43 min read

🎧 #077: Jon McFarlane on an open source building operating system and enabling true automation

“You can build anything on top and change things rapidly. Because of the platform business model, there's an ecosystem, so things are continuously evolving."

—Jon McFarlane

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Episode 77 is a conversation with Jon McFarlane, co-founder and CEO of PlaceOS, a software platform that enables smarter buildings and experiences.


We talked about what PlaceOS is up to today, like enabling smarter workplaces for enterprise tenants around the world.

We also unpacked where they're headed tomorrow, which is a fascinating story - they're developing an ecosystem of partners around their software platform to enable workflow automation and control in much more than just our workplaces. And they're doing it with an open source business model.

Without further ado, please enjoy the Nexus podcast with Jon MacFarlane.

  1. PlaceOS (0:35)
  2. Stephen Von Takach (8:30)
  3. Mike Brooman (10:40)
  4. QuayPay (10:53)
  5. Monster Lab (41:27)
  6. Webex (42:36)

You can find Jon on LinkedIn.



  • Founding story of PlaceOS (4:32)
  • Other industries besides office that are being disrupted by the internet (8:25)
  • What is PlaceOS? (13:00)
  • Platform approach - what is a platform (29:44)
  • Why open source? (35:27)
  • Hot takes on LinkedIn (43:36)

Music credit: Dream Big by Audiobinger—licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Full transcript

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: 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.

James Dice: This episode is a conversation with Jon McFarlane co-founder and CEO of PlaceOS, a software platform that enables smarter buildings and experiences. We talked about what PlaceOS is up to today, like enabling smarter workplaces for enterprise tenants around the world. We also unpacked where they're headed tomorrow, which is a fascinating story, in my opinion. They're developing an ecosystem of partners around their software platform to enable workflow automation and control. And much more than just our workplaces [00:01:00] and they're doing it with an open source business model. Without further ado, please enjoy the nexus podcast with Jon McFarlane.

Hello, John, welcome to the show. Can you introduce your.

Jon McFarlane: Hi, James. Thanks for having me on the show. I've been listening for a long time, but I'm just John McFarlane. I'm the co-founder and CEO of PlaceOS a smart building integration platform, a platform is the key word, and I hope that's something we can dive deep on today.


James Dice: that's one of my favorite topics. Well at first I want to start with your background. Can we do that? I read on your LinkedIn profile as I do that you are a hobbyist musician. What does that mean?

Jon McFarlane: I think that's a nice way of, of saying I'm a failed musician. I think I haven't met anyone in, in the smart building or you know, audio visual or IOT landscape that had a clear pathway to get there.

it's following opportunity. And, and for me it started with music. So music got me into audio engineering, audio engineering got me into [00:02:00] software. And software, it got me into what I'm doing today. And I went all the way with audio production, into studying architectural acoustics, which I guess got me into the building industry as well.

So, I studied at the faculty of architecture in Sydney university. So at the same time I was, I was learning about software, learning about interface, doing cool subjects at the faculty of architecture that it was sort of what's the, how do we challenge the interface of the building when we're designing brand new buildings and how does audio play a part in, in the interface of a building?

So that, so that study that I ended up doing became very relevant by accident. I didn't then plan to have this career that I've I've had. But I do reflect quite often on my, on my university because there's so many relevant things that we're doing back then. Back in 2006 or something like that that I'm, I'm still like learning about today.

And, and the key topic there for me is, is always challenging the interface. And as someone that started a company, that's focusing on the platform and not really any particular app or interface [00:03:00] I'm always thinking about that. How do we how do we interact with the building or with technology with.

Without the traditional methods. And I, some of the experiments I did at university related to music. So I back to this hobbyist musician thing I had a sound installation artwork where I took away all the black and white notes of the piano which is basically the interface of a piano. And I did this with a team.

We added solenoids to, to each string of the piano. So there's like these sort of electronic pulses that construct the string, hooked that up to an, a Draino board and hook that up to a webcam. So the interface now became gesture. So you, you sort of danced in front of the piano and it responds to you and that sort of artistic experiment is something, yeah, I reflect on quite a lot because I'm like, what happens if we just rethink the traditional interface of the, of the piano in that case?

Uh, The, the keys, the white and black keys data, yet notes on the keyboard. How did, how can you apply that to like a commercial landscape? How do [00:04:00] we rethink the interface rethink the way we interact with things? So long way to say that's, that's what I mean by hobbyist musician.

James Dice: Yeah. Fascinating. Well, I want to circle back a little bit later on the interface piece. So after university, you, you kind of went into audio visual it sounds like after that, is that true?

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. I sort of never left the uni for a while, so I finished my degree there and and then I got a job at Sydney University and that job was in the audio visual department.

So my job was really designing and project managing technology in lecture theaters, and seminar rooms, and teaching spaces. And at the time the university and all universities were going through this transition of what is the purpose of our teaching spaces if we can have our lessons online?

So the trend was the acronym was MOOT, a massive online open teaching. And that was challenging everything. So, in a similar way that workplaces going through a similar transition on rethinking the purpose of the space will rethinking the purpose of [00:05:00] the physical teaching spaces.

And first, we enabled them to be all of them to be sort of record enabled so you can record your lectures and get them online. But there was a shift from big lectures, lecture style theaters, to smaller spaces because the smaller spaces were more relevant. If you can do the big courses online.

So you're coming to campus for collaboration, you're coming to campus for smaller tutorials, not for the lecture, not for the psychology 101 lecture that you've done online. So I, I learn a lot there and it's where I met my co-founder, Stephen Von Takach. So we both worked in the same department.

