56 min read

🎧 #124: Tearle Whitson Tells the Inside Story of Microsoft's Smart Buildings Program

“We can have all the technology in the world but dropping it into a building doesn't magically transform it. It ultimately is a tool. Your people can be empowered by this tool but it will never do everything for you.

You have to set objectives, lean in and embrace the technology. You have to train your people and build the organization in a structure that supports it."

—Tearle Whitson

Welcome to Nexus, a newsletter and podcast for smart people applying smart building technology—hosted by James Dice. If you’re new to Nexus, you might want to start here.

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Episode 124 is a conversation with Tearle Whitson of DB Engineering, formerly leader of Microsoft’s smart buildings program while he was at CBRE.


This is the story of one of the most successful and famous smart buildings programs on the planet, straight from the mouth of one of the key players.

Before we jump into the conversation, I wanted to ensure you all know about our new Thought Leader program. Once a month, I’ll be co-writing a piece with one of our sponsors. We’ll dive deep, make it non-salesy and educational, and tell stories outside my core expertise. Check the to learn more.

Without further ado, please enjoy this Nexus M&A Roundup.

A message from our partner, Tietoa:

After participating in the Nexus Foundations course, Sam Kovar is hooked on smart buildings. As an outsider, he sees a future where this industry can move forward faster with better communications. He wants to be an independent creative resource (15+ years of experience in strategic communications, creative consulting, and technical execution for video, animation, and photography) for helping the Nexus community connect to their customers and grow their audiences.

Connect with Sam by filling out this contact form.

  1. DB Engineering (2:03)
  2. Johnson Controls (17:13)
  3. CBRE (19:37)
  4. Leon Wurfel on how analytics can scale and founding BUENO (43:32)
  5. Loonshots by Safi Bahcall (1:14:26)

You can find Tearle on LinkedIn.



  • Tearle’s background (2:24)
  • "Teardown School" (19:49)
  • Smart buildings grew up around Tearle and an overview of the Microsoft smart buildings program (34:08)
  • How to run a remote operations center (43:15)
  • Best practices for implementing individual technologies (53:09)
  • Carveouts (1:12:35)

A message from our partner, Butlr:

Occupancy data drives a variety of use cases across workplace experience, real estate planning and smart FM and is too valuable to be siloed in a walled garden. Every building and workplace would benefit from accurate, private, cost effective occupancy data accessible via API.

Listen to The Nexus Podcast with Rags Gupta, President of Butlr, on their approach to providing accurate API-first occupancy data at a fraction of the cost while not being physically able to collect personally identifiable information.

👋 That's all for this week. See you next Thursday!

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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!

[00:00:33] James Dice: I'd like to introduce all of you to Sam Covar and his company, Tia Totowa, Tito, as an acronym for taking everything, take on anything. And after participating in the nexus foundations course, Sam got hooked on smart buildings and he wants to T a TOA, anything our industry can throw at them. As an outsider, he sees a future where this industry can move forward faster with better communications.

He wants to be an independent creative resource for helping you [00:01:00] guys. The nexus community connect to their customers and grow your audiences. He's got 15 plus years of experience in strategic communications, creative consulting, technical execution for video animation and photography. So connect with Sam. Use no link in the show notes and learn more.

[00:01:18] James Dice: This episode is a conversation with Terrell Whitson of DB engineering and formerly leader of Microsoft smart buildings program. While he was at CPRE. This is the story of one of the most successful and famous smart buildings programs on the planet, straight from the mouth of one of the key players. Before we jump into that conversation. I wanted to make sure you all know about our new thought leader program.

Once a month, I'll be, co-writing a piece with one of our sponsors. We'll dive deep and make it non salesy and educational and tell stories that are outside my core expertise. So check the link in the show notes to learn more. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the nexus podcast with Tara Whitson.

[00:01:55] James Dice: Hello Tara. Welcome to the show. Can you introduce yourself?

[00:01:59] Tearle Whitson: [00:02:00] Good day. James. Uh, my name Terrell Witson. Uh, currently director of Smart Building Solutions with, uh, DB engineering here based in, Redmond, Washington, uh, the lovely Pacific Northwest. uh, you know, Winding background in, uh, of arriving to smart buildings and, uh, you know, ups and downs and hills and valleys.

And I think we'll unpack that as.

[00:02:24] James Dice: Absolutely. Let's start at the beginning of your career. I know you started out in the Navy. Can you take us through? From the Navy up until DB Engineering, what were your different stops along the way?

[00:02:36] Tearle Whitson: Yeah, happy to. Uh, you know, it, it, uh, one of those journeys that, you know, most people tell their life story or whatever. You go through and, you know, pick apart. As that adventure unfolds, and I had the opportunity, the, the joy of, uh, being a, maybe a smart kid, but with a poor work ethic and, uh, not enough money to really consider college outta high school.

And so the Navy opened an [00:03:00] opportunity for me, had a fascination with nuclear power. And, uh, that was the hook that I got into at the time. I was, you know, the early nineties and, and really fascinated with computers. And, you know, I was, I was a wiz kid on my Commodore 64 and getting in there and doing some coding and, but at the time I remember being very concretely wanting to do what I termed real engineering.

And, uh, it, nuclear power seemed like that was the, that was the big draw. You know, I wanted to go be Scotty from the enterprise and that idea pulled me in. And so, Uh, leaned in, enlisted in the Navy in, uh, 1990, and, uh, went through the nuclear power program, which gives you just a whole dose of engineering, um, in a compact short run of about a year and a half to two years of practical in theoretical knowledge, uh, doses of physics and reactor principles and chemistry materials, kind of the whole gamut really [00:04:00] thrown at you.

Um, it's a pressure cooker. A lot of people don't make it through. It's about a 50% failure rate. Um, but getting through it and getting into, uh, the, ultimately into the submarine force was, uh, was, you know, really cool journey. And, um, as it pulled me in, I embraced a lot of the, you know, the heavy mechanical work, but also the, the theoretical of why are we doing this?

How does it come together? I think one of the things that I always take away that I bring for, I brought forward with that time was, uh, integrated plant operations. They'd call it ipo. And it was something that they drilled into your head all the time. And how do these things all come. Don't just focus on, Oh, I'm a mechanic and I focus on these things.

Or I'm an electrician and I worry about power generation or, or sensors and data ultimately. And the smart building journey. It's one of those things that I've, I've harken back to all the time is that integrated functions of all of the collective whole and understanding the mission. What are you doing?

Where are you trying [00:05:00] to be? Where are you going with it? Um, so great engineering, um, kind of breeding ground to, to, to grow and learn. I spent most of the nineties, pretty much in the Navy, um, deployed on a tax submarine USS Indianapolis throughout the Western Pacific. Um, Best of times, the worst of times.

Uh, great times with friends and adventures overseas and also hard, hard working times, lots of extended hours and, and some hard working conditions. So you take it all in and, but it was a great opportunity. Um, and again, kind of for a poor kid coming out of Los Angeles, for me, it was, uh, it was a, a way to, to open a door and start to, to provide a stepping stone to go up for college.

Uh, got out in 1999, took a road trip, cross country, uh, traveling, uh, outta my truck and, and learned the country a little bit. And ultimately after about six months of, uh, backpacking, camping, uh, cross country, [00:06:00] decided to settle in the Seattle area, um, with some extended family. Came up here, um, and was looking to restart, figure out how to, how to put down my roots.

Wound up, uh, getting connected with a, um, Job provider, military, uh, veteran job, uh, hu uh, head hunter provider Orion, who eventually got me placed in and interviewed with the, the Microsoft campus. Um, at the time, Johnson Controls was the facility management provider there, and so interviewed in, um, strangely enough with another ex nuke, um, and nukes, that's our nickname.

But for, for those that went through the nuclear power service, and, uh, he was, he had, uh, rightly and wrongly had, uh, had foretold that, uh, ex nukes coming out would be the best building operators, and he was determined to prove it to some of his traditional. [00:07:00] Trade school and real estate, corporate real estate, uh, leadership, uh, good and bad cuz he was a little bit, uh, a little bit arrogant in his statement and I had to bear some of that.

