
There's the integration portion. You can integrate all of the data that you need, static and dynamic and provide an operator interface for the access to all that information. On an existing building. It's a little more difficult. How are you going to build out this digital twin? You're going to tear down the walls and figure out what's behind it, or how do you tell, do you have an echo?
Are you going to get down to the screw sizes on things? And I think people get lost in the detail of it because at the end of the day, digital twins are as accurate as you need them to be. And what digital twins really are, is a framework and a software approach to building that foundation and allowing you.
To catalog all those assets and bring everything into one place to then build on top of. So, whereas, you know, for a lot of our customers today, have a focus on their HPAC systems to start. So everything that we do is HPAC related and we're starting to look at, you know, expanding out to their electrical systems and that sort of thing.
But we make digital additions to the model and bring in integrations of data based on what the customer actually needs today. While giving them the framework to build on top of that, to include things like pipe sizes and pipe material, and the fluid of, of what's in that pipe and duct sizes, because ultimately the more information that you put into it and build into this asset registry.
You're setting yourself up for all those weigh out their future ideas of, you know, AI running a building and simulating different aspects in a building because you need that information to be able to do so. You need to know how big a pipe is or what the material is of that pipe. You need to know the size of the walls and the materials of the walls and those core pieces of information ultimately will lead to being leveraged in a greater way down the line.
James Dice: [00:37:17] Totally. Yeah, I like that definition for people that, that, that still doesn't drive at home enough for them. I think it's beautiful. The way this conversation has kind of flowed, because now we can tie it back to our earlier conversation and talk about, a use case that like really shows the value of it.
Right? So you talked about changing a valve, I explained to me the value of static and dynamic data and this 3d model, when you have a digital twin versus when you're providing just the normal service, of a leaky valve or a broken valve.
Josh Adams: [00:37:51] So I'll start with the normal service. Um, today you have basically, there's two sets of information with that valve.
you have what you have on the building automation system, and then you have it, what you have in. The documentation and what the mechanical contractor actually provided, which those are two separate workflows and work streams, which a lot of people don't think of it like that, but that is the reality.
So ends up happening there is that today, if you have an issue with a valve and you need it replaced, it's first off you, you questioned who do I call? You need to figure out who you're going to call for it. And then you need to know what's the size of that valve. What's the make and model of that valve.
Why did the valve break and what's wrong with the valve now. And, and to do that, that today is an incredibly labor intensive process. One, you have to ensure that your legacy BMS system was actually trending the data on that valve in the first place, which oftentimes it is not being trended. You basically with a legacy BMS system today.
You have to go out there and have the foresight and forethought to trend all these different data points that in anticipation of something going wrong, which never happens. No. Um, so, so there's that aspect of it. And then you have the, the HPAC side of. Okay. What is this actual valve and anybody that tells me that after 20 years of that valve being in there, that they know exactly what the make and model is and size of that valve is I find it hard to believe because that is a it's all paper documentation.
If you even get that documentation at the end of the day, it's often lost through time. And then on top of that, this leaky valve, you also need to know the location of it, which can be a pain when you're in these different rooms and maybe there's sheet rock over it. It could be a variety of issues on that.
So that's how it's done today is where, if I do know about the issue and I do know the location of it, which often people don't even know that the valve is even there. So they don't know the location of it. They don't know that it's an issue. but if I do. and I know who to call because often the BMS guy gets called because he identified that there's some valve issue, but it's really the HPAC guy, the mechanical contractor that has to replace it.
So if I know who to call on it as well, then I'll call this guy to come out. He'll have to find the valve. He'll have to locate what's wrong with it. He'll have to figure out what the part numbers are and what the make and model of the valve is. And then he'll have to order it. And then he'll have to come back out and replace it when the order comes in.
And it's just, just this entire mess of a work stream that is entirely way too labor intensive. And then you forgot about the same price
James Dice: [00:40:34] what's in the service contract and what's not right. So then if something's not included, then I'm going into some sort of procurement process, which is different for every building, right.
Yeah. There's the layers of this. Yeah,
Josh Adams: [00:40:46] absolutely. Oh, a hundred percent because, Oh, it turns out that this valve is actually, you're not covered in your service contract or we don't, we don't supply it anymore. Right. And you know, that's a whole issue there. So when you talk about digital twins, it's, it's really, the core is a living asset registry and the digital twin part that people actually interact with is just a UI.
