4 min read

#30: What are our biggest opportunities?

Talent, silos, fixing BAS, interoperability, platforms
“The term ‘smart building’ has been around for 20-plus years and the industry is still in the first or second innings. There are buildings with smart technologies, not smart buildings.”

—Jim Whalen, chief information and technology officer at Boston Properties

Good morning!

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

Here’s an outline of this week’s newsletter:

  1. 🤔 The biggest opportunities in our industry

  2. 📚 What I’m reading

  3. 💡 New from Nexus

    • Last week, I sent out the video Demystifying the Digital Twin (Pro members only)


☝️ Disclaimer: James is a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). All opinions expressed via Nexus emails, podcasts, or on the website belong solely to James. No resources from NREL are used to support Nexus. NREL does not endorse or support any aspect of Nexus.

1. 🤔 What are the biggest opportunities in our industry?

I was recently asked to give a presentation on the state of the smart buildings industry. My first thought: I’ve somehow fooled you guys into thinking I have this industry figured out! Newsflash: I do not. But it sure is fun to try. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

My second thought: at the beginning of 2020, there were A LOT of articles on this topic. And then coronavirus made most of those assessments and predictions obsolete.

My third thought: I think the more interesting question is: what are the biggest opportunities in our industry? Or, to frame it negatively, what’s holding us back? What are the major obstacles in our way? What initiatives might we stake our careers on?

And because this is Nexus, we should go one level deeper than broad trends like digitization, change management, strategy, funding, short term mindsets, etc.

Here’s my first crack at an outline:

  1. Talent—We need more people who “get it”. Specifically, building owners need more internal (or at least independent) talent to take their company on this journey.

    • By the way, here’s my final training announcement:

      I’m still looking for an initial cohort of students to join a new introductory course on smart building technology.

      If you know someone that is new to the world of smart building technology—whether they’re a new employee or a client or someone looking for a job in smart buildings—please have them email me (nexus@substack.com) or hit reply.

      The first 10 students will receive a heavy discount on tuition and lifetime access to all future cohorts.

  2. Silos—Architects, designers, contractors, manufacturers, distributors, energy engineers, energy modelers, sustainability professionals, commissioning agents, facility managers, building operators, software vendors, occupants, investors. Throughout a building’s lifecycle, all of these lenses, incentives, and norms just don’t align to produce an intelligent building. Not yet at least.

  3. The BAS paradigm is broken—as an industry, we’re spending too much time and money to get a shitty product. We’re navigating complex upgrades, unlocking from proprietary systems, and spending large capital for simple changes, and installing sophisticated overlay software. We could be spending that time innovating and improving and investing.

  4. Interoperability and the lack of platforms—The upfront cost to deploy new solutions is far too high. How long will the ghosts of our proprietary past continue to haunt us? Where are the plug and play platforms we see in other industries (Apple’s App Store, Salesforce’s Lightning, etc)?

  5. Fragmented, confusing marketplace—It’s a daunting task to go shopping. What does each product do and how are they different? How do they play with the technology we already have? How do they compare to the other technologies we’re evaluating? This issue is further exacerbated when, even if we’re using the same terminology, we have differing definitions for the same words. What do you mean when you say analytics? Energy management system? Energy management information system? Building management system? IoT platform? Digital Twin?

My question for you: Which are you tackling?

👉 If you enjoy reading NEXUS, feel free to share it with colleagues!

2. 📚 What I’m reading


The first building designed for the post-COVID-19 environment: This Chicago office building was being designed with COVID-19 hit the US. Here’s what they did to pivot the design: Touch-free everything, microbicidal paint, airPHX (“air fix”) non-thermal, plasma surface and air disinfectant technology, and much more. (Forbes)

“We had the opportunity to modify Fulton East’s design in response to COVID-19 in real-time, allowing us to thoughtfully address employers’ increased concerns for their employees’ office experience and create an environment where hygiene, health, safety, and wellness are holistically considered.”

After reading this, I took a look at airPHX’s website. It looks intriguing.

airPHX — Club Northwest


Here come the cost savers: Proptech investor Matt Knight predicts a changing of the tides in the commercial real estate industry from revenue generation to cost savings. Energy, water, and maintenance will be hot commodities, as will the tech that enables them. (Matt Knight)

“And out of nowhere, revenue growth becomes unpredictable. Now the question evolves into - “Assuming our revenue stays the same for a couple years, how do we increase our margins?””


Can smart save the post-Covid office?: An international design firm on how smart building technology can be leveraged in office buildings. This first part of a series of blog posts focuses on touchless tech, occupancy sensors, and analytics software. (WSP)

All of these upgrades can be bundled as part of other projects, and the data they produce can be used for multiple purposes.

This installment of NEXUS is free for everyone. If you would like to get full access to all content, join the NEXUS Pro community. Members get exclusive access to the Nexus Vendor Landscape, monthly events, weekly deep dives, and all past deep dives.

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3. 💡 New from NEXUS

  • DEEP DIVE—Last week, Pro members received a video recording of Dennis Krieger’s presentation Demystifying the Digital Twin (Pro members only)

OK, that’s all for this week—thanks for reading Nexus!