He was, he was literally like writing the software to manage some of these things. And I was scoping and designing solutions around his software. So we started a business to do exactly the same thing. But not just University of Sydney, for other universities initially, and for automation in spaces.

So our, our sort of first business was focused on on audio visual control. And it was sort of lucky for us that [00:06:00] we used a certain technology stack that allowed us to scale this to other areas. So it was all web-based it was all server-based and that allowed us to follow other opportunities that came up and, and quickly realized that audio visual control is very niche.

And there was a larger market for us in in the general building. If we just zoom out of the room to the floor, to the building, to the campus or to the precinct we sort of followed that naturally. So each project we did seem to get bigger and less about the room and more about the larger space.

James Dice: Got it. Okay. And then have that kind of flow into PlaceOS then, right?

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. I would say that the early days for these were sort of, we're still doing a lot of audio visual, we're doing specialty spaces. Sydney opera house was a client of ours. That was really cool. So, we did some audio visual control for them and digital signage for them.

And you know, that was a great project because we're backstage at the Opera House and got to see, you know, the inner workings of such a cool [00:07:00] venue. But there's not many venues like that. So, you know, once we did the new Opera House we also to Sydney Convention Center. That was our local market done.

Like we had no one else to sell to. So we went back to the drawing board and thought, well, what, what should our business be? And what should we focus on? We were a very small team at the time then there's like three or four of us and we're like, we can't do everything. We can't just keep working on project by project.

We want to be a product company. So we, we set out to, to do so and, and PlaceOS is the result of that. And it was really a step back from specific projects to letting others decide what they want to use our platform for. We, we still have a natural trend in the workplace tenancy.

We still do a little bit of audio visual, not, not a lot. Just when it relates to meeting rooms we can automate the meeting room. Now where, like the OS could stand for operating system, it could stand for open source, it could stand for open standards because we're trying to allow others to build their own products ontop.

That's the journey we've been on from building our own control system for a teaching space, to [00:08:00] working out that there's a larger market for such technology, and to really embrace the platform in both technology and business process and business model to sell a platform that allows others to create their own value.

James Dice: Totally.

That's fascinating.

The aspect that you said around the educational space evolving and now office is going through the same evolution, that's so interesting to think about. I feel like I haven't yet, you know, office is obviously forefront in this industry's mind, right now and how much things are changing there.

But obviously there are other times the internet has disrupted other types of buildings. And that's, that's fascinating to think


Jon McFarlane: Yeah, it's quite a unique perspective if you've worked in the university sector because it feels familiar. I don't know how long it has been since you went to university or had anything to do with university but like online learning was pretty innovative in that space. So in the same way that today, now a lot of meetings are all online. We were doing [00:09:00] courses through Coursera and universities have their own platforms for this for a very long time. And there's actually been other startups out of Australia that that were part of that story.

And that's great. It's great to see innovation coming out of my local market. A company called like Topia that was acquired by a us company that made it easy to automate the recordings of lectures. once you get lectures online, rethinking well, why do people come to campus?

And it's more about experience and this is exactly what workplace is going through. Like people are coming to the campus for experience. Everything's becoming more about experience. And I'm saying this across other verticals as well, like retail, you know, retail is not dead. Online sales might be up, but people still like that personalized experience or seeing an expert install or having something curated because you can't just throw a catalog of products online and hope to find the best one.

If you go to a retail store, it's curated for the market. So, it's, it's just something it's everyone goes through the same thing and I like this about my personal journey and also [00:10:00] just the fact that we're a platform is that we can learn things from one industry vertical and apply it to the other.

Or just, you know, see opportunities that maybe other people don't see because we've had that unique experience, that accidental experience I'd say.

James Dice: Absolutely. Yeah, another one that I thought of that we don't have to dive into is healthcare, it seems like as the healthcare space digitizes and goes remote and all that, it seems like hospitals, which is a type of building that I've spent a lot of time in and it seems like that's going to change as well, if it hasn't already.

So what's another thing I noticed on your LinkedIn profile. First of all I wanted to say, you're not the only guests in the show that has gone from V into more general smart buildings. So Mike Brooman, who's CEO of Vanti in the UK, who you might have run into out there, he's been on the show and they made that same progression, you know, starting, starting small on a conference room and, and into more general technology.

So what's QuayPay, I noticed that on their LinkedIn profile.

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. So, so, this is a company it's essentially something we're [00:11:00] promoting together with, with PlaceOS and so we pronounce a (key-pay) QuayPay and the, the key part, we founded this business, Steve and I in circular key in Sydney. So key is, is like, as in like where boat stock, you know, QuayPay is.

Uh, A lot of our projects started to have payments included and embedded payments is still difficult to do. It's getting easy with platforms like Stripe but we were looking to embed payments into the physical space. So that's essentially what key pay is. It allows you to have automatic transactions and, and essentially like a a digital wallet that could also be your access card that could also be your employee rewards and points system or could even be like an internal currency of, of, of points.

So it's, it's essentially an API that we roll out and package with play. So S and w when we do so we call it workplace wallet. But it's also a standalone API that anyone can use on their own their own projects. So, so payment was just a, another sort of opportunity we saw. If we just combine this with our platform, we can enable things quite easily.

And [00:12:00] one of the easy things there is. Plus the west features off the shelf and add payments. You can pay for space in real time. So if you if we validate a payment source, we could literally then unlock a door. So, PlaceOS, it can communicate to any base building access control system trigger the open command only if the payment's been validated.