But it was also an opportunity to, to jump in and get hired in for, uh, on Microsoft, Right. In a very cool time in the sense it was, uh, the lead up to y2k. Um, and it was, uh, quite fascinating to, to jump into that level of Activ activity at and where that was going and all of the, the, the churn that Y2K was creating in, at the end of 1999, especially for somebody conscious, you know, like Microsoft, where they were.

Very visible and did not want to have any kind of system service interruptions of any kind. So lot of processes going on with that of system check checks and, uh, verifications and, you know, double sign off on every system to that. Would it roll over? Would it not roll over? Was there question, where [00:08:00] were the hit lists?

Where were they All the operational postures that we had to take into consideration? So fun times, it was a great time to, to join the campus, but I was a, I was coming in really as an H V A C technician. Um, my secondary skill set when I was in the Navy was as a, um, centrifugal, chiller, uh, mechanic. And so I had gone through, uh, York tear down school, uh, the marine pack 150 ton York chillers, had gone through tear down school, had done all levels of maintenance, and, um, had come up with the.

What really with the, the birth of the EPA program and the Montreal protocols, when those were first enacted, and we were pivoting from really no controls in, in refrigerant, in what we were doing as far as injecting it into the atmosphere and then to full controls or much better, certainly at the time.

So, um, that chiller plant, um, or, and chiller [00:09:00] skill set was really kind of what brought me in the door with the HVC department and under the FM group with, with Microsoft and John's controls and, um, it, it led to, into, you know, central plant operations. And then, so really cut my teeth in those first couple of years on operating, working within the mechanical systems, within the central plant systems and really on Microsoft's campus.

At the time it was 8 million square feet, but it had multiple clusters, uh, of large connected chiller plant systems with distributed airside systems within the corporate real estate space there that they had. And a lot of, a lot of lab infrastructure too. That was also an interesting facet coming onto it was taking in how they viewed critical operations, You know, and my past critical operations meant, uh, things that were submarine safe or would flood the ship or, uh, create a casualty that, you know, could cost your life or pivot to Microsoft.

And it was, I, I remember [00:10:00] one lab manager quoted to me at the time, he, you know, said If this lab goes down, it might be a million dollars a minute, like, Okay. That's a, that's a little bit of a, of a focal point to, to bring to mine when, when responding to operations there. So, um, it was, it was, it was great.

It was a good time and I learned a ton in those first few years. Um, but I would say kind of those early odds, one of the things I was readily fascinated with right away was, uh, controls and automation. Um, never had really seen what auto, you know, building automation systems were coming from the Navy. It was manual operation, it's turning hand wheels and, and valves and everything is really manual gauges and, and, um, not a lot of instrumentation in a way that was, uh, digitized in any form.

And so, controls and automation immediately started pulling me in, drawing my interest. You know, with a little, with a lot of computer aptitude in my [00:11:00] background, I, I started digging in and really diving in and, uh, embracing it. I think I first system was afa, um, system, uh, 2000, I, I probably misquoting the original.

It was a hard safa system and, binary old command, prompt, DOS based commands and get in and do block logic. Uh, and, and, but at the time we were also modernizing, uh, Microsoft was already leaning forward and, and modernizing with, uh, Siemens, newer system. After Siemens had acquired STA ffa, they were already bringing their Apigee system.

So started jumping in, learning line code, understanding how those systems came. Um, so again, a good, great learning opportunity to really lean in. Um, Microsoft at the time was one of the larger digital campuses in the world. Um, you know, as far as just a fully connected digital ecosystem, uh, you know, across, you know, it was 8 million and growing, uh, you know, uh, 8 million square [00:12:00] feet of commercial real estate.

And all of it has, at that point, had already started to come together as a fully connected digital backbone. Um,

[00:12:08] James Dice: Okay.

[00:12:09] Tearle Whitson: and so it, it evolved and kind of built off of that. And I, I got to really learn it, lean in, um, start taking up a lot of the Siemens classes. We, they were bringing on Allerton as a secondary, uh, at the time as a.

Redmond Startup, a control company. Um, and the, and Microsoft was embracing 'em. They started, they came, brought on a building under Allerton, uh, went and went to their Redmond headquarters, took up a bunch of their training to get certified under that system, and, um, really cut my teeth kind of on those, uh, automation systems in those early years.

Um, and, and I would say really in 2003, 2004, that's also when those systems were pivoting from what had really been RS 2 32, uh, RS [00:13:00] 45 directed serial connected systems into ethernet connected systems. All of a sudden, they were trying to come online and go onto the network. I remember, uh, early on, uh, one of the first buildings we were bringing on, uh, as a internet connected device, and we had some issues with it there.

You know what we, at the time, I think it was a broadcast storm that had knocked out one of the IP controllers. I was still learning how to troubleshoot the network side of, of things, and I had to go sit in front of a, a lab manager and explain myself. And he, he read me the riot act and almost, you know, kind of laid down the story of like, you know, like, I, you know, I am, I'm a network engineer, and what you're trying to explain to me is like a caveman explaining, you know, to, uh, Leonardo.

So I was, I was realizing I was not equipped with the right terminology and some of the right skill set. So at that point I was, I, I knew that I needed to go in and like, I might be good [00:14:00] mechanics and I might be good now in automation, but now it's time to go polish up and, um, learn some networking. And so went out, took a net plus a plus course, worked through some certifications on that.

Really had to lean in and dive through as we were bringing the fully ethernet connected and enabled systems online. Um, and really how much those complexity started to impact what we were doing and how that affected system reliability. It affected data integrity. All of the other things that would start to become watch points and buzzwords later.

These were already in the early days of just internet first base, internet connected systems already becoming something we had to pay attention to really

[00:14:42] James Dice: Yeah. I mean, we're still talking about it. Ot, Gap it, OT Convergence now 2022.

[00:14:49] Tearle Whitson: I mean, that's probably one of our most, you know, current, you know, buzzing topics is, is it t o t right now. And it was the early aspects of it. And I would [00:15:00] say at the time there really wasn't a, it wasn't a clear line, you know, to the IT departments is still much the case. And, you know, traditional legacy, uh, uh, organizations right now, they're still, you know, why are you on my network?

What are you doing? You're creating issues for me. Now I have to come solve your problem. And I think at the time, one of the good things that, that it felt like we did and embraced was, we don't want it to be your problem. We'll figure it out. Um, so collectively, you know, the team that I was a part of as we were growing.

we wound up deciding A plus. Net Plus was great. I pivoted out, went and started to pursue Microsoft Systems certified engineer. And, and I said, Okay, this is the right way to go. I've gotta get deeper. I've gotta understand these systems at a level that I can speak comfortably, understand them, troubleshoot them, operate 'em in this Microsoft corporate environment.

Um, and really how to, how to bring them all together. Uh, so it [00:16:00] needed more skills. And it's, and the beauty of it is that it always does, um, good and bad is that, you know, we all have to, we have to be lifelong learners and constantly keep at it and keep trying to bring more tools into our toolbox as we, we move forward with some of these systems.


[00:16:17] James Dice: Totally. um,

I, before you go, I have a couple follow up questions on that little piece of your, your background. One is, I have to say that my grandpa was in the Navy and he was, uh, submarines as well. Um, yeah, he was,

um, it was in the fifties

[00:16:35] Tearle Whitson: one of my, my, uh, jokes I used to keep in my cube was, uh, there's only two kinds of ships, submarines, and targets. And I had, I had a few, uh, few other navy comrades that were surface sailors that never quite appreciated that, but at it's submarine humor.

[00:16:52] James Dice: Nice. If I was back in my office, I would show you. He, he handed me down his, uh, his binoculars,

uh, and they're [00:17:00] on my desk or behind my desk normally in view of the camera, but since I'm traveling today, I don't have it.

Um, okay. A coup couple other questions was around Johnson controls. So, I wanted to follow up on, you said JCI was a facility management firm.