And it gives you and feeds that information up to you in a nice, easy way. So. The new way that that should be approached with that is, is having all that information ready. So if you know what the valve is, you know, the location of the valve, you have the documentation of the valve and you, know, who installed it and who you need to call.
Think of the amount of time that you can save just, from a customer standpoint, to then execute on servicing that valve and getting it replaced. And that's not even, that's just from looking at it when you notice that there's something wrong with the valve, just having that data at your fingertips makes that entire process very, very less labor intensive than what it is today, which is a huge benefit for customers.
But taking it one step further and leveraging not just the static data that we're talking about, but also leveraging the dynamic data that legacy systems already provide like the BMS system. Um, you know, the whole concept of a digital twin is to constantly be trending all points in the system, regardless of, what it is.
You don't. Need to have that forethought of setting up a point for trending and think, Oh gosh, this valve is leaking. I wish I would have set up a trend 15 years ago or whatever for it. you have that rate at your fingertips at all times. So now you can actually identify what these issues are and get them resolved.
So there's, there's a huge amount of waste and things. And when it comes to that sort of thing, and there's lots of service providers out there that provide analytics too. Be able to identify those issues. And again, digital twins come, come to mind when you're looking to merge all of those things and stakeholders and solutions together into one to really provide a place to leverage the data in one place.
That's really what a digital twin to me is. Now let's talk
James Dice: [00:42:51] about analytics for a second. So continuing on our example of the valve, right? So, let's pretend that we got a call about the valve, but really with analytics, actually, we could probably see something's wrong before we get a call. Right. But let's pretend that we, now have fixed it right.
Well, now we can use analytics possibly to see whether that problem went away. Right. Um, if we have some sort of supervisor control from the digital twin, we can now start to stroke the valve to make sure that it's working properly, things like that. Right. So there's this extra layer on top of even the digital twin that can be provided.
Uh, is that kinda what you guys are thinking as well as sort of like taking that to the next level?
Josh Adams: [00:43:32] A hundred percent. It all starts with getting all the data together. But, the supervisory control is really interesting and that's a kind of a, an approach that we're even taking within our platform and it's allowing users and, and software to be able to control different things.
So, yeah, definitely. That's, that's a whole other advantage there to be able to, um, remotely check and control the system to see, okay, was this issue actually fixed? I can now just stroke that valve back and forth. I'm getting the proper feedback. I know that that's working. and that, there's a huge benefit to that.
Now, when you take that a step further and you want to automate something like that and have a system or a software solution, just automate all, all those data, points it again, just starts with normalizing and getting that data into one place. But, I've yet to see a single solution that can do it for.
all these different siloed aspects. Cause even what we're talking about now is just BMS and a building is, is not just BMS. It's fire alarm, it's lighting, it's power equipment. it's electrical breakers. It's all kinds of different things. And there's not a single legacy system out there today that can bring all of that data into one place for all these types of systems.
And, and that's where people, I think they, they get caught up on. Oh, how am I going to build a digital twin down to figuring out what screws are in the wall? It's cause it's not that you don't need to know what type of screw is in the wall. That's not the most immediate thing today, right? It's providing that ecosystem and that place to converge everything together, to set yourself up for all these ideas and, and all these services and solutions.
James Dice: [00:45:06] And anyone who reads, reads my work knows that that supervisory control aspect, I think there's so much opportunity there for just doing that better than each of the individual silos is doing. so we don't need to get into that today. People can go down that rabbit hole on nexus. Tell me, tell me about, uh, Pebble, and how you guys have sort of approach building the platform.
Pebble is the animated insights, digital twin product. So tell us about that.
Josh Adams: [00:45:38] So, so pebble, we've taken a unique approach on things. Um, you know, there's, again, there's a lot of. Marketing around this. And there's some products that claim to be a digital twin, but are they really? And there's some that definitely are, but they focus on a section of the business.
That's largely just construction driven. So what we did is we took an operations first approach. You know, this is the longest life cycle that a building is in. So we put a lot of development into how do you interact with this data and how can you leverage all of this? During the operation of a building to get the most benefit and provide that ecosystem for it.
