“The point of Nirvana is to have a self-tuning, self-commissioning building that is completely adapting itself (based on) the outside conditions and internal conditions of a building. That is clearly an endgame here that we're all after, but that is only one aspect of what you're talking about in terms of the investment you make.”
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Episode 53 is a conversation with Jim Whalen, Senior Vice President, CIO, and CTO of Boston Properties.
We talked about Boston Properties’ portfolio of buildings, their different technologies, and digitization initiatives. Jim took us through the unique challenges inherent to the business of being a multi-tenant landlord in the United States.
Then we took a bit of a deep dive into Boston Properties’ journey with data, energy, efficiency, and IAQ.
Please enjoy Nexus Podcast Episode 53.
Mentions and Links
- Boston Properties (1:00)
- Beacon Properties (3:42)
- VTS (11:25)
- Angus Anywhere (11:28)
- Tom Davenport: Competing on Analytics (30:59)
- HatchData (33:44)
- Ben Myers (34:02)
- Switch (36:01)
- Siemens (44:31)
- Schneider (44:31)
- How can analytics go mainstream? (45:43)
- Aaron Lapsley’s presentation on IAQ (Pro members only) (50:23)
You can find Jim Whalen on LinkedIn.
Thoughts, comments, reactions? Let us know in the comments.
- How Jim thinks about building tech in three interrelated buckets (13:49)
- The landlord-tenant split incentive and how it makes technology a challenge and how we're very early in solving it (17:47)
- A smart buildings endgame (23:44)
- Boston Properties' data journey and how they've applied what they've learned and how they're looking for the next set of tools (30:38)
- How Jim is thinking about analytics as the next toolset (43:50)
- Jim's keys to the success they've had in the last 10 years digitizing buildings (52:10)
Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!
James Dice: [00:00:03] hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.
This episode of the podcast is brought to you by nexus pro nexus pro is an annual or monthly subscription where members get exclusive writing podcasts and invites to members only zoom gatherings. You can find info on how to join and support the Without further ado, please enjoy this episode, the nexus podcast.
Episode 53 is a conversation with Jim Whalen, senior vice president and CIO and CTO of Boston properties. We talked about Boston properties, portfolio of buildings. There are different technology and digitization initiatives. And Jim took us through the unique challenges inherent to the business of being a multitenant landlord.
Then we took a bit of a deep dive into Boston properties journey with data, energy, efficiency, and IQ. Without further ado, please enjoy nexus podcast, episode 53.
James Dice: [00:01:20] Hello, Jim. Welcome to the nexus podcast. Can you introduce yourself?
Jim Whalen: [00:01:24] Sure, James. thank you for having me today. Um, yeah, I'm Jim Whalen. I'm a senior vice president and CIO and CTO of Boston properties. So
James Dice: [00:01:32] cool. Yeah. I'm super excited to unpack everything with you today. Um, can you talk about your personal and career background?
How'd you get
Jim Whalen: [00:01:40] here? Sure. Sure, sure. Yeah. So I think by the math, I'm in my 24th year at Boston properties in this role. So it's been an incredible journey, but you know, originally James when I came out of school, um, I had a New York city urban fellowship. I'm, I'm born and raised in New York.
Multi-generation in New York city. And, um, and I actually worked in public housing. So I worked in the mid 1980s in, in just this. Transformative period of time when the city was investing at the time $4 billion and taking all the real estate, it had taken in REM and tax work to closure and turning it back into, you know, residential housing.
Um, and you know, that those numbers were probably be eight and $9 billion in today's dollars. You know, so I was thrown in with this team that brought and went into housing, preservation development and transformed that platform to deliver on that program. And you know, Putting in networks across the five boroughs systems, metrics and data, you know, so I I'll, I have a whole data theme as part of my story, but it started back back in this really transformative early career.
That was an amazing opportunity. Um, I had a five-year contract with my wife, she's from Boston. Uh, So we, we brought the kids North and I actually went and worked in international relief and development work for five years. I traveled the globe to the poorest places. Of the planet you know, ran it in a hundred offices in 28 countries and 500,000 relationships.
We managed a fascinating uh, five years of my life. Um, I was on the road 30, 40% of my time, all over the globe. And, um, I just, again, and, and during that period of time, I was Kaizen. So Kaizen, you know, TQM total quality management today. Six six Sigma, but back then it was being, you know, it was Kaizen and really really that was that was a takeaway for me separate, but, but again, not sustainable with a young family.
Right. I needed to move, move So I came back to real estate. Um, and I, I actually responded to an ad in the newspaper for beacon properties. So beacon properties is this very long, well established, um, company had been in Boston for 40 plus years. I think I was there when we celebrate our 50th anniversary.
And, um, it was a private company that had construction and residential, and we actually took that public as a real estate investment trust. Spun the construction company out. It basically seeded scans cause operations here in Boston. Um, and then you know, spun out the residential company and we basically then grew the office, you know, blew it out into DC, Atlanta, Chicago, LA as a real estate investment trust.