So that means you could have ad hoc bookings and payments all in one workflow. And that could be anything from, you know, paying to access a locker, paying to access a room, paying to access car parking. I'll describe it as a trick up our sleeve that we can apply to our.

James Dice: Got it.

Super interesting. All right. So that's a good jumping off point for PlaceOS then. What's the 90 second elevator pitch to start off with like, what is it?

Jon McFarlane: Well, ultimately it's an integration platform that's modular. So, anyone can build their own modules, which is API stew. So, we can build that those as a service and with close to 10 years of doing this ourselves, we have a pretty [00:13:00] extensive library of modules.

So these modules are when they're applied to to a live system are essentially digital twins of everything you're connected to. And by. Bridging all these silos, we can have automatic and automated workflows across the user journey. So if you just think about a building and every sort of touch point we could integrate with each, each of those touch points.

And because it all goes to the one platform we can trigger things automatically, or you can enable a front end or a user interface to be the way users can interact with it. But I'm much more interested in, in the automation side. So if you can. Enter a building. We know who you are, where you are throughout the journey of your building and trigger things automatically and appropriately.

And with the context of who you are at all times, and that's becoming easier and easier to do because location tracking is easier to do. We can integrate with multiple methods. This is the difference between like an app and a platform. An app might be tied to a single method like Bluetooth or or a particular sensor where we can [00:14:00] say, well, yeah, we can integrate with wifi triangulation in this area.

We can integrate. A camera system. That's counting people in this area and we can integrate with the desk sensor in this area and all of the above paints, better picture throughout the journey of the user. And if you don't have any sort of location awareness, we can at least integrate with building access control and know how many people are in each sewn each floor, each building and, and use that through a simple context to then trigger appropriate actions, perhaps dynamically controlled air conditioning based on the number of people in an area.

So that's what our platform allows. It's really up to the customers to work out well, what user experiences can this solve for me? Because it does a lot, you know, the, it could be anything in context of if this person's in this space, trigger this action and that's all dependent on what they're connected to.

So it's, it's both receiving data and triggering actions and that, that latter point triggering actions is probably a big point of difference for us because there's a lot of platforms that just integrate and collect data. We're integrating, collecting data, sending control commands, and the ultimate value.

If I sum this up [00:15:00] in one sort of a shorter phrase, is that where the abstraction layer to everything in your building and your tendency.

James Dice: Cool. Yeah. I often say that there's like several phases of smart building technology. The first one is like centralized data. Second one is analyzed data. And I feel like most of the marketplace just like stops there, views that as like the cool, the cool thing, you know, the end point.

Yeah. I would say control and optimize out of the next phase that we have to get to.

Jon McFarlane: It's the area where we're most interested in. Like, we like the control. We'd like the experience side of, of the building, but the data and collection is almost a consequence of these integrations. I mean, w we, by integrating, we can't avoid data because it's coming to us and, and we've got to work out well, what do we do with it?

Do we store it? Do we just use it for real-time actions, only three, stream it to a data lake? It can be any, any of those it's usually up to the customer, how the appetite for [00:16:00] the data, but what all of our customers have in common is they want a better user experience in their building.

And that comes down to control. And that's where I think has been a big gap in the market because of silos, you know, like, you know, the base building access control based building elevators unexposed. So you can't include that in your workflow for a tendency. And he's been like, sort of stuck as like an island of their own technology that can't break into the general building and.

Sometimes we can't solve that with technology because it's a business problem. It's a business process problem. Whether the landlord doesn't open anything up to the tenancy, but I feel like landlords are getting a lot better at this. They, they realize that this is a service that their tenants want.

And it's even an opportunity for them. You know, maybe wrap up a service and charge more rent if, you know, if, if you want to have a point of difference for this office versus another have better experiences and better experiences come from being open and having everything in your building available to be connected to [00:17:00] so we can achieve a better experience.

James Dice: Totally. You mentioned um, occupancy data. So I often call what you just described. Best available occupancy data. And I talk about how only the overlay software can decide which, which I call, I call what you guys do, the platform overlay, because it's an overlay on top of all the base billing systems. And that piece of, of the overlays role to me is very misunderstood or not understood.

Can you, can you talk a little bit more about how that actually works? How do you go about deciding if I have three or four different sources of potential occupancy data? Which one do I

choose? Yeah, that's a great question because it is, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all the the data that you're receiving that the short answers would solve that with logic.

So, let's talk workplace specifically because workplaces. A luxury sort of to work with because it's a controlled environment. It's the way we [00:18:00] make sure that we know exactly how many people are in a space is by cross-referencing authentication systems. Because in a workplace everybody's authenticated some, somewhere on some device or their swipe cards authenticated to that, to, to the user.

So we can have logic that just doesn't count people more than once. And then the method we're using is the best method for the time and the place. So as I said, it's not always the same method in all times. That's a really great starting point though, for workplaces in particular is the wifi because it's already there.

It's, it's such a low barrier to entry to get access to it. Doesn't give you the very detailed, granular six foot tracking that you might want for certain scenarios. But if you don't need that for other scenarios, then you may as well leverage what you already have. So, so most of Wi-Fi providers today have location tracking built in if you know it or not, if you're using it or not.

So, we, we are not adding anything new, so it's, it's better for security and privacy because it's just leveraging something that's [00:19:00] already happening in the background. So HP enterprise Aruba, Cisco Meraki, who we'd work extensively with and really anyone today can, can give you that. But, but then it's yeah, if, if ideally.

