4 min read

#51: Let's design horizontally, not vertically

My continuing eds, jobs to be done, and Google's approach to smart building standards
Why are we approaching smart buildings in the same way we’ve been doing building automation for the last 15 years? All the different systems, designed in isolation and separated.

Kathy Farrington, Google

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


1. 🤔 On my mind this week

As I come back from vacation and am beginning to plan for 2021, I’ve been thinking about my continuing education. As I said a few weeks back and Phil Zito wrote on LinkedIn, we should all be looking for ways to invest in ourselves. The new year is a great time to reinforce that commitment.

One of the areas I want to learn more about and that I also think is misunderstood in our industry is the concept of the platform. Although I already have some opinions and I’ve ranted about this before, there’s still a lot more to explore. I’ve identified a few online courses and lots of reading materials that I plan to use to bring insights from other industries into ours and hopefully create some clarity for all of us.

Question for ya: What do you want to learn in 2021?

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2. 📚 What I’m reading and watching


Towards a Standard for Smart Buildings—Great quick talk from 2017 that’s still very relevant today, where Kathy Farrington talks about removing the siloed systems from our buildings.

Should we not be designing building systems (architecture) horizontally rather than vertically?

She laid out the owner-defined standards that are key to making this happen, too:

  • Shifting the way we design buildings and select technology
  • Solving cybersecurity by using IT best practices (see Google’s cybersecurity whitepaper here)
  • Data modeling schemas and relationships

Stay tuned for this week’s podcast, which dives into all of this with members of Kathy’s team.


The Independent Data Layer—Andy Frank, Founder and Principal of Novant, wrote this piece of Automated Buildings as a response to my essay from last January on the merit of an independent data layer, a concept that looks something like this:

He has some good points to add to the discussion, which originated from a conversation I had with Nick Gayeski and Alex Grace of KGS Buildings almost a year ago. He also provides a good intro to Novant’s philosophy in the process:

It's important to separate the notion of logical structure from the physical data. While we’ve made great advances in the space of semantic tagging with standards such as Project Haystack and Brick — there is still work to be done. Modeling must exist in a layer above the actual data storage in order for the data to be future proof, portable, and reusable.

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

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 is this week’s discovery:

Relogix—workplace IAQ and occupancy sensor company with a space analytics platform to sit on top.

5. 🧱 Foundations

The Nexus Foundations course includes a ton of concepts curated from outside of our industry. Since other industries have been disrupted by technology first, they can also teach us about innovation. One important innovation concept is the jobs-to-be-done framework developed by the late Harvard professor Clay Christensen.

Clay’s innovation was that the “job” is the causal driver behind deciding to adopt new tech or a new way of doing things. If you understand the causal driver, you can create products and services that customers want to buy and users want to use. And most often, the causal driver is not the nerdy, technical details.

That’s where we in the buildings industry can go astray. We think all of our stakeholders should care about BACnet or kilowatt-hours or data ontologies. We often need to find that causal driver for what we’re providing, like this HVAC contractor in my neighborhood.

They install comfort. That’s the job.

Early bird pricing for Cohort #2 (which kicks off in February 2021) is available now and will run until midnight on 12/31/2020. If you’re interested in taking the course, I recommend enrolling sometime before then to reserve your spot and capture the discount.

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