So we took kind of a, an Apple TV kind of approach to things where we partnered with and, we integrated with a lot of these legacy systems providers to bring all their data to the forefront and pair it with a spatial 3d model that's accurate. And provide that framework to build that asset registry out with everything and that one unified, layer to, to interact with all this data and integrate it and see it all in one place.
But we also have the ability to then, Go into the, the, behind the scenes. So these legacy systems, providers, every single one of them have their own UI. They have their own platform. They have, um, you know, things that you can only do on that, or they might make sense to only do on that. you know, for instance, to program a VHB box, there's not going to be a platform that is going to program the internal static control sequencing.
For a Schneider VAV and a Johnson VAV, and a Siemens VAV, they've already solved that problem. So we don't need to be out there rebuilding the wheel for that. Um, so what we do is we bring that all up to the forefront, but then just like kind of what an Apple TV does allow you access through our platform to get to the proprietary systems underneath as well, which I think that's a very unique approach to things and.
our overall approach from an operational standpoint and a servicing standpoint, has resulted in a product that really works well for the users of the building and the occupants of the dove and at the end of the day, which is really the ultimate goal. so yeah, very on demand centric and, very integration focused on that as well.
Got it. And
James Dice: [00:47:49] so, tell me about the integration approach a little bit more. So the user experiences are like Apple TV, but when you're integrating with these systems, how are you actually integrating with each silo?
Josh Adams: [00:48:01] So it's largely up to the, and this is where I keep coming back to partnerships.
Partnerships are key in this industry key, but what you'll find is actually a lot of, Platforms and products out there they're open to integration. They just want to retain ownership of their product and what their product does core really, really well. Okay. so what we do is we partner with, various companies to enhance their products and, and, uh, to be able to get their data into one place.
So it can be leveraged across the board with a lot of different things while providing their access to their proprietary systems underneath. So we do this through a variety of different API APIs and then deep level custom integrations that we do with various partners to where, we work with them hand in hand and develop a method of integration to where when we integrate to their product, it shows up in a kind of a way that they would expect and want to see within the unified UI, um, and pull and they'll allow us access to, to integrate certain, pieces of data that are very important for our customer to.
Have right at their fingertips within that unified UI or to be able to be leveraged across different other silos. but again, A lot of these products, they, they retain that proprietary side of their product behind the scenes. for that core functionality of whatever their product might do. Um, take like an analytics platform, for instance, we've integrated to various analytics platforms where a lot of the key outputs of their analytics, we bring up to the forefront and layer that in with the, the unified UI and put it at the fingertips of the customer.
while backing out with the spatially intelligent model so that they can take that data and really apply it to that the real world space there. But, with a lot of these analytics, there's much more detailed and rich data that resides within those, proprietary platforms down to individual points, being measured to get that output.
you know, charts and graphs second back that up. And, and that's where we do these deep level integrations to allow customers the access to that, if they need that access. Cool. So
James Dice: [00:50:02] there's an aspect of this, and people have a hard time with the word platform in our industry.
it's very difficult to pin down what people mean when they say platform, they'll say analytics platform, controls platform, you know, digital twin platform. It seems like to me, there's a platform play here too. And what I mean by platform is that there's a new way of sort of doing business. You're bringing all these different stakeholders together and they're using the tool to.
Do workflows that they used to do outside of the tool. So they're coming together right. Doing it all in one place. so you mentioned analytics, so that, that would be something that was sort of sit on top of the digital twin platform. So you, you pull the data out of the silos, you send the data to the analytics software and the analytics software sends you back an analytical result.
Right. So how are you guys thinking about sort of developing that sort of. Like you said ecosystem as the platform where the data sits.
Josh Adams: [00:51:01] Yeah. So for us, it's, um, it comes down to partnerships. So with, with strong partners, you're able to, to work together and to integrate these things in unique and creative ways.
Um, without putting these product owners at risk or fear that all you're, you're taking away from my product or you're encroaching on my space. So really for us, what we do is we've got, some pretty great integration, tools and, and a framework that allows us to do these integrations in a very unique way, but a very fast way, which is kind of another benefit to everybody involved today.
If you want to integrate something to a BMS system, for instance, uh, the tools are there to do it kind of. But at the same point, it, it takes an incredible amount of labor to do this stuff. So, you know, over the last. 20 years when we went from, you know, pneumatics to DDC controls. and now we're, we're trying to get to that next level.