Everyone's authenticated. So we actually know who is there, not just people counting. And that opens up a whole set of other possibilities of specific control events for the individual, for personalization in the workspace which I'm seeing a lot of our clients starting to embrace. So it's not just a general control experience it's specific to the individual.

And the reason they're doing that, I think is as people are coming back to work, they've been at home where they've had complete control of their environment. So when you're at home, if it's too sunny, you can, you can roll the blinds down. If it's too cold, you can turn the air conditioning off.

Everyone's now sort of used to that. And, and you go back to a workplace where it's not very typical to, to expose discrete controls like that to the individual employee. But we could have preferences saved in a [00:20:00] user profile and because wifi triangulation, then cross-reference with the authentication system in the workplace will tell us who and where someone is.

We can take their preferences into account. And if it's not conflict, if it's not conflicting with anyone else's preferences, we can make the air conditioning, colder. Got it.


Jon McFarlane: and to sort of extend the point on, on the, on the data question that you asked, it's also asking questions, like what is the purpose of, of the data long-term?

So, I think a lot of people sort of stop at, let's just collect the data. Let's not think about why we're using it and you need to scope the data in the same way as any user experience you to ask why and what, what is the user story and journey of the data itself as, as the next part of that user journey.

And I think for real time control and action, that that's something that needs to be considered you know, control things in real time, based on real time dynamic input. But long-term how long do we keep that data? How much data do we keep? Does it, do we roll off on the quality of the [00:21:00] data over six months?

So our, our storage requirements get less and less and, and there's no one answer to any of these questions. Every, every workplace, every building needs to make their own decisions around this.

James Dice: Fascinating. So it sounds like you guys are mainly serving tenants right now. And can you talk about how, how that works?

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. Tendencies for us typically workplaces and I'm trying as hard as I can to make place where it's not be seen as a workplace solution. Sorry

James Dice: about that. But I didn't mean to frame the

Jon McFarlane: question. We have a lot of traction in workplace and, and it's great that people think of us when they need a workplace solution because we enable workplace solutions.

We power them. We do have off the shelf packages that our workplace applications that do, you know, desk booking room, booking people, finding audio visual control of meeting rooms, but I really think that the the landlord is, is probably the ideal customer for us, even though the workplace tendency is probably our, our biggest customer right now, both [00:22:00] of those, because interesting thing about workplaces, they're not tied to one physical location.

So, we do a lot of work with PricewaterhouseCoopers PWC, for example we did all of their east coast offices in Australia, their Singapore office, and more recently a number of offices in the middle east and you know, so that. We're not looking at one building, we're looking at maybe 15, 16 buildings.

So they, they have multiple landlords. They have multiple systems and they're using place. So as to have a uniform experience across multiple buildings so that their needs are very different to the landlord, but the landlord has. In a similar way, but, but but multiple tenancies. So they, they want to have, you know, at least a base level offering to their tenants in one building or maybe their portfolio of buildings.

And I think that's interesting to me personally, because it helps with the getting out of workplace tenancy and, and doing interesting things because there's a trend in, in the the landscape of, of building owners and people leasing out buildings of blurring the lines between all their asset types, [00:23:00] so that they're looking at shopping centers and retail as, as maybe a way to have pop-up office space.

They're, they're looking at residential as a way to have. Co-working and the resident residential tower. So when you work from home, you do so from a fit for purpose space on level 15, you know, on the same level that you might also have access to the gym and the pool or the shed movie cinema. So, so that's interesting because it really lends itself well to a platform because we don't really care.

The platform doesn't care. What the end experience is. The platform is just like what integrations, give us the required data to know the context and the required things to control to change the action. So yeah, tenancy has been our strongest client and, and workplace in particular and, and they're, we're seeing it's, it's mostly led by the industry trends.

Activity-based working, being the main one in workplace. And I think that's only. Yeah, that's more [00:24:00] important today than it's ever been before activity-based working. So in a nutshell, taking you know, looking at The Workday as requiring different space. So H activity requires different types of spaces.

So, and, and it's not always the assumptions people make that the desk is for focus work or it's, it's really like taking an individualized approach to the workspace and making sure that everyone's work styles and the internal work culture of an organization is met with the right space for the right task.

And that that's that concept, it's really a design concept, but that, that leads to technology trends that has really been something has been, you know, the success of place or Western workplace has been because of activity based working. And, and now I'd say that there is, you know, a lot of people are wanting to.

To track people in the building for user experience, but also just for analytics more than they ever have. So that, that technology trend is also why a lot of people are coming to place the rest for, for the ability [00:25:00] to track people with multiple methods. But again, I'm excited, I'm excited about doing more and there's blurred lines between workplace residential, hospitality retail all connecting to the same platform cause that that's where some really interesting and novel stuff can happen.

Absolutely. Uh, Like

James Dice: I'm at work right now. I don't need to be conditioning, my partner or vice versa.

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 course@courses.nexus lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview

so one thing to follow up on, I've been lightly following the tenant [00:26:00] app space, like tenant experience technology space. We've done a couple of podcasts on it. Tell me more about how tech helps with activity-based working.

How does that actually show up in an applicant?

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. Well, I think if you're trying to match a work space to an individual's work style, you need to know who and where that individual is. So it comes back to that really simple message of like who and where, and those two things are just the consistent part of smart building.

And, and I always say it's like when you're scoping UX, you'd write user stories and that's, you know, user experience scoping one-on-one as this type of user. I want to achieve this for a particular reason. The difference when you scoping user experience in a smart building is you're referencing space.