Do they do that today? Because it seems like, you know, there's the big FM firms, you know, C B R E, JLL Kushman Wakefield. That was something that JCI did, and they were sort of competing on that level back then, seems

[00:17:28] Tearle Whitson: They were, and at that time it was, they were branded as, as ifm. It was just their, the internal operating. Ultimately it became their gws, um, global workplace services, uh, division. And which was kind of a full circle moment for me in that, uh, John's controls held the contract with Microsoft from 1997 to 2002.

They lost the bid while I was there, we had big announcement, you know, Johnson's lost the contract, we're transitioning over to Grubman Ellis, Management Services GEMS as it was [00:18:00] typically I was known. Um, and for the most part, everybody just changed shirts and moved on. You know, some of her management changed over, but a lot of the technicians, uh, wanted to continue working on the campus.

Changed over and, and kept moving forward. Uh, majority of that core did Jim's road through from 2002 to 2012, really took outside of their other in, in their other business aspects. Took a, a big hit in the economic downturn, kind of through out oh 8, 0 9, and never fully recovered as I understand it. Um, I, I don't, I don't know all the aspects of that part of it, but they, in the end were really struggling financially as I understood it.

And by 2012, Microsoft asked, uh, C B R E to step in and, um, c Bre had already had a long presence, had been delivering other services, not, uh, hard fm at that time on for Microsoft. And so it was an extension of their other services. [00:19:00] Had a really good leadership core already in place. Had a good relationship with the Microsoft as a client, so they were asked to come in.

Um, And so c b E took over in 2012 and, uh, still holds the con the facility management contract there, uh, 10 years later. So they're still moving along there. And, and Full Circle Moment was a, believe it is 2016, um, C B R E acquires, uh, JCI's gws division. Um, and my, my date may be wrong, but I think it was 2016, they acquired their gws division.

All of those services come into CBR E and that was kind of my moment. I'm like, All right. I, I stayed in one place, but I've been all around now and have traveled multiple companies, but come back to the one I originated with for the most part.

[00:19:48] James Dice: Got it. Got it. Okay. My final question, and then I want you to continue with your, your background was, I think all of the nerds in the, the audience would be remiss if I didn't ask you what tear down school [00:20:00] was. What did you do in tear down school?

[00:20:02] Tearle Whitson: So with chillers, you know, chillers are one of the, that's the bread and butter of a lot of corporate real estate campuses, Big central plants, uh, where you, you have the large centrifugal chiller systems, uh, and those, the navy, because especially submarines, you have to operate independently. You have to be able to fix anything on your own when it goes, when it goes south and you're, you're out in Ford deployed.

So, uh, every, typically every ship would wind up having somebody, one or two at least, that had gone through their, uh, maintenance school. And within that is a full tear down of the unit where you, you take the entire chiller pretty much to almost suspended rotor, um, bearings. Oil pumps, uh, all the instrumentation go through the, uh, all of the control panel, all of the, uh, electrical, uh, aspects of it, every piece of it.

You work through the entire trailer, take it all the way down, pretty much to the studs, [00:21:00] put it back together again, refill it with the refrigerant, push the button, hope that it, uh, it spins over and everything starts back up and, and runs.

[00:21:09] James Dice: It sounds terrifying.

[00:21:10] Tearle Whitson: yeah, there's that, that moment is it, it's kind of your final day and you go through and you, you're, you're hitting it and you're hoping nothing screams and everything starts up and you go through your checks and your balances, uh, uh, of the unit.

And, uh, you really learn the ins and outs of how they, how they work. Um, and it, it was great at the end. I, it, it carried forward in a way that I wouldn't have maybe had thought, but then when I got to. Uh, Microsoft and was working with really a, you know, a mixed set of technicians. There was a lot of guys that had come through trade school, really knew, you know, in depth technical knowledge on AC units and heat pumps and split systems and things that on some of those rooftop units that I was less clear on.

But it typically, when it came to the cellar plants and those centrifugal chillers, even though at that point we were using [00:22:00] trains, uh, very similar, almost, almost identical and other, every other aspect of how they operate, uh, I could really lean in and be, uh, a knowledge owner for them, help train other technicians, uh, understand how they were supposed to operate, which the central plant being core to a lot of, um, centralized campus operations that wind up being a really a core skill set.

Carried forward a few years. Um, ultimately, uh, about circuit 2006, we started up a, uh, Uh, Retrocommissioning program. Um, and, um, we had, had been looking at, um, I had, I had started to develop some kind of advanced techniques advanced at the time. Now it seems kind of pretty quaint exporting, uh, reports and putting 'em into CSVs and taking the CSVs and normalizing them and starting to run some basic data [00:23:00] analytics on just on how many valves are, are out of position, how many valves are fully open and how many valves are closed, what, what valves are outside of their commands.

You know, things that would start to become fundamentals of fault detection. Um, at the time I was trying to work up some of my own pieces. Um, had a great venture. Again, this is something I'll I probably'll return to multiple times as a, a common theme, Microsoft has always been, it's a great campus and they've always been outstanding client in wanting to embrace.

Kind of the newest, most forward approach to how they operate and run their campus more often. They consistently want to come back to that. Um, one of the things that we had was a great, uh, joint venture was, uh, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, known now, especially known for one of their, one of their core, um, domains that they have within their suite of different, you know, nuclear technologies, one, but they also [00:24:00] work on building systems and building performance as a, a, a core principle that they, uh, research and deploy.

Um, they were building some,

[00:24:09] James Dice: when I was at nre.

[00:24:10] Tearle Whitson: Yeah. Yeah. And, and like I said, they're really great resource, bunch of smart guys over there. I've met with, uh, different groups at different times, but back in 2005, they were really putting together. Basic at the time, basic guidance. Um, and we got ahold of the, the early guidance and some of it were, it was built on, uh, their own investigation, elements of n standards and what would be recommendations for, uh, operations of refrigeration equipment, air uh, air conditioning equipment, air handling systems.

So I started really unpacking and onboarding a lot of that knowledge and trying it out. Some of it was similar to stuff I was already working on. Some of it was really great and educational. Some of it we were able to provide feedback to them to say, We see where you were going here, but here's maybe some things that were successful.[00:25:00]

And I think that they then took and carried back into their own research, um, really great learning opportunity and it helped kickstart our RETROCOMMISSIONING program. Kind of one of the things, uh, again, bring it all around is, uh, my, one of my earliest partnerships with, uh, DB Engineering was that they were an advising engineering company at the time, much smaller.

I think really only maybe a handful, maybe maybe a dozen engineers at tops at that point.

[00:25:29] James Dice: Mm-hmm.

[00:25:30] Tearle Whitson: and, uh, they had been brought on to support our retrocommissioning program. And so as the retro commissioning program was standing up, we would pair a control engineer and, uh, um, uh, PE professional engineer with a mechanical engineering background and a commissioning agent as part of our retro commissioning program.

Uh, so the three of us would typically, To a campus side by side, hunker down in a chiller plan in an operator's room [00:26:00] with the the BAS computer and, and really dig, dig in and start to run the reports. Um, run system reports, break down what, how the performance you know of the equipment was, was looking, configure, verify trend data, set those up to make sure that they were reporting correctly.

We had all the right the points so we could do some of the offline analysis. Um, we'd go out, do verify calibration. Typically the, the commissioning agent myself would go out, run in temperature probes, you know, open, open up the Pete's plugs, check all the different systems, verify flows, verify temperatures were correct.

And, and sometimes those are the, nowadays we go back and we do, you know, we look at, you know, data regression models and try to understand, you know, what's the, you know, is this within its standard range? Is this, uh, sensor working word is, and we can run those automatically. Back then we had to do a lot of it manually.

Some cases we. Throw a flow meter on, on a piece of p a leg of pipe because there was no flow meter installed in the system. And [00:27:00] so often we were trying to do it manually. Um, but it really gave us some root principles that that helped out. Um, and I would say the, the three complimentary skill sets, we learned a ton from each other.

The commissioning agent came at it with a documentation rigor and an approach of here's how you would, uh, validate, you know, system testing, functional performance testing, um, incorporating air balancing, uh, schedules, mechanical engineer. Really brought core principles sometimes would check me on things that I would, I would think were, Oh, this is a standard assumption I might make about how things were operating.