What things, everything was very labor intensive because with new technologies that often is it just how things go and evolve. but we're getting to a point now where if you choose not to use legacy systems for integration, which they were not designed to do, they were designed to control things.
if you choose not to do that, and you say, okay, let's take a new approach to this. And you take a software based approach, a software development approach to it. You can, you can get this done a lot faster. You know, we, we develop everything that we do at animated insights, with an agile approach to where we're come instantly taking feedback and immediately able to.
Turn on a diamond and develop in that way. And, uh, software development today is so much faster than even it was, you know, 15 years ago, you, you can develop an application, easily, you know? Yes, this is probably why you see all these different startups popping up, literally everywhere for. Disappearing pictures, this and disappearing pictures that, so, I, I think that's a very unique take on things.
And when you start looking at a software first approach to these integrations, you can really get pretty creative with it.
James Dice: [00:53:07] What about the business side of the platform? So if I have all these people that are providing these service contracts, just for instance, in these different silos and now their workflows are all in the digital twin.
there an opportunity to then, like we talked about earlier, there's the next step of procurement of the valve that wasn't included in the contract? Is there a way to sort of, maybe this is a future thing that you're hoping to get to, but this is where I think I hope to see the digital twin world go, which is all of everyone's engaging in the twin.
And that has the workflows that sort of, like you said earlier, streamlined things. So if. You know, if that Val wasn't part of the service contract, could there be a way to facilitate the bidding out of that work that happens next. Right. and, and sort of bring these, um, I don't even know what to call it.
Like become the place where the work gets done. Right. whereas right now it's more about, you know, logging in to the twins, seeing it, but then going into doing the work. Elsewhere. Right. I'm going to go over to my procurement software or whatever, and do that work over there. Right. And so is there an opportunity to sort of play out that piece of the platform?
Josh Adams: [00:54:21] So I'll tell you, this is that this is where we go back to the ecosystem on things. You're not going to send your procurement guide, your BMS system to figure out which valves he should be buying. It's just not going to happen. Right? So again, with a digital twin kind of software approach, you can. Segment how users interact and see that data based on their profile.
So if you have a procurement agent that needs a very specific information on valve quantities and data for that, it's very easy to serve that up and send that out to another procurement software. For them to do the older and in that software or to develop an application that actually sits and resides within the digital twin platform itself.
Um, largely I think it's much easier to just integrate to procurement softwares that are being in place today and serve up the data for them to then, leverage and make their purchasing decisions. But, uh, another core aspect of this is that when you go to purchase something today, if I wanted to replace all the steam valves in my building today, I have to go locate them all.
I have to count them all. I have to figure out which types that need to be replaced with it. What's the make and model. They're the size of it. And all that information is not there today. So if you have that in an asset register straight, where you can easily serve that information up to a procurement software to then do the purchasing of that, um, again, it's, it saves you a lot of labor on that.
And what I would say is I take that one step further, where customers. Can ultimately benefit, from an economies of scale kind of negotiation practice with that. Imagine if I have a hundred buildings and I want to buy all of my steam valves, I want to upgrade all my steam valves that are out there.
And I want to negotiate a single price of Siemens. To do that today. I can't even imagine the task like that. I wouldn't want that job, but if you have the framework in place and you have the software that can bring all that in and serve it up to a purchasing procurement agent to, to be able to then leverage and, and have those conversations with vendors, uh, the customer benefits and on the flip side of that, the vendors benefit too, because they want to sell you more valves.
They want you to get the most efficient products, the latest and greatest things that they're developing. And some of it is very efficient. they have no reason to not switch over to these products other than not knowing that they could be doing so. And you know, these vendors have the opportunity then also to, bring these kinds of conversations up with their customers.
Hey, you have 500 steam valves that are 30 years old. Our research shows that most of them are probably in an efficient, and that's even if you don't have analytics already telling you that, right, then they can have that conversation with the customer to say, Hey, I'll, I'll give you a price to upgrade all of these valves.
And here's where they all are. We already have all the information. Here's this negotiated price at this, and we'll get started on it right away.