So you have to add that where question I want this particular experience for this particular user for this right. In this space. So technology lends itself well to, to receive information about the user [00:27:00] from records of truth. So a database of user information that that could be, if it's a visitor, it could be Salesforce.

If it's a an employee, it can be active directory or some sort of Microsoft platform or Google or anything like that. Or if it's in a hospitality might be an Oracle system. So, so the, the, who is a database and we can connect all those things together that the, where is location services and that's everything from QR codes manually telling us where you are you know, check in kiosks.

And then starting to move into more passive ways of tracking cameras wifi senses and building access control, swipe card events. So if, if we like all of those things together, it's easier to achieve activity-based working goals because we can have profile information coming from multiple sources.

We can know where someone is so we can tailor the experience for them. And we can start looking at and you know, now we have a user using a platform. What else can we deliver to them? What [00:28:00] what's what are some of the nice to have features? And when we started uh, in workplace where I used to always end with the sort of nice to have feature.

At the tailor end of the meeting, but I feel like those in our leading the sales meeting and, and, you know, things like ordering food from the, the retail restaurant downstairs. So, you know, payments automatically taken care of giving temporary access to the restaurant service delivery person.

So they can then come up to your tenancy and the elevator, open the door, find where you are and deliver the food to you. And, and that's the sort of thing that's just like, well, how do we achieve that? We need integration into building access control. We need integration into payments. We need integration into the elevator system and we need some sort of way of notifying the restaurant that this order has taken place.

And where that, that the question, where has it taken place is taking place on level 15 in the west zone at this particular desk? Let's deliver it to the person for the landlord. Something like that's a [00:29:00] win-win because the, the the workplace. Then has all of their employees that can order from this particular restaurant, the restaurants receiving orders, they may not have received otherwise.

And it's creating a, sort of an internal ecosystem within the, within the building and the precinct. So, so things like that, that that's the experience side of, of a smart building and not so much the facility side of a smart building is what people are really asking for. And, and just back to the question, I believe that's very much related to activity-based working because it's really just like improving the space in any way possible, making it more relevant to that person.

So ultimately they, they're more productive and and achieve more and more successful in that day.

James Dice: So you've talked about platforms a couple of times. Can you define platform and what you mean by it? And what's not a platform. And I feel like what I've heard from you so far is I feel like

Jon McFarlane: listeners have heard

James Dice: me talk about this, but [00:30:00] when we have say a point solution that's designed for one type of building to serve one business problem for one user, right?

You can't then translate that to, like you're saying, adding on a retail experience, adding on a residential experience, you can't then go outside of that stakeholders. One context that it was built for. And it sounds like what you're talking about. When you define platform, you're talking about multiple applications, maybe anyone can build one on top, could then be used for really any, any experience for any user, any stakeholder.

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. Is that kinda how you're thinking about it? Yeah. 100% it's platform. In terms of sales, you know, like platform as a hard thing to sell. Right. It's, it's complicated. It's not very tangible. But it enables products on top. So typically you're selling a product on top, not necessarily the platform, but you in a sales meeting, you'll touch on well, if we're selling you this particular workplace application, that's a package on top of this platform.

You can extend on it because it's a platform you're not [00:31:00] stuck to these features, you know, they've been stuck to this interface. You can add features as, as you go. And for us adding features is all about the integrations. If you need to if you, if you launch with place iOS and you need to add a particular user experience that you don't have, we're just going to ask, well, what, what's the data that's going to give us the context.

What's the thing we can control to action something. So if it's an access control experience, then we're like, all you need to do is add the Lanelle driver to your, to your place, the rest of deployment. And now the Lanelle access control system can be part of that experience. And if you need to bring it into the interface, then you need to either design the interface, or you can just solve this problem with, with triggers, you know, conditional logic, if this happens to that which has all sort of built into our product, but, but th the, the platform what I love about a platform is you don't know where.

It's going in a way it's it's like Uh, So we're very [00:32:00] partner led company. So we work with partners to do the deployments and, and run the projects and they can scope things that we couldn't think of on our own. They we can bring in a new partner that has a completely new industry, vertical focus where we're working on some projects right now with with production, commercial production of food.

So, warehousing and, and and like big ovens and things like that. And measuring temperature and humidity for, for those sorts of purposes. I don't know that space whatsoever. I have no expertise in, in that space. But the particular partner does, and the client can have their own ideas and all the, all the platform has to do is make sure we can integrate with whatever sensor, whatever data we need to get into the system.

So I think this is that yeah. We're trying to get better at making packages. So it's easier to understand and what we've done is made sure that anyone can do anything. So, we've, we're completely source. We have, so if you, if you go to our website, you'll see a link to our get hub. You can literally [00:33:00] deploy place.

So S from, from our get hub repositories, and you can have access to every driver we have ever developed where we sort of draw the line is when we have to sign NDAs, when we can't open source a particular thing but our, our partners can take that or our customers can take that and expand on it and have their own private repositories if they want all contribute to our open-source library.

So a lot of our partners are doing that. So, taking this open approach to the extent of open source means our driver ecosystem just continues to grow and grow based on our partners working on their large projects. And. We still find it almost every project we do, there's at least two or three new drivers that need developing.

Which means we're just continuously adding to our driver library. So long way of saying platform, I think is important because you don't really even know what your needs are. As, as an individual tenant, I feel like the needs will change by the time the project has finished. And you'll be, you'll be looking at the additional features [00:34:00] you need now that you've been using the solution for a few months.