But. We got bought by equity office, you know, the behemoth at the time that was, you know, kind of, you know, again in this acquisition. So we, so I actually decommissioned that platform. I was like the last man standing, closing up shop. And I didn't know whether I could stay in real estate in Boston.
There wasn't a lot of, you know, franchises here. But Boston properties had been around for. You know, 27 years and went public in late in midnight 1997, just timing wise. And I was recruited and I came over here and it's just been this incredible journey. Um, um, you know, in the last 24 years just leading the technology innovation here.
Um, and it, it just, I, I get excited. I'm excited every day I come in here. So that's, that's kinda my, so I look at it, you know, I, I was in. Public public service. I was in government. I was a nonprofit, I was private and then really for the last, um, 29 years as a public, but 34 years in commercial real estate.
And, um, you know, and it's been a very much a focus. I look back, you know, very much a focus on local local. I mean, one of the things Norman Leventhal was a founder of beacon properties and he always this mantra and the culture, there was like, you always walk the property. You always walk the property.
Right. And that, that much has kind of built into how I've kind of focused, um, because where our work gets done is that the properties in the engineering locations, I'm, I'm finally starting to travel again two weeks and I have six, seven property visits. And I just plan to, you know, again, that's, that's the pulse of where we, you know, deliver our services, deliver, um, our, you know, to our customers.
So it's been a great journey of several decades and digital transformation along the way, you know? So yeah.
James Dice: [00:05:56] I'm a firm believer in walking properties too. When I was at, when I was at Enrail there was this whole like remote energy audit movement, and I think it's still happening. And I always was very skeptical about that.
There's so much that you see when
Jim Whalen: [00:06:10] you're walking through a mechanical room. Yeah. Well, just talking to me, just talking with the teams and you get a pulse on what's going on and asking about their capital programs, asking about their operational account, ask about their ID. That would be my, you know, cause people don't raise their hands.
You got to raise it. You've got me as a captive audience, you know? Yeah, yeah,
James Dice: [00:06:27] exactly. Just like the reactions you get from questions. So telling about how the buildings around and what's going on, you know, day to day. So last time you and I talked, you talked about staying sane through the pandemic by, by cycling your,
Jim Whalen: [00:06:42] your big cycle or two, right?
Personally, I am. Yeah, no, I'm I enjoy, I was actually out at sunrise this morning at five 30 up the river on the Charles river. And I that's my happy place. I'm happy time, you know, where I get, I actually get to think and, you know, also think about the solving problems on the bike ride. So I, I don't know if you are, but I.
That's my happy place. So yeah,
James Dice: [00:07:04] I'm a big runner, but I only run so that I can play . Soccer. Uh, And when I played soccer, I don't think, I don't think very much about, about much besides the game. What I like about it, because I think way too much every day, all day. Anyway. Cool. So can you talk about what the, the Boston properties portfolio is
Jim Whalen: [00:07:23] like?
Yeah, sure. Yeah. So, so it's, it's um, you know, when I look at Boston properties you know, we are the largest publicly traded developer owner manager of class, a office. Right. That's a state period, right. That's just a period. Right. And so we, we manage, um, you know, 196 properties, you know, a little over 51 million square feet.
Last year's revenue was $2.8 billion in revenue. Um, and again, we operate in five markets. So we started obviously in Boston, logically, and I have our brand a more more documented ed Lindy founded the company in 1970. So we just celebrate our 50th anniversary. Right. Pretty, pretty significant. Um, and then you know, went to New York, went to DC after going public.
We went into San Francisco in a big way with Embarcadero center. Um, and then more recently last five years at LA Los Angeles, specifically the Santa Monica market. So, so we, um, you know, we, you know, a couple of things about the platform. Um, talked about the culture, just culture.
You know, Morton had built this culture of integrity, operational excellence, um, you know, customer service financial discipline, and being really smart about the real estate, right? So that's just the fabric of how we run our, our platform and, and how we service our customers. Um, and, and the other aspect is just.
You know, they fundamentally believed in the value of development, maintaining almond capabilities and the ups and downs of the markets. Right? So, you know, our platform since 2010, you know, will has delivered or stuff that's actively under construction. I, it over $9 billion of new construction, $9 billion of construction.
Right. And I think I can quote 10 with the, some of the recent recent projects we just approved, but, you know, we built Salesforce tower. Right. We, you know, those kind of marquee properties, we're building married's new headquarters right now, Fannie Mae's new headquarters, right. Akamai's new headquarters.
Right? So these, these major, um, outset assets in gateway cities, which is our focus, you know, it has been, um, has been just a tremendous platform of, and into capital engine, you know, as a capital engine, cause this is capital intensive work and just how we, how we manage that. And, and, and, you know, it's just been a great trait.
Great journey to be along with, um, you know, the growth of the company and you know what we've delivered. Right. So, Cool.