James Dice: [00:57:12] Yeah, I think, I, I think that piece of a digital twin has so much room to grow. I mean, nobody is really talking about that aspect of it at this point. Um, so my other question around digital twins in this, the valve thing reminds me when you were talking about, you know, I have 500 steam valves, I'm picturing like a, a database query, like show me all the steam valve.
Right. so I'm wondering, you said you have a CTO from the FinTech world. I'm wondering what the FinTech CTO thinks of the data modeling, ontology Wars we have going on right now in this industry. And I'm also wondering from your perspective of sort of coming from, you know, the OEMs who have really been quite slow to adopt open data standards.
Right? So. How are you guys thinking about like open data and, ontologies as you build out the digital twin and the data model for it?
Josh Adams: [00:58:04] So, so I'll say two things. I can't speak for him, but one of the things that I've noticed for him is that first off working in a FinTech, kind of environment everything's virtual.
Infrastructure is inherently physical. So knowing where things are and integrating with things on that level is extremely important. and that's where digital twins come in for the spatial representation. But the other side of it on the ontology side is, yeah, it is a bit of a mess out there. You have.
haystack, you have brick, you have various different communication protocols that are legacy. and, and the way that we approach it today is to where we have our own ontology internally, that, we've developed to easily integrate everything and then serve up this information through an API.
Which is the most generic way to integrate software today and the easiest, honestly. but we also have the capabilities to ingest and tag data and these other ontologies. You know, to be able to tag that in haystack or brick or to just serve things up and just back net RA back net data. Um, so I think it's important to be able to, at this point in time, consider the whole mix of everything and you need to support the whole ecosystem because the industry doesn't know really where it's going, but at the end of the day, I think we feel it's going to be on a more API driven kind of future that we're getting to.
you know, the normalization of that data that can be normalized in a variety of, of these things.
James Dice: [00:59:28] Okay, cool. So when you're, when you partner with say an analytics company, how do you then tell them here's how I'm giving the data to you? How does that sort of discussion work with
Josh Adams: [00:59:38] the, with the platform?
So it's, it's largely a conversation. you know, a lot of companies are building their applications on Azure today. So it's very easy just to send things right over the cloud to each other. Um, APIs are, very easy to interact with, you know, different, systems and everything. it's very efficient that way, as far as if somebody needs haystack tag data, or they need Brip tag data, it's, it's really, what do you need?
Whatever you need, we'll, we'll tag it as such and send it out to you. And that's kind of the approach that we take to the situation, because there are so many different companies that are using so many different standards and eventually it'll get to a point where it's a more API driven thing, but today, uh, we need to focus more on, supporting the entire ecosystem.
James Dice: [01:00:27] Yeah, totally cool. Um, So as we wrap up here, what are you excited about for 2021,
Josh Adams: [01:00:35] 2021? Um, So I would say I'm excited to, the biggest thing I'm excited about is probably the infrastructure package that's supposed to be coming out. There's a very key part of Biden, our new president, his proposal, that specifically related to buildings and renewables.
I think that's going to drive a huge portion of the industry. You know, COVID 19 has hit. our infrastructure space so hard this past year to where, you know, especially from a construction standpoint, you know, New York city, I saw 20% drop in permits being pulled for this new year. That's a 20% drop in the largest construction or one of the largest construction markets in the world, which is a really concerning thing for myself and others in this industry.
So I I'd have to say the most exciting thing on I'm really looking forward to hear the details on is the infrastructure package, especially as it relates to buildings as there's a very specific section of it, that's dedicated towards that. But my hope is that it's going to drive a lot of HVAC, upgrades that are more efficient window upgrades, that are more efficient.
And if there is by chance, any, um, any specific data. Kind of things in there to leverage data and software technologies for it. I'd be very excited to see. Cool.
James Dice: [01:01:54] Yeah. I'm excited about that too. I went, I went down a deep rabbit hole the other day, just kind of getting ready for the inauguration. I was like, what does this mean for us right now?
Uh, I'm, I'm working on a, an essay soon to kind of translate it. but hopefully we'll see more details on the plan, and the next couple of weeks and months. So cool. Josh, Joshua, thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for, uh, this unique approach to digital
Josh Adams: [01:02:15] twins. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me.
James Dice: [01:02:21] All right, friends. Thanks for listening to this episode of the nexus podcast for more episodes like this, and to get the weekly nexus newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry. Please firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.