I don't think I've ever worked on a, on a client project where they haven't added or completely rearranged the priorities of the project from day one. So for example, maybe they've gone with us to do some simple room booking, but at scale and they're using some location tracking just to check people into meeting rooms automatically.

That might be why they went with us originally. But then, you know, after they've deployed, they realized, you know, they have bigger problems in visitor management and or car space management, and they just keep adding these features on as they go. So, that the fundamental difference, if I I'll try to summarize this, the fundamental difference between a platform and another platform is that the logic and the smarts of a platform come from the platform itself, not a platform would be like, Workplace app, the logic and the smarts come from the app itself, which means it's hard-coded and you're stuck using it for at, and depending on the third party to [00:35:00] update their app, to get any additional features whereas a platform because the front end and the apps are decoupled from the backend.

You can build anything on top and you can change things rapidly. And because of the platform business model, there's an ecosystem. So things are continuously evolving. It's not sort of set in stone

James Dice: fascinating. And that open source business model from your guys' standpoint, that's pretty rare in our industry.

How do you guys make money and compete

Jon McFarlane: a question that everyone probably has? No, it's it's it's, that's a good question. A former colleague of mine Kim Burgess He went around with a talk about open source in the first slide he has his open source does not equal free open, open source as a philosophy, really on the, on the process and the, and the of your technical you know, delivery and.

And it's making your source code open to other developers so they [00:36:00] can contribute to it. They can use it for other reasons. In certain elements, we, you know, there's, there's elements of our technology stack that are completely open source with a license that it can be used in commercial products by third parties.

So there's elements we built particularly my co-founder is very big on open source. That huge companies around the world are using that little element for something unrelated to smart buildings and smart workplace. And it's making us our section stronger and more resilient. And so there's so many benefits in that, in that regard.

Then what we call like the core the core to our product, that's open source for non-commercial use, but if you use it commercially, you have to purchase the license. So it just means that it's, it's good because if you're running a, an internal POC yeah. You might be able to use that without, without paying for anything.

If you're doing it all yourself without netting services of, of one of our partners. But when you need to, as soon as it's commercial, then you have to purchase a commercial license. So it's still still the same business model as enterprise software, because there's an enterprise software license.

But it's [00:37:00] just more transparent because every line of code can, can be read. By anybody on our get hub. And that, in my opinion, that's what the industry needs, because it's all been so siloed and so closed. And you know, there's this process even to get API APIs from third parties, sometimes you have to sign an NDA probably because their API sucks.

So they, they make an NDA before you can see it. We were actively trying to change that mindset and, and it's not new. And, and, and it, Landers is maybe a little bit new for smart buildings. If you think one of the biggest success stories of all time is, is red hat. That's open source in the same sort of model commercial use license, open source and you know, they, they sold to IBM for a huge amount of money and and the open source element, you know, help, help them immensely.

And one last thing about open source. It also allows us to. Attract talent. I feel like there's such a strong community around source that our programmers our developers are very passionate about that. And they would rather work for us because we're open source than work for somebody that's [00:38:00] not

James Dice: very cool.

So I feel like the only thing we haven't touched on, on PlaceOS is the con like you have the concept of the platform. You have the concept of an application sitting on top of the platform. At least that's how I wrap my head around that. Yeah. You guys have your own applications and then anyone can, is there like a marketplace for others that have built apps on

Jon McFarlane: top?

Or how does that yeah, I mean, that that's spot on and because a lot of our this is why I'm always saying I'm trying hard not to be seen as a workplace. The solution. But out our first and only packaged app is a workplace application. So, so we packaged an off the shelf app with SAS, so hosted fully SAS model and price per feature per stage basically.

And. We're going to do that. So we started with workplace, but we're going to do that for other industry verticals. And at the same time, encourage our partners to do the same thing, launch their own applications on our marketplace. So our [00:39:00] partners have been doing this on a project basis. So, you know, w we work with large system integrators, such as NTT and they have built their own products on top of a place specifically for a client.

The next step is to work with them. Release it as their own SAS offering to anyone. And that allows us to reach smaller customers where we're sort of being stuck in working only with large enterprises. But we're starting to see our SAS adoption is, is, is very quick, particularly in in Southeast Asia right now, since we launched SAS, we're getting a lot of smaller businesses that are just using it for desk booking, just tracking things like that.

And. As a company, what we're always looking to do is find the next industry vertical for our platform. You mentioned health we've got a health package that we'll likely wrap up as a SAS offering as well. And, and we, that started as something we did specifically for a number of customers.

And, and now we're seeing this as a trend that a lot of people would like to see as a package. And in a nutshell, it's, it's automation and workflow automation around telehealth, [00:40:00] just making it a bit more easier to use for the patient and the clinicians. But then, yeah, as I said, we were on project levels with our partners where we're working across lots of different industries.

And our ultimate sort of goal is to enable landlords as the service providers. And once we have our own apps in in our marketplace, They can essentially have those for different verticals or they can build their own so they can build their own products. So, it's a very typical platform business model the shift to marketplace and we're launching with our own products because it's easier to lead by example.

I'd love to see our, our partners just, you know, embrace this. We have API APIs to build front end. We have API APIs to build your own drivers. That means you can build your own solution.

James Dice: Got it. And you've you've, it seems like you've mentioned at least three different types of partners right now.

So there's the, like the Cisco's of the world where you're pulling data from their devices. And then there's the systems integrators who are like a reseller of play. So us essentially they're helping sell it, set it up, et [00:41:00] cetera. And then there's third, maybe a category would be software developers. Is that, is that kind of how you guys,

Jon McFarlane: You're getting you're spot on every, every time with your summary.