James Dice: [00:09:48] Yeah, I remember last time I was in San Francisco, the Salesforce tower was going up. I was probably 2017. Something like that. You got second icon, the city it's
Jim Whalen: [00:09:57] yeah. Now it's defined to redefine read really the redefines, the center of the city and the downtown market.
So South of market, so a very exciting project. Maybe we could riff on that, you know, if we want to do yeah. Uh, I'm
James Dice: [00:10:10] thinking we should, we should talk about new buildings at some point here. Um, Let's start with your role though. Um, can you talk about your role and your team that supports you? Yeah.
Jim Whalen: [00:10:20] Yeah.
So as I talked about, you know, again, 24 years that the journey has kind of been again, I was looking at chapters, um, and you know, obviously initially it was getting the, getting the public company stood up. Not being prepared to be a cobalt public company and, and it's, it's morphed over time. And I would say especially since 2010 my role has definitely changed.
So I have a team you know, we have very deep competencies centered on our financial stack of applications logically, right. Again, the integrity of running a public entity, um, networking and infrastructure, the network. Facilitates our business fundamentally as a real estate company, just think, and we'll talk about that.
Right. And then data capabilities. And I know we'll cover that as well, but we have the in cyber, you know, we have these core capabilities that we build expertise around. Um, and, um, and then what partners to real partnerships. Cause we, when we take on a partnership, James, it's a partnership. Like, I believe in the model here is to, to make each other each other better.
Right. So the partnerships we've done in incubating new, early companies come to like VTS and helping them, you know, whether it be a platform like Angus, you know, those companies, um, we, again, when we go all in, we're all in. Right. So, so that's, that's one thing. And then I, my, my, my role is, you know, I, I obviously oversee that it.
Staffing here in the, in the mission and what we do, but I've really kind of morphed into as much of an executive sponsor of initiatives and innovation around the company. So, you know, we have working groups, I, I chair an IQ working group again, we'll talk about that. I have an access control technology working group.
That's been active for three and a half years, you know, we're, we're spinning up a new one on, on facility, data and analytics, you know? So, so these, the bring across disciplines together. To tackle and create a framework for the company to then execute on right around these technologies. So, so again, I navigate you know, we talked about five markets, Boston properties, executes, very entrepreneurially in each of these markets.
It creates a, you know, an operating platform that goes at it. Right. And in corporate and again, tech because of the reliance on technology, um, you know, is, is really here to facilitate grease the skids coordinate, build consensus as a framework that we can then execute as a company. And that's been, um, that's been the role.
James Dice: [00:12:41] How do these working groups work? Where do you pull the people
Jim Whalen: [00:12:44] from? Uh, Well, so, uh, uh, the example on the IQ one, you know, we'll, again, we'll talk about this, but you know, we, um, we brought people from the business side and property management who deal with customers on a daily basis.
Deep engineering, extra engineering experts around the company, sustainability it. And in this case data, um, at the table. So you think about just, what do you need around the table? On the, On the facility data, I've got construction development, um, sustainability engineering. Represented at the table, bringing expertise and, and, and in that process, building depth and knowledge that you, that the, they become, you know, the knowledge, knowledge look, you know, it's not about me.
It's about. These, these building depth and capacity and reference points in the organization uh, that can kind of move things forward. So it's, again, that's the, in a decentralized model, you know, how do you think about you build organizational capacity around these technologies? And so that's, that's the kind of know anyway, some touch points.
So. Really cool. All right. Sorry to interrupt through the framework. Oh yeah. So, so my framework, the way I think about it, I've had this framework for about three years, is I have three buckets, right? So I'm responsible for running the enterprise, running the platform of these. So we have about a hundred applications, the integrity of our financials, all the computers, all the phones, all the mobile devices, everything that kind of runs the platform. And there's themes there that's been focused on process automation, process automation, data, data, right? And maybe a new one is, really managing productivity post COVID. There's opportunities that's a theme.
That's really there for this year that COVID has just been an accelerator of, of a number of behaviors and technologies that are enablers. The second bucket is really around amenities and services and tech that our occupants and guests touch. Like, I come into a building, I have wifi, carrier service, I go through a turnstile. I might have a mobile engagement, you know, a digital engagement. I might see digital display visuals. I might have common areas, conference rooms, whatever that that mix is at a property. And you think about, I mean, that's been a major driver in where, you know, in the last 11 years, because of the developments that we've been doing and the repositioning of bringing in amenities and services and buildings.
The themes there have been, you know, definitely driven by new developments. How we reposition our assets for talent, you know, talent for our customers to be able to attract and retain talent. That's what that dynamic is all about. And then really, again, the theme this year is around what's it been accelerated by COVID?
What do we need to look at for post COVID? Just like, what are the themes that we need? And IQ is
in there and there's a bunch of other things, right, to kind of think about that, touchless. And then the third bucket is really, I look at it as like running the physical plant.
James Dice: [00:15:37] Hmm. Right. Okay.
Jim Whalen: [00:15:38] You know, all the things that you don't necessarily see behind the scenes, and this is, you know, you can think about the OT technology verse IT. I mean, we're drifting from IT over to OT, right? In this framework. And you know, so the network as an enabler, cyber, the protection of these assets.
