5 min read

#59: the 5 parts of a Smart Building Strategy

Plus: Is disruption of the big 4 the answer?, shaping the future of construction, tenant engagement apps are hot, and the Ontology Wars
“The real estate developers are starting to realize that if they make a real smart building, the building will have a higher value and they can rent it out much better.”

Erik Ubels on 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: is disruption the answer?
  2. 💡 Insights: Shaping the future of construction, tenant engagement apps are hot, and the Ontology Wars
  3. Brand new stuff: a new podcast and a new vendor
  4. 🧱  Foundations: the 5 parts of a Smart Building Strategy
  5. 🌎  Diversions: A very accessible description of what an ontology is


1. 🤔 On my mind this week

I recently read a great book: The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey. Jim founded Square with Jack Dorsey. Jim tells Square’s founding story and then dissects the origins of Southwest Airlines, IKEA, and Bank of America to distill his innovation lessons for entrepreneurs.

One lesson I think applies to our industry is Jim’s criticism of the tech world’s obsession with the word “disruption”. I’ll be frank: we have well-engrained incumbent companies that have been around for 100 years—and I think a lot of innovators want to knock them off their pedestals through disruption.

Jim might disagree. His experience with Square was that innovation was about solving a problem for a specific human and growing the pie for everyone, not about disrupting Visa or MasterCard.

For you vendors and startups out there, how much are you focused on beating the Big 4 vs. helping your customer and/or their occupant?

2. 💡 Insights

Only the best smart building resources we consumed this week…


Shaping the Future of Construction—On episode 32 of the podcast, Erik Ubels mentioned this report by the World Economic Forum. He said:

This is super worthwhile to read for everybody in this industry, because it exactly explains whole fragmentation issue and that it has to change and that it has to digitalize and that there's still a huge amount of opportunities to do it better together.

Well said! I dug into it and totally agree. The impetus for the report are these two contradicting truths:

  • 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings and we must cut them
  • the population of the world’s urban areas is increasing by 200,000 people per day, all of whom need affordable housing as well as social, transportation, and utility infrastructure

What gives? The authors recommend a bunch of attainable best practices in three categories:

  1. How E&C companies themselves can spearhead the industry transformation
  2. How E&C companies can work together. How novel!
  3. How the world’s governments can help


Smart Building Insight: tenant engagement apps are all the rage—In case you missed it, there’s been lots of buzz surrounding applications focused on office tenant and visitor amenities:

We’ll dissect these in the February edition of The Lens (here is January’s edition).


A Blueprint for Green Buildings Struggles to Catch On—Looks at the delta between the AIA 2030 net-zero pledge and how many firms are actually hitting that mark. Not many. Obstacles cited include: clients aren't asking for it, contractors put a premium on it, not having mechanical or energy modeling involved early enough, and codes not moving fast enough.

There are three ways for green building practices to be widely adopted: “Tenants ask for it. Investors ask for it, or regulation requires it.”


Google: Putting the Internet into the Building Internet of Things—This is a good Memoori summary of what Brian Turner called The Ontology Wars in last week’s podcast episode and pairs well with episode 29: Google's plan for smart buildings at scale.

“Google’s promise to create convergence between Haystack and Brick is a landmark moment for the emerging semantic tagging / ontology trend in the industry.”

It’s also a great primer for our Nexus Pro member gathering tomorrow, where we have an exciting panel that includes Brian, plus leaders from Project Haystack, RealEstateCore, Google’s DBO, and NREL to talk about where we’re headed.

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-ish deep dives, and all past deep dives.

Join NEXUS Pro

3. Brand new stuff

Everything Nexus created this week…


PODCAST—🎧 #034: Brian Turner on the Ontology Wars and the role of the MSI

  • I definitely listened to this one a second time!
  • We talked about all the topics we love here on the podcast, including analytics, advanced supervisory control, data modeling, integration, why buildings are behind, and much more.
  • We took a deep dive into the role of the master systems integrator that I think all you building owners out there and need to wrap your head around.


VENDOR UPDATE—Even though the Nexus Vendor Landscape has 150+ vendors on it, I still learn about new companies/products to track every week. Here is this week’s discovery:

Pathr—Spatial analytics software focused on the retail vertical (thanks to Joe Gaspardone for the tip!)

Spatial Intelligence provides information and insights about the movement of people and objects through physical spaces in real time—connecting the implications of that movement to actual business results.

4. 🧱 Foundations

Bite-sized learnings for newcomers to the smart buildings industry courtesy of the Nexus Foundations course


Last week, we talked about a certain type of leader our industry needs right now: A changemaker.

Here’s the exciting thing about that role: you can learn the tools and mental models the changemaker needs. Then, when you put them into practice on your projects, you can transform into the changemaker over time.

The keystone tool we use in the course is the Smart Building Strategy, which you can apply to your product, project, business development process, or even your career journey. To be successful in smart buildings, we need to get good at the 5 steps in creating your Strategy:

Identifying and understanding stakeholders, ideating to develop use cases, assessing existing conditions, researching new technologies, and putting together the business case.

These steps make up the first five weeks of the course, and each week has its own tools and mental models. In week 6, and this is new for cohort 2, we’ll apply the strategy to our careers and companies to come up with a game plan for getting where we want to go.


Registration for Nexus Foundations Cohort #2 closes in about 3 weeks. If you’re interested, enroll soon to claim your spot in the group.

Claim your spot

5. 🌎  Diversions

Technology resources from outside of the built environment. What might we apply in our industry?


How Taxonomies Differ From Ontologies—As an industry, I’ve found that when we talk about data modeling, we’re often hung up on point naming in the control system. We need to widen our gaze to understanding ontologies, which include but are not limited to naming.

As a mathematic concept, an ontology is the collection of the terms or concepts within the scope of the ontology plus the model that describes the relationships and constraints of those concepts. Ontologies are usually expressed mathematically as graphs, with the concept that a graph could (though doesn't have to) create a closed loop.

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