And he'd like, No, no, no, no, no. Let's go back and let's look at the calculation. Cuz actually that's gonna consume more energy than, than you think. And I, you know, in some cases we'd okay hunker down and he'd prove me, he'd prove me wrong. Sometimes I would go back and say, Hey, we can't operate it that way because of stability issues.

And, and he would, he would like, Oh no, no. It's supposed to be, it's designed to perform at this level. And we'd go back, we'd [00:28:00] argue about it a little bit and then turns out we'd find a good common ground. Um,

[00:28:04] James Dice: That's awesome.

[00:28:05] Tearle Whitson: it was great, great ground. Um, we had, uh, multiple years with the retro commissioning program, um, that really set the stage for, uh, thankfully we had, I think oh six through oh 8, 0 9, um, successful program.

We were getting to about 10 different. Clusters, uh, sites, uh, a year. Um, we'd be able to run all the reports. We, we produced, uh, energy recommendations, uh, project recommendations, things that need to be spun up. We probably, and we were getting rebates from the local utilities, so we were probably targeting, you know, I think on average we were about $250,000 in energy saves per year.

Successful program at the time felt really great. We were tangible results, things we could see, um, and measure come forward a few years and 2009, um, maybe it was late 2008, [00:29:00] 2009, uh, we get a new Microsoft, um, director of operations under the real estate portfolio that had come in from Cisco, Darrell Smith.

[00:29:09] James Dice: yeah.

[00:29:10] Tearle Whitson: in and he's just a, just a big personality, full of energy and, and has a real passion, had a real huge passion for smart buildings. He had already been working closely with some of the real comm team, uh, Jim Young and uh, uh, Howard and some of the other folks. He'd been working really closely with them already, and when he got on site, I was blown away.

I think I might have had

[00:29:35] James Dice: We

[00:29:36] Tearle Whitson: half dozen conversations in the, you know, nine, you know, almost 10 years at that point, working on campus. Maybe I'd had total of a half dozen conversations ever with our facilities director on the Microsoft side. He was really business, They were typically business focused, you know, services focused, outcome focused on, and rightfully so.

But, uh, day one, Darrell came [00:30:00] and sought out my, the controls group. It was like day one on campus. He came, found our, at the time we were, weren't quite an operations center, but in a bullpen. Old cube style farm and he, he comes out and finds us. He's like, Hey, I'm Darryl, and once you intro, he was really energetic, want to introduce himself and he is immediately.

What control systems are you running? Uh, Siemens and Allerton and this parts of the campus. Okay. How are they connected? What kind of data are you pulling in and what, what reports are you running? Oh, do you guys have a retro commissioning program? I mean, just day one, he was on fire about some of those topics and, and it was like, Whoa, okay, this is really cool.

This might go somewhere. And it did. He, he became the really, the point of inception inspiration for kicking off our, our Smart Buildings program.

[00:30:46] James Dice: amazing.

Amazing. And he, he like partnered with Accenture, I think back then and wrote a white paper about F D D. It was really, it was like smart campus, but it was really about F D D. [00:31:00] And just to take it full circle with me, I read that white paper as a graduate at a mechanical contracting firm and it kind of set me on my path as


[00:31:11] Tearle Whitson: Yeah. And that was, it was, again, one of those things where we were fortunate and had the opportunity. It's one of those that I, uh, sometimes hard work can go unanswered unsought in a, in a vacuum and nobody sees it. But hard work paired with the right environment and the right ultimate stakeholders and, and client.

Microsoft was great about endorsing and supporting it and ultimately having a really key stakeholder like Darrell was, you know, that was the revolutionary catalyst that sparked the rest of our, our smart buildings development. Um, he came in, I think we had a really good ecosystem of talent. We had, uh, engineers.

You know, I hate, I wanna make sure I shout out to my old team, Jonathan, uh, Grove. And then I had a great program manager that, that [00:32:00] Darrell brought on Travis rig. Um, and just it was the right dynamics, uh, ultimately of that inception, that team inception that started off, that when he came on was on fire about it.

He, I think at the time, brought in a, um, Jim Syop as a, kind of like a, a, a real knowledgeable industry consultant to help lean into it. Brought a lot of our team together. Some of our other senior leaders established a, a really clear cut set of requirements and guidelines of what the program would be, even before we went to out to RFI and rfp.

Um, and then kicked off and started that round of initiating an RFI to go out to the. Community as a whole, the industry to say, Mike, this is where we're interested, what, who's, you know, viable and wanting to participate. I think they rfi to 11 companies RFP down to six. Um, we went through rounds and rounds of presentations and, um, review other products [00:33:00] down, selected down to down to pilot three separate solutions, um, that we would take and kick off.

Uh, we what became an 18 month pilot, um, a convergent parallel pilot at the same time.

[00:33:14] James Dice: Got it.

[00:33:19] James Dice: Well, you've talked about the importance of occupancy data over and over on the show. And the team at Butler would like to reinforce it. Occupancy data drives a variety of use cases across workplace experience, real estate planning and facilities management, and is too valuable to be siloed in a walled garden. Every building and workspace would benefit from accurate private cost-effective occupancy data accessible via API.

So go to www.nexus labs online slash 0 9 1. Or click the link in the show notes to listen to nexus podcast, episode 91, with my conversation with rags. president of Butler on their approach to provide accurate. API [00:34:00] first occupancy data at a fraction of the cost while not being physically able to collect personally identifiable information.

[00:34:08] James Dice: Yeah, I'd love to. I'd love to say, so there's three directions I kind of wanna take. This one is just an overview of, that was the beginning of the Microsoft Smart Buildings program. I'd love for you to do an overview of kind of where that program is at today. So you mentioned before we hit record here, that sort of smart buildings kind of grew up around you, right?

So can you talk about, Okay, um, you know, you guys were doing this before a lot, a lot of people were, but what is that program today? What are all the technologies that are sort of in place? And then I kind of want to go from there into your remote operations center and some of the best practices for sort of working with, uh, and lessons learned that you've, that you've sort of had, you know, along the, on the, along the way.

[00:34:54] Tearle Whitson: Yeah. And, and a lot of it, it, it, it starts with that 2012 core. [00:35:00] Um, we went through the pilot phase, uh, selected at that time Iconix as the, the winner of the, the pilot. Um, Became a deployment from 2012 to 2014, uh, 2014. Majority of the mic main headquarters campus was deployed at that point. Uh, it was also the time that Microsoft, uh, initiate where it was really in the growth of Azure and what they wanted to do with cloud computing.

We partnered really closely with some of the early Azure development on, uh, getting that, the iconic system embedded in the cloud. Uh, excuse me. And that was a, that was a really good pivot. Um, 2014, we, it was cloud deployment and North America and global sites began deploying, uh, 14 to 17. We deployed to, uh, three other, four other, sorry, four other North America [00:36:00] sites, Fargo.

Um, Charlotte, North Carolina, Los Cleaners, Texas and Silicon Valley, um, Sunnyvale, California. And, um, after that, took us 2014, about 2016, 2016 to 18. Went to international sites, Beijing, um, Shanghai, ultimately Dublin. We looked at hba and ultimately they were going through remodel. So we didn't deploy to hba, but Beijing, Shanghai and Dublin internationally were all deployed under the Iconics system as well for us.

And under what had grown out of that as well into a suite of services at the time we started out, I was primarily just the subject matter expert. Really kind of the smart building knowledge owner, uh, paired with the engineers, paired with the program managers, uh, as that program really had to expand. We had to grow the team.

The operation center was growing into a full-time [00:37:00] 24. 365 parallel embedded, uh, working activity with the smart buildings program. And so I was standing up at that point. They like made me the chief engineer team leader for, for both teams. We were building out the operations team, um, as a fully functioning team.

We built out the smart building system integrators, um, back end system engineers and um, application engineers. And, uh, developed those teams further, um, ultimately coming back up. Current where all of those teams had to continue to expand as we expanded the campus, as we expanded into international support as we were working with other FM providers.