I mean, we have buildings that have four, five, 6,000 people in them a day, you know, how do these systems get protected? And then, so the theme there, that's clearly president, we'll talk about, is like, data analytics elevated analytics for operational excellence.
Like how, you know, where does that, where does that? We're starting a new decade. We started a new decade, we're in 2021. What does that journey look like for this decade? And, um, again, we'll riff a little bit on that, but that's the way I think about just three buckets.
James Dice: [00:16:26] In that first bucket, what do you mean by the, I'm picturing that as like the business side of things?
Jim Whalen: [00:16:33] Okay. Absolutely. Some of that business process leads into what you do for meters and utility, you know, like let's say, electrical billing. You know, you think about these bridges across the fabric of those three, kind of buckets I talked about. There's connections across the three. So, but it is the business side. It's running this public company, and we have 750 employees, and how do, how do we service them? And I've got another 450 contractors on our platform, you know, that operate and service our customers every day.
And that's that kind of, you know, enablement on that side. So
James Dice: [00:17:08] I say, okay, I get it now. But, um, I'm seeing that as a huge advantage of those three kind of buckets, or I guess you would call them silos sort of feeding up because they're so integrated naturally in reality of getting things done, any bucket requires integration with the other two?
Jim Whalen: [00:17:24] Yeah. Again, I'll talk a little bit of our converged approach and how we look at this from a security perspective. It's yeah.
Yeah. So can we talk, so let's get into kind of the smart buildings aspect of this, right? So you guys are only in North America right
James Dice: [00:17:42] before we hit record, you were talking about how things are different in other countries, but past couple of guests from Australia.
So like in the US, can you talk about the context around the business case for, and the drivers for technology?
Jim Whalen: [00:17:56] Sure. And I'm, I'm going to maybe focus more, this context of smart building facility, James, that makes a lot of sense. So, you know, I have a presentation deck. I've done a couple of keynotes around just a, like, what is this coming decade look like?
And you know, one of the first slides I kind of talk about is that, you know, our platform is fundamentally a multi-tenanted office provider. Right. And, um, when you look at our customers, we provide space, they build, they design build out that space. They bring in all their technologies, they bring in access control, they bring in cameras, they bring in wifi, they bring in, you know, everything to curate, um, that space for their culture, you know, culture and brand, which is really, really important for their talent.
And we provide utilities into that space, right? They tap water, they tap air, they tap you know, maybe carrier service out to bring into the space, but it's really their space. So you have this boundary at the door in this landlord versus customer relationship and, so the notion that like, sensors are everywhere in a multi-tenant office building, James, that paradigm is not what exists today. So if I'm a corporate owner of space, like a Microsoft campus or Google own that space, or I'm a hospital, or I'm a university, I own everything. I control every aspect of what goes into that asset, into that building. In the business drivers, are again much different.
I'd love to talk about data lakes, but I don't have all that data, you know inside the tenant space right now into, outside our customer space. So and then the other dynamic is, you know, we, in our portfolio, we have a lot of large customers.
So we service Microsoft and Google and Salesforce. They, they're not looking for the landlord to solve that. And they even keep their talent even captive inside their space. They feed them. You know, it's like they're not coming out to amenities. You know they're basically being really curated and maybe captive is a strong word, but they are, you know, really kind of, um, servicing their talent in a different way.
So again, this landlord customer relationship is is one that, um, and then I'll just kind of comment cause the other, you know, again It's been a couple of calls this past week and I kind of shake my head sometimes when we talk about like, what customers are looking for, right, in this innovation.
And a couple years ago, I volunteered to do a keynote or, you know, sit on a panel and on a main stage with our facility manager. So it was our customers in the audience at this conference, you know, so it wasn't the landlord side, it was customer. And it was like, oh, I'm so excited.
I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna have this great conversation with our customers about tech and, and how we can innovate. And it was like, No, there was no dynamic there. I mean, there's dynamic at the top of the market. There are clear leaders in how, you know, like a Google and Microsoft that are thinking about this, but it falls off very quickly.
Right. You know, so I always want to kind of be grounded and realistic in terms of expectations. And I loved just listening to some of your sessions you know, you, you had a lot of Australians on which I love. I love Australia. I love, love, love that dynamic, because they, they seem to be ahead of us sometimes, but understanding like they have performance based standards in the market and they're dictated by the government. They control or provision more services for their tenants in terms of infrastructure, even ceilings and lighting then we would do in a North American context. Right. So again, I, it's fascinating just kind of, again, I always kind of go to the business drivers and dynamics. That doesn't mean you don't, you're not trying to continue to solve this, but it is a dynamic that, um, that really you need to be grounded in, when you think about investments, and getting a return on investment, and also building a partnership that paradigm hasn't been in the market with your customers about even sharing data. I mean, that's not a paradigm that's in this market, in the, in the US market. Right? So, um, so anyway, so I just more, um, you know, even access control, everyone has their own access control system.
