13 min read

How can analytics go mainstream?

The Crossing the Chasm Framework meets Building Analytics
“It’s not first to market that wins, it’s the first to cross the chasm.”

—Geoffrey Moore

Do you ever feel like the Universe is speaking directly to you?

Over the holidays, my mom had a stack of books that she wanted to give away. She had set them out to see if I wanted any of them. One of them was not like the others: Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore.1

If you haven’t read it, here’s the main premise of the book: Motivations for buying a new product are vastly different, depending on who is buying. There are groups of buyer personas with similar motivations that line up along a bell curve called the Technology Adoption Lifecycle:

The innovators and visionary early adopters want huge changes and are willing to bet on them against the odds. But people in the early majority (and beyond) are much more pragmatic. They don’t want big changes and huge innovations, but rather incremental improvements based on using proven products and solutions.

This gap between the early adopters and the early majority is called the chasm. In order to cross it, you need to successfully progress from left to right… or else you get stuck and die.

Before we get to why this is relevant to us, back to the Universe: I have no clue why my mom owned this book. She doesn’t do new technology. She hasn’t started a startup, nor does she plan to cross the chasm someday. There was no rational reason for this hand-me-down to occur. This must be some sort of sign...

Since I don’t take these signs lightly, I took the book. After reading halfway through, I think the Universe was asking me (and therefore us) to think about this question:

How can analytics for buildings go mainstream?

Fair warning: this is a juicy one. Let’s dive in.

You are here 📍

Of all the technologies we discuss here on Nexus, the broad and murky category of “analytics” has been around the longest.2 And yet, in the two months I’ve been thinking about this question and bouncing my ideas off of people (including 50+ commenters on LinkedIn), I haven’t had one person tell me this technology is already mainstream, at scale, realizing its potential, or viewed as part of the required technology to own and run a commercial building.

We’re still in the early days—in what Geoffrey Moore calls the “early market”. The world of innovators and early adopters. 3

And while we seem to have a consensus on our current location, we aren’t anywhere near consensus on why that is, what to do about it, or how to cross that big scary chasm.

What it’s like here

If I may generalize, let’s levelset on what it’s like here📍:

  • There’s growing acceptance that it’s a good idea, but not massive demand from building owners as a result.
  • As Shannon Smith said on the podcast this week, it’s often viewed as a vitamin, not a painkiller. Rewards don’t measure up to the risks or opportunity costs on the time and money, and many pilots fizzle out as a result.
  • Building owner organizations have fragmented decision-making power, often with no centralized buying authority or budget. So even if pilots are successful, the sales team is starting over for the next building or region in the portfolio.
  • The marketplace is confusing for buyers who are risk-averse. As we’ll see below, there are hundreds of products to buy, but each of them solves a piece of the pie. It’s much easier to do nothing and wait for things to become less confusing.

We haven’t created what Moore calls a breakthrough application that produces an order-of-magnitude improvement. Before all of you with successful analytics case studies get upset with me, the exception to this rule is of course when us analytics nerds are paired with the product.

The two chasms

In the vast majority of those case studies, we human service providers produce that breakthrough with analytics as a tool in our toolbox. And it’s within these competent, often-external service provider organizations that I think analytics has already crossed a chasm.

But that chasm, and that early majority buyer, is a mirage, folks. Getting across it doesn’t mean it’s gone mainstream with building owners. In this sense, there are really two chasms…

And the second chasm is the key to scale. Crossing the first one is great, but if analytics are not integrated into the day-to-day operations of internal teams—the people that could benefit from the new technology the most—it’ll remain a niche tool operating on the fringes of organizations.

There are three reasons I believe that’s true. First, we only have so many analytics nerds. Look at all the “building performance engineer” job openings out there right now. It’s a bottleneck. Second, when propped up by an engineer, it’s too expensive to get to the majority of the market.

Third, I’ve provided this service for years and still provide it to this day. It’s extremely inefficient because it doesn’t put the onus on the building owner to actually change what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

In Moore’s terminology, the dependence on service providers allows the technology to be adopted as a “continuous innovation”. But that approach will limit scale and impact4 because it’s neglecting the potential of the tool, which is to transform the operation of the building. It’s disruptive and should be treated as such.

Where we go from here

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