Um, DB engineering was, uh, right there along with us all the way through as a consultant, um, leaning in. We would, at the time, C B R E was he, uh, running program management FM services and then DB engineer be providing engineering consultancy. [00:38:00] Um, all of that bring kind of coming to the modern times now where campus has been fully deployed, uh, had run through a period.

Probably just something to, to Hallmark and bring up is, uh, 2014 to 2018 was a very firm commitment organizationally of, Hey, we had this tool, what do we do with it? How do we maximize it? Um, collectively, Microsoft and CBR E came together and said, Well, the best way is to organize, organize around it, just make sure we are staffed, um, and our teams are aligned for development.

And deployment of it. Let's make a commitment of what we're gonna be as a fiscal target of an energy target and we will add the staff in headcount. So it's directly account attributable ROI on we're adding this many headcount, we're gonna have this, uh, energy fiscal target at the other end of it. And we had to track to it, report on it on a quarterly basis.

Uh, we missed our first quarter. That was great. first one outta the box. Um, but other than that, we had every other quarter exceeded, um, every target we [00:39:00] had for the next three and a half years. So delivering on a fiscal commitment of straight energy reduction, um, and, and pushed. Uh, you know, hun, you know, millions of kilowatt hours down for Microsoft's operations and found a ton of efficiency, Uh, worked really well with submitting for validation on the, for the Puget Sound Energy.

And so in the back end of it, DB Engineering was submitting and quantifying our fault functions and submitting 'em to, um, Puget Sound Energy for rebates. And they would go through their engineering department review, validate. Okay, you said you corrected X. We can see the data correction, we can see the trend out.

It validates it before and after and looks like it's persisting. Um, we'll, we'll award the rebate. And it was great because ultimately that was our independent sounding board that we typically just didn't have other validation to you. You work in your own vacuum and you don't know for sure what's happening.

[00:39:56] James Dice: but

[00:39:57] Tearle Whitson: so that was great.

[00:40:00] Collectively, the program, um, really kind of hit its stride in 2018. Uh, there were advancements in other areas from 2018 to 2020. Uh, Comfort Index was a parameter that we, we had generated within DB Engineering.

Uh, C B R E partnered together, come up with a how is this gonna work and how will it, um, affect operations with a non-energy focused lens client was looking for. Uh, we had transitioned. Darrell had transitioned off of Microsoft. Uh, Mohan Ready had become our, our new stakeholder. Um, and really was he embraced and empowered us with what we were delivering, but then challenged us to go farther.

I remember one time he's like, Yeah, great. You got the energy stuff down, now I wanna see what else you can do. And really pushed us forward into comfort, analytics, escalations around how can we be ahead of customer comfort and, and finding ways to measure that, uh, respond to [00:41:00] them fast and, and, um, in a timely manner.

What else could we do with the systems in order to, uh, work on. Uh, reliability, uh, critical up times, uh, uh, system response to, uh, power outages. O other, every other aspect of operations had started to continue to expand. Coming forward into 2018 to 2020, um, other innovation principles really had started to, to, to blossom out of our test lab.

Um, I didn't really mention that, but we had developed, Daryl had sponsored development of an innovation test lab where anything new that was getting thrown at a corporate campus, we wanna put it on the board and test it. Uh, we'd run it, validate it, um, whether it was, in ocean data protocols, uh, PV har light harvesting technology, solar, panels, electrochromic glass technology of a couple different providers.

And how would that work? Uh, one point we had a giant. Solar la uh, solar lamp, [00:42:00] uh, powering down on a solar panel in the lab with electrochromic glass in between. And we would run some tests and da and do a data validation on the back end of it. Um, lot of different things, uh, like quirky things we wound up doing in there was, uh, uh, the, uh, parking counter.

Uh, there was a real high dollar parking counter that had, had, I think, had come outta some, uh, Italian developer that we weren't getting, uh, real great support on. So they were curious, like, what could you guys do as a lowcost initiative that might go in? So we had parking counters in there, and you might come by the lab and we'd be jumping up and down on, on a parking counters to raise the counts and trigger our, our analytics to, of when to, to change the sign quality or to, to send out alerts and kind of a bunch of crazy stuff.

Um, but it connected fire extinguishers from engage and, uh, connected ceiling systems. And so all that ec ecosystem of, uh, technologies, we were really. Bringing together up through about 2020 [00:43:00] and then pandemic hits, alters the course of things a little bit, but for the most part, a lot of that technology and platform continued forward.

Good. Certainly created a different, you know, a different course than we might have been pursuing. We might have been on even before that.

[00:43:15] James Dice: the things I wanna circle back on there is I feel like, I don't know what year you guys started doing this remote operations center, but you know, I've had other people on the podcast that have talked about it in the past. I think we can probably link back to the conversation with Leon from Bueno.

He talks about how this is kind of taken off in different industries in Australia. It's becoming more and more popular in the us.

Can you talk about a little bit, like what are some best practices for running an operation center like that when you're leveraging F D D and how can, If I'm a portfolio owner and I'm thinking about, Hey, I got 50 buildings.

We don't have an operation center stood up right now, what are the things that they need to think about to make that happen?

[00:43:57] Tearle Whitson: Uh, I probably have good things in [00:44:00] some bad things, um, in that area. I think, you know, we sometimes had grown up natively. Uh, we had started off with a, you know, uh, you know, five days a week operation center or control room. Uh, then, hey, let's take it into extended hours. Let's pick up some swing hours. Um, uh, and then eventually worked our way towards 24 by seven.

But it was a little bit, you know, we, we were working within the tools that we had. We worked within the BAS system as we tried to optimize those. Probably one of my favorite and core practices that I will, I will always come back to when it comes to BAS systems is that we were, again, I think, blessed with a really good client that was, uh, before Darrell had come on, uh, Rhonda Cohen was a, an awesome sponsor that had leaned in very heavily with how we were running the, the automation systems and wanted to understand when new projects came on.

And Microsoft has grown and expanded in a lot of different [00:45:00] ways. And then they have a, a PACE with construction and remodeling and updating their buildings. It's, it's not, I would say typical in the industry, all the, all the time. And so we would see construction outages and it would knock out a complete building system.

And now I've got a critical lab going down because we've lost visibility. Systems aren't connecting everybody scrambles and goes and tries to respond and figure out what's happening. Um, construction practices and standards and guidelines. Uh, Microsoft issued a really clear cut set of standards and guidelines.

This is how we will build the spaces. This is how we will operate 'em. These are the parameters. They had an expanded addendum on top of those standards and guidelines we call a facility system. Business rules FSBs, um, uh, and it's, you know, acronym soup like much of the industry. But we would, we would go back to those Fs b r guidance and it was really clear cut submittal process.

What submitted in design, essentially in parallel with DD and construction [00:46:00] drawings that would go in as a sequence of operation, but drawing submittal of functional drawing. With all instrumentation and something we called cmat, uh, control monitor, alarm and trend table, that would outline every data point within, within a given asset.

In that asset that you were, you were submitting for review. So if I was submitting an air handler, it would have, here's discharge, air temperature, what type, It's a AI of this type, and it will be monitored in this way on this, on, on a floor plan. It'll be monitored on a building overview screen. It'll be alarmed at this given rate.

At this threshold, it'll be trended at a given threshold and every point on a standard deployment of an air handler would be itemized and outlined there. Um, and then that each asset. Pump system, air handling system, AC system, fan coil, terminal VAs, uh, chillers, Everything had its own template that it had to be [00:47:00] submitted under.

Uh, that program gave us an outstanding basis because our early operations really struggled at times with a lot of running around, you know, like a chicken with it's head cutoff, just kind of responding like with a fire, let's go, Oh, we just had a big outage. Let's go see what's happening. And we could get into some things.

But then all of a sudden the BAS system would be, we'd loss of communication. We'd find a contractor cut a com wire, and they had never submitted that they were working in a given space. We couldn't put any other controls around what they were doing of mitigating those conditions and, Microsoft did a really good job about controlling that and putting, uh, guidance and how that would be handled.