Inside this building, I'm sitting in Prudential tower today and, you know, and we provide a turnstile down to the base building, but they all, everyone has their own system. Right. So, anyway, so I don't know if that makes sense, but that's
James Dice: [00:22:23] Yeah, it does. So how do you guys get around that? Right. So we're talking about in my mind and the way I teach this in my courses is like, we have these deeply ingrained split incentives.
And there needs to be someone that bridges the gap and figures out how to align the incentives, or there needs to be like top-down regulation, right? Like we see in New York city in DC and other cities. So like, how do you, how do you guys see this like playing out? Maybe this is part of your keynotes that you've been giving.
Jim Whalen: [00:22:51] Yeah.. So, you know, first of all, I'll start with the construct of like just defining smart buildings. James, how do you define it? Right. I'm quoted as saying like, you know, we don't have smart buildings, we've buildings with smart technologies. That term has been around a long time.
And I also, um, I know you've referenced me, you know, using a baseball analogy again, we're in a really one or two innings of that journey. Um, but, um, so, so I think one of the things I'm. Um, kind of been toying around toying around and I've been doing it with some peers of ours is like, is it really about a digital building?
Right. Is it, is it about digital? Because I talked about those three buckets and you know, am I smart over here? Am I smart here? W where, where am I playing smart? Right? Or is it really about digital plays, um, and investments innovation that you're trying to achieve, whether it be an access control, whether it be in the point of Nirvana that you have a self-tuning, self-commissioning building that is completely adapting itself throughout the outside conditions and internal conditions of a building. I mean, that is clearly an end game here, that we're all after, but that is only one aspect of what you're talking about in terms of the investment you do.
Right. So, let's say you start a new building and you said I want to build the smartest building. Okay. Let's say you want to build the most sustainable building. Let's say I want to build the healthiest building.
I mean, what, you know, all those have different prisms and how you would think about the technologies and what you would bring into the fabric of a building to achieve that goal. And so defining smartest. Is you know, so, so that's that's this context, right? So, so saying that, you know, I think we've been very focused on customer touch points.
When I talk about digital, I mean, you have the back of house and the running the plant, I've got some innovation going on there, but let's just focus on, you know, some touch points and maybe some use cases on the front of the house. So, um, first off, we have been running a converged network for our buildings since 2006.
Okay. I, we started that journey really early and the first building was a a building we built in, built in Boston here, Atlantic Wharf, um, and that building runs on a single fiber backbone, all systems converge onto that, that backbone. And what we've been doing is any new developments have a, have a.
Network spec now. So you think about buildings, even our larger buildings have redundant fiber backbones with cross-connects, everything converges onto you know, a fiber backbone, the initial initial journey. There was focused on network efficiencies monitoring in 2012 13, it became cyber. Right.
Became prevalent. Right. And so we, again, a journey of segmentation controlling, remote access, protecting that converged network, both it and OT assets. Right. And, um, and and then moving on to. Really then that platform facilitating integrations as we've kind of innovated.
Right? So again, I'll some innovations, right? So I have an access control. We S we sponsored, um, we sponsored, um, you know, if you were a visitor to one of our buildings that have a turnstile had pre you know, we do 1.8 million visitor pre check-ins annually, pre COVID 1.8 million. Wow in our buildings. Right.
So how do you solve that to be a better experience on a very broad level? Right? So again, we innovated on the ability to have a QR code that delivered to you two hours before you come. And I just walked through the turnstile. So again, is that if the tenant is customers allowing, you know, they're taking, um, you know, ownership of that, literally that, you know, That's that's a process now.
And in all our, all our buildings are lit up with turnstiles, right? So that's, that's solving or touch point. That is really, really important. Another one would be an example where we've done, you know, a guy talked about every customer, having its own access control system and our. Based buildings, access control system.
And this, these are maintained manually right now. So we innovated on a web service that literally synchronizes a base building system. So let's say awards, tenant issues, their badge to their employees. Right. And we want that card to work at our base building. I mean, we synchronize hundreds of thousands of records with.
Large towns, you know? So that means you think about that as an enabler, because again, they want every single one of their employees, if they're coming to this city, being able to access that space. Yeah. I mean, it's, it's a really powerful, and the minute that person is separated from the company, literally minutes later that bad, just at the activated at the, at the entrance of the building.
I mean that, that's the kind of technology that, so you kind of find, um, opportunities around. Um, so we're, we're out, we're out. James on the street right now with an RFI on work, workplace experience, occupant guest engagement, right. We've looked at this three times over the last four years have been cautious.
Um, but we, we recognize we need to figure it out. You know, we need to figure out this, right. So we have, um, we had four responses come in on a Friday. I have eight hours of sessions at structured with the evaluation team in the next five days, um, in, um, and we picked two properties to, to, to deploy this out initially and figure it out for Boston properties.