So, and, and that the software developer partnerships. So, so we work with creative agencies as well. And let's say a typical project might. Led by NTT and for deployment and further contracting with the client. And they might sub in creative agencies to build applications on top, or they might have in-house skills depending on what part of the world they're in to do that on their own.

They also have an in-house creative agency but the, the agencies there's one called Monster Lab. A Japanese firm that acquired a whole bunch of firms around the world. And they're really good at scoping user experience. Better than most people in the smart building landscape. Certainly better than place iOS.

So, so we use the agencies that are like, this is just normal for them. UX, UX, workshopping, wireframes prototypes working with the customer to build a bespoke solution that meets every single user [00:42:00] story. And the, and you have something that is. Much more polished and, and a better experience for everybody and, and includes all the stakeholders and the research.

So those agencies are like a great option for large enterprise projects because they can make this whatever it needs to be for that particular customer. But as, as we grow our ecosystem, we're going to get more types of partners as well. So that, as you said, there's the software development side, the vendor partnerships such as Cisco, that allows us to get data in the first place and trigger things.

And also on a sales front, we do a lot of sales and marketing with Cisco. It's actually like really cool. Recently we did a partnership with WebEx and there's a place at west logo with the WebEx logo on on the billboard the NASDAQ display in times square. And I, I wish I could have, you know, still locked down essentially.

So I couldn't get there to see that, but that's cool to see our partnership result in to the extent that we're doing marketing activities like that together, or. And it opens us up to their channel partners as well. But the, the thing I'm really pushing right [00:43:00] now and, and encourage anyone who might be interested in this to reach out to me is to have marketplace partners.

It's people just building our own products and and hosting their own products potentially as well. And, and. If you need all of these integrations to be taken care of and the product on top is, is your own IP. Then that's something you can sell to your customers. Yeah. And

James Dice: th this, this audience is well briefed on the value of that.

Anyone that hasn't listened to or read the stuff on, I call it the independent data layer, you know, the ability to kind of, for an application provider to just not worry about integration huge value in my opinion. All right. So we've got about 10 minutes left. I want to finish with maybe a little bit of like a rapid fire on a couple of the things I saw under LinkedIn profile.

So I'm calling these hot takes. I think they're, they're like one sentence one-liners that anyone can look at on John's LinkedIn profile, but I want to pick a few out and read them to you and have you kind of expand upon them a little bit. So, first one, if you focus on workflow [00:44:00] automation and not just the visual, you can have a much better user experience.

Can you, can you also expand on what you mean by workflow automation? We've touched on it earlier, but I want to, I want to like really double click on it.

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. Well, double clicks a interesting way of saying it because that's what we're trying to remove, right? Workflow automation. So, so the whole idea is if, if you let's say you have a record of truth, let's use the room booking as a typical example, you're making a booking and you've added an external attendee.

Why does the external attendee have to come in and check in and go through a process when we can pre-populate or pre automate an experience from that point? So if we're collecting data, how can we use that data to its full extent across every possible automation. And it's really important.

Yeah, integration and records of truth enable that. So, so th if the visitor doesn't have to do anything, that's a good experience, but they can just walk through the building. We can give them access automatically, and we [00:45:00] can achieve that if we tie into Salesforce and, and then track them when they, when they arrive.

So we're always looking for opportunity for workflow automation. It's not show it's, it's not necessarily the physical, but it's removing unnecessary process from the user experience.

James Dice: Totally. And then in our foundations course, that's actually how we teach. Like before we even get to technology, we say, who's their user persona and what is their workflow?

And we make the students like literally go through an entire day in the life and for everything that they do in that day, in the life, what is the exact steps they need to take and going through all of that before you can even start with, with basically saying like, what is the use case? And then what is the technology?

And so I feel like that, that piece, like that's a pedestrian thing and the user experience world, right? The fact that I'm describing that as probably like, there's probably a UX people out there like you that are just like, well, that's not really the best way to explain it. But from, from our marketplace, our [00:46:00] industry, it's a, it's an area that we still have so much maturity.

Someone's like, we need to grow into that mindset, that skillset

Jon McFarlane: it's hard to achieve when everything's so siloed in out industry, because you might for a little while there everyone replaced. They're physical touch panels and buttons with apps. And so you needed to have six apps to do, you know, one workflow.

So now we're in this landscape where we're trying to remove ourselves from that. And firstly, let's not focus on apps. Let's look at where interface should live and it maybe it's in a collaboration environment, not necessarily the app store. But it's also like let's not need to use the apps if we don't have to.

Let's just like automate everything as much as we can. And and I always say as much as we can because there is every scenario is going to be different. There's gonna be some scenarios where you don't have to touch a thing and they'll be some scenarios where you do need some manual input at some point.

So you still need to consider those traditional interfaces. But in my mind, the best workflow would be Giving you those interfaces in context at the right time. [00:47:00] So you're not having to open them and enter all the data manually. It knows it's making at least an educated guess here's when you need to fill in that form.


James Dice: I feel like where we're at as an industry with this conversation is we're getting a really sophisticated in thinking about tenant workflows or office worker workflows, right. Where we're not very sophisticated as then saying like, okay, what are all the other people that we want to think about their workflows for facility manager and the energy managers, sustainability person, like all of those, they all have similar workflows.

It's not as physical. It's mostly it's computer work. Right. Right. Maybe a facility manager is different, but if I'm an energy manager, most of what I'm doing is on the computer. Right. Once I have the data and so, but, but I still have a workflow. So if I'm, if I'm an energy manager. I don't want to be just shown utility data.