We built the programs for submission and and inclusion, so it's standardized all of our systems, regardless of what control system, Allerton, Siemens, they would all come in in a same standardized submitted format. Um, that really got us some consistency. We were, the operations team was able to then review code, uh, [00:48:00] verify basically with the commissioning agent that the systems were online.

They met all the CRI submitted criteria. So when the operations department only the op center took over, they had already had validation. So our F SBR program laid that connective handoff from construction to operations. I will attribute that as so many elements of our success, not just in operations.

Ultimately in the building and the development and the birth of the Smart Buildings program. We, we'd never be been as successful if we had inconsistent monitoring labeling, uh, naming terminology. Uh, we had a naming standard, you know, long before, uh, you know, other ontologies had come about haystack and others.

We had a very concrete established naming standard coming forward, um, that all the systems would, would adhere to. And so those helped the op center. As the op center staffed up. They had really predictive is the type of alarms they were going to get. This, it'll always be formatted in this [00:49:00] manner, and whenever it wasn't, we'd go back.

Work backs to, to correct. It wasn't perfect. We, you know, at times we would be, I'm, they were operating still out of the alarm screen from the, the bas they were operating out of an Outlook screen on an alarm folder that they would be, you know, generating SMTP traffic from the bas to, to drive alarms. Um, but we, we built those in.

Ultimately as the smart buildings platform came online, we drew a very clear line between alarms and faults. Faults are not alarms and faults should not be looking at the same thing as an alarms. An alarm is an emergency. An alarm is a heart attack. You're having a heart attack, something's wrong. Take immediate action.

Go to the hospital now. Dispatch technicians, I'm overheating critical space needs attention. A fault is high blood pressure. It is all of the other conditions that are leading up to it. Oh, hey, you have all these other problems [00:50:00] that whether they're an energy driver or ultimately a reliability driver that will lead to an alarm condition potentially, but they may, a fault may operate and the system may achieve its goals for years and nobody knows any better.

You're just doing it inefficiently. Um, so we made a really clear distinction between the two I had always had having come from the operations. One to bring more of our, our alarm, um, hierarchy into the systems. But they were really challenged to do, um, the alarming functions within the bss. Uh, were still really hard to bring across.

They weren't native backnet at times, and so we couldn't, maybe, maybe couldn't subscribe to event enrollments and objects that would let us see it. Intrinsic values were not always ex exposed as a backnet property you could monitor in the smart building solution. So there was a lot of it that we still had to grind through

[00:50:52] James Dice: Mm-hmm.

[00:50:53] Tearle Whitson: come forward.

And we've had, you know, there's big leaves in the technology, more of the standards that systems are more on [00:51:00] backnet natively. So those things could hit, can and have been in, uh, introduced into a, a universal dashboard, alarming dashboard, u a D. And that has now become a standard function where they can use it as a viewable screen.

It can be a filterable screen where you can get more out of it. I feel like alarm. Optimization is still a target. Um, some of the work I was doing, uh, prior to joining DB Engineering with, uh, C B R E the last year on what it was standard standardizing as a corporate function. One of our core tenants was really looking at alarm optimization.

How do you reduce the rigor, reduce the cycles on the operator? How do you focus them to get to the right place? I don't, and this is consistently, I don't feel like we've got great answers in that area still. Um, I think my old team, we struggled with it. We tried to bring it across. It got deprioritized at times.

Well, let's focus on the energy saves. Okay. Um, the, the technology was always a [00:52:00] little bit off in how we would bring 'em together. There's a lot of good marketing at people that are doing it. Um, I think it has been done in some really good, um, bite size pieces. I think it's still an area that we've got as a smart.

Platform forward, look forward looking. That's an area. Alarm optimization. Alarm hierarchy, um, you know, neutralizing of alarms other than from an inception point of chiller. Plant a chill trips on, you know, a safety and I get high chill water temperature. That's great. I, the chiller alarm is the inception point I need to focus on and respond to.

High chiller, chill water temperature, uh, high chill, you know, high pumping from the, the chiller pumps. High discharge air temperature from an air handler, high space temperature from, you know, in a building and a lab and a terminal. Those are all secondary conditions I need to focus on. Dispatch optimizing.

That has still been a challenge. I think there's a lot of good tools and we've got a lot of anecdotal, Oh, [00:53:00] we, this is how we do it. I just don't think it's been as deployed as well as I'd like to see. We didn't do it as well as I'd wanted to do it even, um, with the op operation center. Um,

[00:53:09] James Dice: And do you see, so if, if you're looking at like the industry as a whole and kind of like where everyone needs to go from here, do you see F D D software platforms kind of taking on more of a role to start to make sense of all that noise? Or do you see it more being on the BAS side of things that they need to kind of improve the

[00:53:28] Tearle Whitson: hopefully a little bit of both. Um, but I, I would imagine the, the, the BAS ads have done better. Um, one time, one challenge I think with the BSS and, and I, I hearken back to one of my, uh, I was an early cynic on why were we gonna do smart buildings? Um, at the time I felt very, uh, BAS competent and SA savvy, uh, when the very first pass it, Hey, we're gonna do the smart buildings program.

We're gonna put on this software layer and integrate and we're gonna do these things with it. And I [00:54:00] looked. Why are you gonna pay all that money to go have somebody do it? I can go do it for you. Uh, you want new graphics? I can go build graphics. You want new, uh, at faults. Okay, great. I can code that. Why not just, we can just do that ourselves.

Why do you need these other systems? Ultimately? It's the, the, you know, much of the medley of what we've talked about over the years is it's the marriage of many systems and I could code in block code in Allerton and I could code in line code over in Siemens, but the two are not directly applicable. And yet, if I can build a system in a smart buildings platform, that's when I can start to become, you know, really a force multiplier.

By expanding that capability and applying it across multiple systems, smart buildings, tech will be able to do that. A client that has multiple BAS providers, which is more often than not the norm, unfortunately, that is.

[00:54:50] James Dice: them, pretty much.

[00:54:51] Tearle Whitson: And most of them will have many, they'll have building here and building there. And they'll both be systems, it might be multiple floors with multiple vass.

Um, the [00:55:00] ability to aggregate those that comes to the smart building platform. More often than not, the providers are gonna tell you, Oh, we have API connectivity. We can bring in that system's alarms natively, and our dashboard is, is got all the widgets. You can use our system to do it. More often than not, you're gonna do the lift and shift and all the other system integration aspects.

You're gonna be probably taking it into a smart building platform of some form to do that as well. So I think inherently that, that part of the industry will, will win. I think fault detection in its core algorithmic process provides a root capability for advanced alarming that you don't have in the BAS systems as well.

Without in depth coding, not a systemic UI that can enable it, uh, I think you get that core function with fault detection. At a better, deeper level than you do within the BAS coding. However, there you're still kind of limited to the whatever functions the FT d tool allows you to, [00:56:00] to build and more advanced hierarchal faults and alarm capabilities.

Alarm aggregation is gonna require. Analysis beyond, you know, typical if then type of fault algorithm, uh, development. I want to know more about my alarms. I need to know inherent relationships. That chiller example I was quoting that I need to know the relationship of that chiller to all those secondary systems.

Establishing that in the BAS has not been as clean as we'd like it to be. Uh, more of the smart buildings have that capability within the, the larger schema, um, and ontologies that are now showing relationships whether you, you extend beyond and tore and a reco more of those dynamic relationships.

Digital twin is, uh, you know, another function where that relationship and not. Um, a typical hierarchy of this system is by these, you know, [00:57:00] these daughter systems from this parent system, but how does that system affect these other neighboring systems? The ontology provides that wider capability to have that dynamic relationship.

I think we're gonna have to see that continue to go further to have that really true next generation alarming capability. Um, some tools are getting closer and closer, and again, I think there, there's deployments that are out there that are now really starting to highlight it. Uh, but mostly they're a little bit more of the boutique ones.

Um, and they're the one-off. And where we get with the tool sets to that we, it becomes more, the norm is still, I think, part of the industry that has to grow into.