And again, the, the other dynamic is every property is different. Right. Every property is different in how it's organized. And we picked one in a downtown urban environment. It has this dynamic and it has a as a complete set of. Activity around the property that needs to be kind of figured out. And then we have an eight and 19 building corporate cabinet campus on route one in Princeton, New Jersey that is about community it's about suburban community and completely different set of of kind of requirements and fibers.
And through that, we're, we're trying to figure this out. So, you know, I look at, um, these customer touch points, um, and I think you're sitting in your home, but I left my home this morning. I went through public space. I engaged with some public space services. I come into owner controlled space.
Every building is different from the services they PR. And then I came into my workplace. My employer controls this workplace. And what, what an owner has control over and can deliver in that. Journey in terms of touch points is different by property, so that's a thing where, you know, I'm coming back to this owner, you know, landlord tenant boundary, and just how we navigate this for value, for effectiveness, for ROI.
And that's kinda what we're, you know, we're trying to figure out what this kind of digital strategy, but I'm kind of pointing out a couple of examples here. Right. So, yeah. That's
James Dice: [00:29:44] fascinating. I think, I think after you have a chance to reflect on this, so you said it's round three of tenant engagement. You should come back and tell us what you learned.
We'll do a deep dive on that. Yeah.
Jim Whalen: [00:29:57] But know, integrations are tough, James. Integrations are tough engagement with customers are tough. It's not an easy luckily we have some large ones that have sophistication and that doesn't say that we shouldn't be doing it.
I'm just saying it's it's work and you have to be thoughtful in Inca engagement model. It needs to be right. So, absolutely.
James Dice: [00:30:18] Hey guys, just another quick note from our sponsor nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.
This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the email@example.com lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview.
Cool. Well, that was a great overview of networking, cybersecurity, tenant engagement, access control. That's the only part of what you're focused on. Right? So today I think we're going to dive deeper into a couple of other topics besides those, maybe we'll save those topics for later.
Maybe we'll do a deep dive on one of those later, but the next topic I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned a few times, which is, you have a data story you told me. So I thought we'd had data, I'd thought we'd hit energy, and I'd thought we'd hit IQ, and then sort of balancing the three of those things as our sort of deep dive today.
Jim Whalen: [00:31:27] Sure, James. Yeah. Yeah. So I already talked about being Kaizen. You know, I read a book, Tom Davenport, I'm going to quote, Tom has been like just a teacher, he's a local expert on data. And he published a book in 2008, that I just kind of latched onto. It became a framework for thinking about it. And we were kind of in a transition period where, you know, back in the early that decade, we're doing a lot of custom software. Custom software was over. Like it was transitioning to providers providing solutions in the space. And the demand from the company for more real time analytics, mostly focused on financial was really kind of key.
So I have a little side story. You know, and we're trying to figure it out. And I had an inbound cold call and this person was very persistent. It was from Oak Brook, Illinois. It was a moment of weakness at 5:30 at night.
I picked up the phone and I was like, okay, I'm going to give you a 15 minutes. I would say, I'll give you 15 minutes. Right. So I did a 15 minute call with them along with current, still vice president of applications. And I went to like 45 minutes, right. And the next week I literally got four people on a plane and we flew to Chicago.
We met with them, we met with inlands because they were a customer of theirs. And we went on a data journey and we built a business case to really tackle our financials. Do really real time analytics and built the infrastructure framework. And you know, one of the things in the business case I remember is like, this will be a journey that has unexpected results and impacts, right. We don't know where the journey is going to take us. Right. So we literally proved out this incredible benefit to the company and building this capability. And we pivoted off custom and built out a data team. Right? So I have a director of applications, data services. I have an enterprise and a data architect.
I have data analysts. Right. That's where that's competitive advantage that we built out the depth of the company. Right. And then we pivoted and focused it on, on the rent, roll and space. If this is incredibly rich dynamic, um, way of looking at our space and, and projecting and looking back in it just can do tumble salts. And then we kind of pivoted and applied this to energy. Right? So the energy story is, I mean, it's a really a case study in my view. And what we've done is if I went back to our first grasp filing probably in 13, 14, um, it was a horror show. I could use stronger words, you know, it was just like pulling the data together and not having any confidence in what you were putting in.
Yeah. It was just, it was, it was just a disaster.
James Dice: [00:34:03] Just like monthly utility bills or what are you?
Jim Whalen: [00:34:06] Yeah. Just kind of putting together the data that needed to be put together to create a composite for the filing, right? So we went on a data journey, a process journey. Literally we aligned, at the time to EnerNOC, now HatchData and we literally standardized all our pulse meters, standardized all our billing and invoices and the data extraction off that.
We built with them a direct feed into energy star. So we literally that, that we pointed our alignment to Energy Star. Right. And then we brought in Ben Myers, who's our VP of Sustainability. You should have him on future appearances. The two of you would riff, he's really an incredible dynamic leader in our industry.
But then we partnered with measurable. So literally that, that it, you know, we brought it into Energy Star, packaged it in, in measurable. And I think last year when he did the filing, he did it a month early with complete confidence. Complete. Like, he hit the button and, you know, it's all rationalized.