Right. I want to, I want to have a software platform that helps me actually go through the energy management workflow. I'm going to [00:48:00] benchmark a building. I'm going to figure out how to reduce energy consumption. I'm going to create a scope of work. I'm going to bid that out. I'm going to check to see if it was done.

I'm going to do a measurement verification. Like that's an entire workflow for that energy manager that we're just like, like there are no tools. And I know there are a few startups doing this right now, so I'm not saying there's no tools, but that's where we're at for that persona. And I feel like you can keep going.

I'm getting on my soap box here, but you can keep going to all the other user personas and we're still not hitting all of those kind of manual or spreadsheet type workflows.

Jon McFarlane: And I think as you said, this is like UX, you know, for UX people, this is just a normal process. And. I think what's missing is, has been this framework and method of scoping that hasn't been used in in this industry.

So looking at those personas and, and then breaking down their, their day into ultimately user stories. And I've said this word a million times now, the [00:49:00] stories, but it's something we try to follow a standard process for, for scoping and, and it includes user stories and mapping that out for every possible thing that person's doing and not just doing so from the service provider point of view, but the customer has to go through this exercise as well.

And I think there's like a framework would help with this, like, tweaking the UX framework for smart buildings. Interesting.

James Dice: We'll put that on our list over here. All right. Maybe we have a, for a couple more next one sensors usually suck. There is much better. There are much better methods for tracking people.

If you think beyond.

Jon McFarlane: Yeah. So th this is my point that a lot of apps are hard coded, and therefore only work with particular tracking methods. I would rather take the approach of auditing what you already have as a starting point. And if there's gaps in the location tracking, filling those gaps with appropriate technology at that point.

But the, I just, it's just very frustrating. And the reason [00:50:00] I say they suck is because there's just so complicated. So many of them it's frustrating when you walk into a space like a meeting room and. There's three or four sensors in the same room because each vendor rolls out their own. And the one that's been there the whole time is the lighting sensor.

So why didn't that project or that solution just integrate with the lighting sensor? So integration over specific technologies is, is the main point. You might need a sense. I'm not saying you don't need sensors but it's not, you don't start with the technology. You start with a problem and try to solve it by working out the best method and, and referencing what you have, because why not get return on an investment on existing technology.

There's so many things in a building that's telling us location of people in some, some way let's just start there and then fill the gaps after that point. Love it.

James Dice: All right. Last one. User interface is not user experience. I think we've been hitting

Jon McFarlane: on this a little bit. Yep. Yeah, [00:51:00] it's a good one to end on because I think a big trend right now is, is It's what in, in, in it, in general is what is the interface today as with post app world, where even looking at a post mobile world and, and things like Augmented reality, virtual reality.

But fundamentally, how do we interact with the building and it's not user interface, so it's not just throwing buttons and apps and and portals that everything it's being very specific for every user, for every building, every space mapping all those out together and cross-referencing them all.

And there is a time and a place for all of the interface types. So, you know, there are some projects now. Augmented reality is not just a gimmick. It might be useful. It might be the best option for that particular scenario. Or voice control is probably the best option in other scenarios, or if it's a workplace, I think the best place for a lot of interfaces today are collaboration environments such as a chat-based communication.

So your system, you interact with your [00:52:00] system via chat rather than buttons and things like that. So it's, it's really just looking at all of the options and choosing the right one. So this is where you know, this is bias for me to say this, but it's whether that's why platforms is much more important than buying a off the shelf workplace application because you need to have different interface methods as well as different integration methods, whereas a,

James Dice: Off the shelf application typically have the constrained set of interface.

Jon McFarlane: Well, I mean, you you stuck to the interfaces that are delivered as part of that solution. So, so at the very least, like when we, you know, it's this tricky territory, because we do have off the shelf package workplace applications, but at the very least they're powered by place west. And you can go into the backend interfaces and write your own sort of recipes and change what the interface is doing or add, you know, using our front-end API APIs build a brand new interface and it doesn't necessarily have to be an app.

A front-end API is, could interact with augmented reality if needed. Totally.

James Dice: All right. [00:53:00] Amazing. Let's let's let's end there. Two questions for you. What's your dog's name? Who's over here for anyone not listening and not watching on YouTube. He's got a dog over his left shoulder here. What's the dog's name and what are you looking forward to for

Jon McFarlane: the future?

The dog's name is Berger and I'm, I'm surprised has been so quiet. Fixtures is not usually in the office this early and what I'm looking for in the future. I. I'm really excited about some of the new markets we're working in the middle east in particular, that, that there's a lot of new things happening there and, and integrating into what are our basically classify as a smart city.

So if, if we go back to my sort of career journey, starting off in the, in the teaching space, and then in the seminar room or the lecture theater and zooming out to the floor, to the building we have this opportunity now to zoom right out to the, to the city. And it takes middle east to, to achieve that because they have the scale that they have the ability to have one stakeholder that's in [00:54:00] charge of a whole large campus or indeed a city.

We're trying to do a smart city in established cities. It's very hard, you know, that, who do you sell that to? You know, the stakeholder problem is, is the main one there. So that's, that's what I'm looking forward to just taking place. There were some to new areas that are not necessarily workplace my, my immediate goal and my, my longterm goal of, of going as far as smart city.

So multiple industries, multiple buildings or connected to one platform.

James Dice: Fascinating. Well, thanks John, for coming on the show.

Jon McFarlane: Really appreciate it. Great. Thanks James.

James Dice: 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 subscribe at nexuslabs.online. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day!