[00:57:37] James Dice: Yeah, totally. Circling back on the Remote Operations center piece, I'd love to hear how as you made that switch from, you know, you had all these disparate sites spreader out throughout the world. You guys created this remote operations center, started to pull different buildings in main campus, but also all these different other [00:58:00] campuses throughout the world.

How did the service contracts. For bas um, mechanical have to transform to sort of, um, not accommodate this new paradigm. But how did F D D and this sort of, you know, software mindset, centralized software mindset sort of transform how then Microsoft did service contracts.

[00:58:23] Tearle Whitson: It had to be embedded. Um, initially some of it was, uh, you know, more of a one-off. We need you to engage in these areas. Here's parts of, you know, contractor, other services as provided that might account for it. But then ultimately they had to be expanded. Uh, performance objectives had to be changed. Um, and you.

It was, it worked well in most cases. Sometimes it wasn't perfect. Um, you know, it, we were, at the time, I was under C B R E as the facility provider for Puget Sound and the Redmond headquarters and North America. There were other [00:59:00] providers outside of North America that we had to work partner with. Jll, um, Sedexo, uh, JCI at one point was still in, uh, before, prior to the acquisition.

Um, most of those dynamics all worked great. Um, I had great partnerships, uh, you know, met with different FM leaders under different umbrellas. They were all very, you know, engaged and wanted to, to participate. They would be skeptical. They would, you know, and when they were given targets, uh, you need to start to achieve these, these quarterly goals.

They would really push back. They would want to analyze. Um, they would work with their partners. There was a lot of relationship aspects that had to come together. Their contracts had ultimately had to be, uh, you know, there was some slight change orders and scope changes that had to be developed. Um, some worked, some didn't.

Um, you know, we had, uh, there was new construction going on one of the sites and the construction team was very focused on what they were doing. They weren't wanting to engage as cleanly with what we were trying to align to where with their delivery. [01:00:00] It really took us almost a year post construction to get on board with the, the FM provider after they were stood up and brought them along to understand, here's where you want to go, here's how we're gonna engage, here's how we're gonna try to report on it with you.

Here's where we'll partner the meeting rigor and the cadence that would, would connect on those pieces. Um, but it, it, it's, at the end of the day, it's like almost everything else in FM and winds up being in relationships. Um, You know, the system and the technology's great. At the end of the day, it still requires people and partnerships and relationships to actually make these things happen.

Um, and it was consistent across all of the, the other providers that we worked with. Um, you know, some were great, some needed work, you know, took a little bit more massaging. Uh, and I, I'd say one thing too is, uh, it, it's, it's organizationally one of the pieces that I would, every company that wants to really lean in and embrace it, they [01:01:00] have to, they have to take a hold of it and know that and commit to it.

That level of commitment by the organization is one of the biggest, I think the enablers of the entire industry. We can have all the technology in the world. None of the, you know, and I've talked with people that have come in with a perception about smart buildings and, um, my, my nerdiness always comes out cuz they'll, I I'll.

Try to make Association of Tellem. This is not a Genesis box. It's not a, you drop it in the building and it magically transforms the building. It ultimately is a tool that your people and your programs have to enable, have to lean into. They can be empowered by this tool, but the tool will do some things for you, but it will never do all things for you.

And you have to take and set objectives and lean in and, and embrace the technology. And you have to train your people. You have to build the organization in a structure that supports it, um, and make commitments and stick with those commitments. Um, you know, depending on the leadership, they [01:02:00] people in one group or another group.

If they're outside of it, they may not be as, as firm in the commitment. And you gotta bring 'em to the table.

[01:02:07] James Dice: Yeah. That's why we start in our foundations course, we start with stakeholders as, as module one up upright and center. And it, it frustrates people that are new. They're like, I wanna learn about the sexy tech. I

wanna, you know, jump right into digital twins and ontologies and all those things. And it's like, No, let's take a step back.

Let's, let's figure out whether you actually have the stakeholder support that you need, or else you're just gonna be pushing a boulder up a hill.

[01:02:32] Tearle Whitson: it's, it's the most important piece. They've gotta buy in and know what they want out of it. If they don't, you can bring all the cool tech you want and it's just a toy. It's not really gonna be a tool that implements change until the people and the processes come with it.

[01:02:46] James Dice: Totally. Well, Ter we're running outta time here. I wanna, um, ask you about one thing that I think would be interesting to get your perspective on before we kind of wrap up, which is, I know one of the technologies that you guys ended up implementing was, was [01:03:00] comfy. And as someone that you described self describe skeptic with smart buildings, I'd love to hear kind of the journey that you went on with.

Maybe we don't need a zero in on comfy specifically, but an application that takes control of set points, takes control of control

systems from the overlay, from the smart building sort of layer. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you thought at that initially and then where you kind of went with it as you, as you grew into d deploying it,

[01:03:31] Tearle Whitson: Uh, skeptic again. Um, you know, I'm definite as much of an embracer ultimately. With technology, I'm often the, the, the skeptic that wants to challenge it. At first, um, I I was the guy that, you know, one of the t-shirt that said, you know, the cloud is just somebody else's data center. And, and, and so I was, I was not a cloud easy early cloud adopter until I was, until all of a sudden it was working and it was clicking and it empowered things.

Comfy was the same way. Um, [01:04:00] we comfy, uh, when they were still in kind of their startup phase prior to their acquisition, uh, that Microsoft had had a few connections that brought them to us. And when that came to us and they said, Hey, we're really interested in this technology. We want you to stand it up and tell us what, what you can do with it.

Um, I, we pretty much had a mandate, you know, kind of came down because there was a high level corporate interest of, of what to do with comfy and, um, we, we basically got from connection to startup of our first building and I think a little bit under six weeks, uh, where we were. Launching and, and had a building online and onboard.

Um, and there were elements of it. Comfy was still, you know, bunch of awesome, cool, talented people. I still connected to many of 'em. Um, and, but at the time they were still learning some of the industry. And again, part of the partnership was that we provided a lot of feedback. Uh, you know, they were, [01:05:00] you know, Hey, we're gonna override the terminal system in this way when there's a cool MySpace or warm MySpace requirement.

And we're like, Ooh, you do that. You're gonna have these unintended consequences. Let's tweak it this way and it'll work better. Um, their engineers were, were awesome, you know, you know, humble and curious. We worked back and forth with 'em. There was a lot of iteration. I think in the end it wind up working engineering wise, it's, we got it to a place collectively.

They did a lot on their own. We provided input and it wind up working well. Um, well, From an adoption and organization, uh, the first launch. And then ultimately we had it kind of in a bake point for about six months and then before we really started to launch more buildings. Um, that one and then the second one, I think the second and third launches we did really were what turned my mind because, uh, companies, they had a really great engagement process.

Uh, their success managers would come in, they would, they'd bring a whole team for a launch day activity, and they would come on [01:06:00] site and they'd set up a booth in a common area or a cafe for the building. Uh, we'd send out a lot of, uh, you know, change management, which one of my other big pillars I'd love solely, wholly needed in the industry.

Cuz without change management people just don't adopt to these things. They were really great at it. They were awesome at engaging with the clients and reaching out to people the right points, the launch activities in the space. There'd be a big banner. They'd have handouts. They'd have, you know, a lot of engagement and outreach to the client.

I, I would sit kind of in the wings off to the side and watch them and listen. But I would listen to the clients and it was one of the most. Where I was kind of going, ah, people don't even use adjustable thermostats on the wall. Why are they gonna start using a phone, an application? You know, they won't even get up and walk over and turn and adjust the thermostat slide on the, by the door.

They're never gonna use this. And I'm grumpy and arms crossed, sitting in the, in the corner just kind of [01:07:00] listening. But I was open to the, the prospect of the opportunity listened, and I heard the clients, and they loved it. They embraced it. They thought, This is cool. This is super neat. I love the idea. Oh, I've always wondered what my temperature was.

Oh, I didn't know I could do this. And, and I, okay. And part of me's kind of grumbling to myself. I'm like, Oh, we have a, there's a facilities call center and there's a facilities page that tells them all the same information. Why are they embracing this new tech instead of going to the tech that they. Uh,

[01:07:30] James Dice: basically we're not trying

[01:07:30] Tearle Whitson: they, they loved it.