Right. So what did that provide to us as a company? So we got comfortable, like in 2016 of stating sustainability goals as a public company. Right. And that was a five-year set of goals. Well, what do we do? We started to measure ourselves, got everyone engaged with executive sponsorship around this with the ability to measure.
And we achieved those three years early. Okay. But we restated another five-year and we're achieving that. So again, putting this infrastructure in place. So last year we were, you know, Energy Star partner of the year. You know, again, got an award this year for sustained excellence.
We're just a leader in that space. And if you look at our newly launched website and just the report we came out with, I mean, just again, leading. It's really important to how we are executing our platform for our customers. I mean it, and it's a data story. So we just announced an earth day this year we will go to carbon neutral operations by 2025. We created a sustainability committee is part of our board of directors. Just again, the fabric of this next journey. So I do think, um, we're in a moment in time, James, like we're sitting here in 2021 and I couldn't be more excited about data tools, data capabilities that this industry has access to right now. And that's been enabled by the cloud. It's been enabled at data at scale. It's been enabled by, just the innovation that partners like Microsoft have done in making tools approachable. And I know there's been a large group that has been at this for a long time, you know, at Switch.
And I mean, there's been a lot of activity, but the opportunity now is very clear as we enter this decade and so we've got the energy. So what do we apply next?
Like where do we go with this? Right. So then we applied it to access control. Right. In 2018, 2019. So we've built this amazing forty-five buildings, millions of millions of read records prior to COVID was about density and space use and how our customers were, and then operational insights into how we manage our buildings.
And that data now has come really important in COVID. And how space use and how repopulation will occur. I literally have a live, I could, we could hop over and look at it right now of what's happened in this building right now.
Right. How many people have come into the building? So, a real journey, you know, it's been great.
James Dice: [00:37:24] So it's the same sort of process or framework around measuring and improving upon the data that you're collecting. And then you're just applying it to these different end uses essentially?
Jim Whalen: [00:37:36] Yeah. I mean, again, we come back for success factors. You want to be aligned to an organizational goal and objective, and then making that investment. But again, I think building this organizational muscle and capability has been a differentiator in how we've tracked the last 10 years.
And again, I'm excited about the coming decade and in framing the next decade, you know, it does kind of start to pivot back to, um, this facility data and all right, we've achieved this with what we've done in energy, but like, what is the next tool set? What is the next tool set? Right.
And, and we'll talk about IQ. Like, let's say you add IQ, should you create another silo? Occupancy is going to be really important in any, anything around energy in IQ and occupancy is such a variable that you have to have as part of the equation.
Um, if you're going to go on this journey. So anyway, that's
James Dice: [00:38:28] uh
How ddoyousee that space evolving, cause obviously you have some level of occupancy data with the access control systems that you just talked about. How do you see that evolving with all these new occupancy sensor companies?
Yeah. Yeah. So, so, so again, you have to, we talk about the boundary of the door.
So I need to know the population coming in the building, but again, I don't know necessarily behind the door of, let's say a tenant has 10 cents, 10 stories of a building, you know, again, how do I, how do I garner that information for potentially optimizing energy use? Air, you know, Erin comfort. Yeah.
It's been all those come into play and in so, so I think that's, that is that needs to be solved for a landlord perspective. Um, and then again, if there's a model and how we think about data sharing that paradigm has to be kind of challenged and. Evolve. Right. I don't see that happening tomorrow, James.
I it's, it's going to be, it's going to be a process here. Right? So, because if
you, if you got data from occupancy data from your tenant, then you could do a better job and vice versa. If they got some sort of information from you, they could do a better job in the systems that they're going. Yeah,
Jim Whalen: [00:39:49] that's a tough one.
Yeah, but solvable and again, I think we're going to be on a journey to solve that. I mean, IQ is definitely, um, that, that, that that's here to stay and we have to move right now. It's really, the paradigm on IQ is basically a testing protocol and that needs to move to active monitoring. Yep. You know, so that that's, that's that's another journey that we have to figure out as an industry.
And we are, we're very active in kind of figuring this out, because again, these systems, the HVA systems were very much built on comfort on energy efficiency and ventilation, but like, if you start to amp at deletion or this dynamic around air, Well, that's not how this was built, you know, and then, and then underlying the variable of occupancy, that's the formula.
I mean, that's the formula for, you know, those variables have to be, um, in play to really optimize, um, optimize a specific space, like a conference room I'm sitting in, or a kitchen or a gathering place, or, you know, so that's that's going to be, that's going to also be a journey. So
James Dice: [00:40:57] yeah, this is the reason I wanted to like dive into this because energy and I ACU are both.
Interconnected, right. Interrelated dependent on each other. Um, but they're also crossing all these boundaries of, of these, you know, tenant versus landlord meter versus sub meter. Like we're crossing so many of the different silos, organizational silos with those two.
