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#37: Ten core technology concepts to know

Bruce Duyshart's Smarter Buildings Better Experiences; Why OEMs struggle with software; introducing Charlie and Maureen
#37: Ten core technology concepts to know
“Warren Buffet has a very famous quote, which was, you know, when the stock market crashes, the tide goes out and everybody who is swimming with no pants on gets found out. And that’s very much what this is, what 2020 has done for people that are owning and operating buildings.”

—Deb Noller on episode 15 of the Nexus Podcast

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. 🤔 On my mind this week

  2. 📚 What I’m reading

  3. 💡 New from Nexus

  4. 🧐 New to me

  5. 🧱 Foundations, Week 1: Charlie meets Maureen

If you missed last week’s edition, you can find it here.

Enjoy!


1. 🤔 On my mind this week

As you’ll see below, I’m reading fewer articles this week in favor of this book by Aussie smart buildings consultant Bruce Duyshart. I’ve heard great things about this book from the Switch Automation team and in a recent conversation with Mike Brooman. I agree with them… it’s excellent!

As I read, several concepts from the book are slowly making their way into the outline for the Nexus Foundations course. It’s my job to curate and synthesize great resources like these into a cohesive course—and I love that job! For now, I want to share a list from Chapter 5 of the book. Bruce calls this list the “10 key technology concepts to keep up your sleeve”.

While the list (and the book) is a little too focused on new building design for me, I still love this list because it’s an attempt at conveying the most elementary mental models underpinning so many of our conversations about how to move the industry forward. How many of these conversations break down because we’re not on the same page about the fundamentals? How many projects fail because we’re speaking different languages?

Here’s Bruce’s list…

  1. IP Networks—Siloed systems that were living on their own network are now joining “THE” network. IP = Internet Protocol, not intellectual property.

  2. Bandwidth—The measurement of bits that are available or consumed by a particular network device in a given time. Different network technologies support different bandwidths and smart building devices differ in their bandwidth requirements.

  3. Virtual Networks—When all systems join one common IP network, virtual local area networks (VLANs) are used to logically segment them off to allow better control.

  4. Quality of Service—On large networks with lots of traffic, QoS manages network integrity by giving higher priority to certain types of traffic. Imagine a bus lane in rush hour.

  5. Integrated Communications Network (ICN)—an IP-based building backbone network designed based on traffic and data requirements for the connected devices.

  6. Convergence—As more and more devices become IP enabled, they “converge” onto the IP network. Like how phones now use voice over IP (VoIP) instead of the dedicated copper wires, circuit boards, and switches of yesteryear.

  7. Systems Integration—the engineering process that brings together subsystems to form one cohesive system. Bruce lists 3 levels: physical (on the ICN), logical (using common protocols), and functional (the capabilities enabled).

  8. Open vs. Proprietary—it’s far easier to integrate systems that use open communication standards. However, there isn’t one single universal definition of “open” and frankly, I’m not fully satisfied with Bruce’s (or anyone else’s) definition of it. By the way, this LinkedIn thread from last week on this topic was highly entertaining.

  9. Middleware—the software and hardware required to allow otherwise disparate systems to talk to each other in the absence of a common standard that could allow this directly. See: Niagara.

  10. Open vs. Closed Platforms—a software system that is based on open standards are provides an application programming interface (API) to allow other programmers to interact with it without needing access to the main system’s source code.

What would you add?

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2. 📚 What I’m reading

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Smarter Buildings. Better Experiences. (Bruce Duyshart)

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Other pertinent reads from just (a bit) outside the smart buildings industry:

Acquisitions Alone Will Not Magically Turn OEMs Into Real Software Businesses (Harbor Research)

On the other side it was their own customers, who were now saying, “We’re having trouble continuing to work with you. You’re not providing technologies that allow us to use our data the way we want to, or to integrate with other ‘things’ you don’t make, or to create new application and services values in our world.”