Uh, it was, there was just a different engagement, a different adoption, different generations. You know, Also, you know, I'm, I'm a firm Gen Xer, and there's millennials and beyond have a different way, as everybody knows, we see it, they come to technology in a different way and have it on their phone as an application.

Totally different engagement model. Um, and I became a huge supporter enthusiast after I heard and saw the reaction from our occupants. [01:08:00] Um, it, there was a real big embrace. ,

[01:08:02] James Dice: of the,

[01:08:03] Tearle Whitson: there were also some curmudgeons out there. Um, we had, uh, we had some smart people that were, uh, starting to write test scripts that could actually engage the, the, the application on a, a high frequency to adjust their temperatures.

They were, there were people that they put up a, on the internal Yammer page, they, uh, Comfy Wars and it was like a moral combat design and it was two people facing off and I'm hot, I'm cold. And, you know, it was a really cool design. But again, it was like, okay, I guess that's an escalation point for me to go engage with the client off to go, uh, talk to them.

Um, so it wasn't perfect, but as an application, as an point of engagement with different people and different styles. Awesome. Um, people once they've figured it out, totally different, you know, method of getting in and interacting with the systems. As a curmudgeon old engineer wanting to maintain control of my [01:09:00] systems.

Yeah, I was absolutely like, No, don't, don't mess with our systems. We eventually adopted it. We pulled the comfy analytics in, uh, it, it kickstarted a little bit of a working effort where we pulled the comfy analytics. Um, uh, I'm a name drop. My two, two of my old team members, Jason Johnson and Sheridan Allen, uh, they were awesome at new approaches with some of these technologies.

And one of the things was comfy data and analytics pulled into our work order data, uh, married that up with the rest of our fault detection information, and all of a sudden we had a completely different, uh, engagement, uh, metric to see how the build systems are performing, how they were aligned to comfy requests, first work or traditional work orders and against our fault data.

Um, wound up creating a really, really cool totality metric that led us see. The performance of the building in a very different way. We had started to get some really good scorecards, building scorecards [01:10:00] Incorporated, Comfort Index Incorporated, ei Um, this was the next piece that really blew it away. Um, uh, it was tough.

The data throughput wasn't always perfect, had to go back and scrub a lot of it, but it was a really cool engagement when you start to bring some of those pieces cuz we never, we'd never get that engagement from a client. We would, you know, maybe they would submit a work order when they were hot or cold or something was noisy.

Great. Never hear anything else from 'em. I wouldn't get up votes, down votes, I wouldn't see other pieces of that engagement cycle. Massive change. And it's one of the forward pieces that we as an industry have to really lean into. Um, I think you're gonna get curmudgeony, uh, real estate execs that are gonna wanna hold off on that kind of thing.

And they think it, of it as fluff. But in the end, when I saw the impact to my clients and to my occupants, game changer and had to embrace it at that point. Um, and it was good deployment. We deployed it to, I think we were at 50 buildings pre Covid. Um, [01:11:00] you know, and, you know, they're going through kind of their own revision cycle with some of the new campus and how they're gonna approach it going forward, but an experiential application that engages the clients must have.

I, I, I view it now as, as, as something that has to be part of the cycle.

[01:11:14] James Dice: what Absolutely. And I love hearing you talk about it because if you think about, you know, the startup and the new technology sort of deployment model, um, your late majority, late adopter in that you're viewing things with skepticism, um, which is great.

And I, I love hearing you talk about how you've gone on your journey with it and you know, or skeptical at first and then got it. And now you see it and now you're like, Okay, well here are the best practices, uh, for actually implementing it. So it's,

[01:11:42] Tearle Whitson: I, I think it's something. I, I think at this point, it, it's, it feels as if it's one of those things that now needs to become part of Standard Suite. Um, and, and whereas we put it out there as, as maybe, you know, boutique technology in the past, I think in the next few [01:12:00] years, it's just gonna become part of standard FM and operational rigor.

It just have to have that element now.

[01:12:06] James Dice: especially as you're talking about combining it with each other data sources, and then the ability for, you know, some sort of data layer to then come in and combine everything together. Uh, absolutely. All right, Tara. Well that's all. I'm sure we could talk about this all day. You have

[01:12:23] Tearle Whitson: All

[01:12:23] James Dice: much history, uh, of what you've been doing for so many years.

Uh, let's end it for today. Maybe we could do another round two at some. I, I end with every, every episode ends with some carve outs. So is there a, you know, a book newsletter, TV show, movie, podcast, et cetera, that's had a big impact on you lately that we could share with the audience?

[01:12:45] Tearle Whitson: Uh, I, I typically try to have comes to books. I have what I call, uh, I always try to have brain candy and bring food. Um, and

[01:12:55] James Dice: I, like that.

[01:12:56] Tearle Whitson: I try to carve, cuz I used to, they would just try to, I would stack 'em up [01:13:00] and I'd just have one reading list. Um, and, but I found when I'm

[01:13:04] James Dice: like, what mood are you in? Yeah. Candy or


[01:13:07] Tearle Whitson: mood, it's mood, it's place.

Um, it, like when I'm going to bed is one of my reading times. I, I try to carve out 30, 45 minutes before I go to sleep that I just read, um, put everything else away and read. And that I found when I was trying to take on more brain food, technical ma books or leadership books or something else, I would tend to chew on that as I'd go to sleep and I'd start troubleshooting in my sleep and I'd wake up barely slept well, maybe I'd ground through a problem, but it didn't work well.

So I prefer Brook G um, when I sleep, and that's typically sci-fi

[01:13:44] James Dice: Fiction.

[01:13:45] Tearle Whitson: high fantasy, you know, I love me some Lord of the Rings and all of those types of things. Um, but then I love, but I feel like I have to account for time, for brain food, um, where I get, you know, something that constantly pushes [01:14:00] the, the envelope.

So when I, uh, I have, I. For lunch, I typically, especially in this work from home atmosphere, I get away from the desk. I go upstairs, have my lunch, I sit at our counter. Um, I've got a book stand that sits up there and I basically keep it where I try to read a chapter a day while I'm eating lunch. Um, and so like my current brain food book is a really awesome one.

I'm, I can see myself becoming an evangelist for, it is, uh, called Loon Shots. I actually, the book is upstairs, but I think this is the cover. I'll, I'll pump it out there. Loon Shots by Safi Baca, a friend of mine recommended it. Um, and it's really, it's a really cool engagement and a study on world changing, uh, technologies that were shot.

Before they ever became what they became. Um, so it, and it, it uses that, that alignment where the moonshot, everybody is like pumping about, Oh, we need moon [01:15:00] shots and these great moon shots to do these things. Well, these were technologies that massively changed the world, but they were killed over and over again before they ever got their launch moment.


[01:15:10] James Dice: really.

[01:15:11] Tearle Whitson: yeah. And he really analyzes why did they get killed and what ultimately became the successes. And one of the core things that I love in there is that, and I think it really applies to smart buildings, is uh, there are prototype or P types and, uh, s types, which are strategy and organizational types of loon shots.

Some things where some brand new cool technology comes along, world's changed, everything's amazing. But over time the organization didn't embrace it. If the right strategy wasn't deployed, the right people went in place to, to see it and foster it and grow, it died. Um, and so both elements, Cool tech and organizational organizational strategy has to come into alignment and come together.

[01:15:53] James Dice: Love that. And that's a great place to end off. That just sums everything up that we talked

about. [01:16:00] We'll put that link in the show notes for people. It sounds like a really, if you're, if you're doing f d d, if you're doing, you know, campus deployments, if you're doing Road Operations Center, that sounds like a great book to, uh, to read.

Well, Terrell, thanks so much. It's been a pleasure. A again, we should probably come up with a good list of stuff for, to do for round two. Uh, and we'll put that on the calendar for, for later in the year or early next year. So thanks again.

[01:16:25] Tearle Whitson: For sure. Good deal. Take care. Thank you, James.