This is a fun read to complement JCI’s recent announcement of OpenBlue, their fifth overlay software platform by my count.

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3. 💡 New from NEXUS

PODCAST BITE—What makes a building intelligent? Thru Shivakumar’s answer…


4. 🧐 New to me

Even though the Nexus Vendor Landscape has over 100 vendors on it, I still learn about new companies/products to track every week.

Here are this week’s discoveries:

  1. Energy Metrics—A recent project had me looking into value-added resellers of OSIsoft’s PI system. I’m new to this ecosystem because it’s historically been used in industrial applications, but some vendors like Energy Metrics look to be venturing into the buildings space. At first glance, the PI ecosystem looks sort of analogous to the SkySpark ecosystem.

5. 🧱 Foundations

The dates are set for cohort 1 of Nexus Foundations, an introductory course on smart buildings. From 10/1 to 11/19, we'll publish weekly content, host weekly live workshops on Zoom, and hold weekly office hours.

The weekly content will feature the story of Charlie, a smart building rookie who eventually grows into a smart building champion thanks to his mentor, Maureen.

Here’s a teaser… are you a Charlie or a Maureen?

Week 1: Charlie meets Maureen

Charlie the Champion wasn’t always a smart building pro. When he was just starting out on his journey, he felt more like a failure. He kept hitting roadblock after roadblock. And he was pulling his hair out because he didn’t even know what he was doing wrong.

After graduation, he pursued a job in buildings because he could see the industry’s potential. He knew that buildings consume 40% of global energy use and learned that technology could help with that. And if our buildings became more intelligent, a lot of other benefits could be had too. That’s a problem he could dedicate his career to solving!

But after 3 years in the industry, Charlie hadn’t actually accomplished all that much. All he had to show for his efforts was a long list of roadblocks and excuses for why innovative ideas won’t work. Sure, he played a role in plenty of projects, but they were mostly done in the same old ways. Charlie was fed up and blaming himself. He was just about to leave the industry once and for all.

“Maybe I’ll just go work at Telsa where I can actually make a difference in the world…”, he thought.

But then he met Maureen.

Maureen the Mentor had been around the block a few times. She’d seen the industry from several different angles and could see the spots where ambitious smart building nerds get stuck. She’d been stuck many times herself and during a recent project meeting, she saw something in Charlie that was reminiscent of her own journey… total frustration.

Maureen was ready for retirement, but she knew she needed to remain involved in the industry in some way. She knew how much change was still needed and knew her hard-fought wisdom could still be valuable in some way. On her last day, she made Charlie the offer he’d been waiting for. And so it began: each week, Maureen and Charlie would meet for coffee across the street from the office.

In the first meeting, Charlie explained all his struggles. The technology is 20 years behind!…. the controls industry is broken!… no one actually wants to change!…

Maureen loved Charlie’s energy, but she knew they had a lot of ground to cover. She knew she had to shift his perspective. She needed to widen his gaze. So in week one, she decided to teach Charlie a little empathy. One by one, she walked Charlie through the industry’s key stakeholders and asked Charlie to put himself in their shoes.

If you were the facility manager, what does a day in your life look like? What problems do you have? Why would you care whether a building is smart or dumb?

This went on for over an hour and required several refills of coffee. One by one, Maureen brought up new stakeholders: the building owner, the occupant, the CFO, the energy manager, the director of sustainability, the controls technician, the MEP design engineer, the architect.

Now, full of empathy (and caffeine), Charlie began to see what he’d been missing all this time: Before even beginning to think about technology solutions, the journey to a smart building requires understanding and navigating the complex web of humans involved. Only by defining the value of smartness in their terms can he accomplish his goals.

Suddenly all those roadblocks made sense. Suddenly it felt less like everyone was out to get him or just plain stupid and more like this was a solvable problem after all.

Suddenly, Charlie felt a little hope.

To be continued… 

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

If you have thoughts on this week’s edition, let us know in the comments!

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—James