Well, let's dive in to energy real quick. And then we'll talk about kind of how they all relate. But so energy you're talking about, it's like basically setting a baseline, the traditional energy management process, setting a baseline. How can we improve upon it doing projects? So how have you guys like met your goals so early?
Jim Whalen: [00:41:37] So it's just been basically, I mean, Ben would argue, um, when we measure, we S you know, we build for success and it's been through, um, our partnership with hatch, our partnership of just internally dynamic of working measure by measure. Um, and, and then then obviously also, James, you meet, you know, a capital program that is focused on, in some cases significant, um, in changes in a building's dynamic. Right. So, um, so again, the capital program to deal with aging infrastructure, um, and optimizing further optimizing that's a natural cycle, but if it brings, we bring it with focus, um, that has had results, right. And the last in the last six, seven years.
Right. So, um, so yeah, so again, I don't think there's a, you know, I mean, I'm not saying anything that's, you know, should be, you know, this is. Revealing insightful. It's it's again, the process of, of sponsorship, organizational alignment, working towards set of goals, getting aligned and everyone marching in a direction, um, in all the tools that you have available to execute, to achieve a better.
You know, in this case, a better carbon footprint. Right. So, yeah. Yeah. I just
James Dice: [00:42:49] read, um, this article in the wall street journal yesterday that I was going to put in the newsletter, but it's behind the paywall and I didn't want to do that. So anyways, it was basically kind of like looking at this from a little bit of like a victim mentality is basically like, you know, property owners, they have to deal with COVID and now you're throwing all these regulations and here comes the Biden administration and it was kind of like this.
Victim sort of mentality. And it was like the, the ability to charge more rent for a more energy efficient building. That's not proven. And it was kind of just like, Um, taking this, like, it didn't feel very good. It sounds like you guys have a very, like a totally different model.
Jim Whalen: [00:43:29] Yeah, I would say, I would say, I mean, I, I, you know, I, I, I guess maybe it would depend on who you talk to, but I, I know Ben would welcome some of the work that's being done in reg the regs in our market.
And we're obviously in progressive markets and we need to be responsive and aligned to what's going on in New York and San Francisco and Boston, and they're all progressive locations and what they're doing even LA um, You know, but we were in Santa Monica, but you know, there's some really progressive stuff going on.
So totally. So
James Dice: [00:43:56] where does, so when I think about energy, I think about, um, sort of meter level data and analytics, like, like you're describing. And then I think about what, what usually happens and what we've talked about a ton on the podcast is that you realize a building needs to be. Improved upon. And then what you either do is you do like a retrofit or you start to look at the data and the systems that are sort of, you know, so you might do fault detection, diagnostics, that type of thing.
How do you guys look at that sort of dichotomy of the, I call it the hierarchy of needs, right? So, we first need meter data, and then we need interval data, and then we need FTD, right? So how do you think about getting into that sort of program?
Jim Whalen: [00:44:36] So obviously the cloud enablement of solution, take your data off prem and it's enabled and amplified and elevated in a cloud solution.
So that's a really good point, James. Like, we got to this place. So again, what is the next set of tools you apply to achieve your next round of improvements, even though they might be continually incremental, right? You're kind of thinking about this, right? So, we've piloted Switch.
We have piloted prescriptive data. We have piloted, solutions from Siemens. We've looked at Schneider. You know, but we haven't necessarily landed on a standard, right? We've got these pilots trying to get a grounding on their value, their return, the ability of the teams to absorb and act on the data that's being generated.
There's a lot, there's a lot of dynamic there. So we're still on that journey. The market is incredibly in a hype mode in terms of the number of solution providers in the space. Some coming from a tech outsider industry with technology solutions on others building and off existing frameworks.
And I think it's great. I mean, I I'm excited about the energy. We talk about this new decade and what the head and achieving that goal, that Nirvana of a smart building, self-tuning, self-commissioning building. Well, this is a journey of elevated analytics to achieve that.
And you know, we're out looking at a number of solutions to figure out a framework for Boston Properties and what that means. You know, several days a week vetting the solutions.
James Dice: [00:46:05] I have a vendor landscape and there's at least 50 in that category, 50 vendors. Yeah. It doesn't surprise me at all. Oh, well, so yeah, we'll talk about it offline and I'll send you one of the essays I wrote called, how analytics can go mainstream. And it probably brings up a lot of the points that you're running up against on these pilots. We'll link to that in the show notes as well.
Jim Whalen: [00:46:25] Yeah. Great. I just love the energy, love the dynamic. I mean, this is all good, James, right? This is all good.
James Dice: [00:46:31] Yes.
Jim Whalen: [00:46:31] So it's a
James Dice: [00:46:33] Yes. Awesome. All right. So, so that sounds like another working group happening. And then, so you have this IEQ working group happening right now as well.
So I'm just curious on like, what's the state of the art thinking since you're, you're chairing the working group as well. So like, what's, it's really confusing out there from an IQ standpoint. I mean, one of my clients has a building in Manhattan and just for reference, they have all of their. CO2 set points, overwritten.
They're not doing any demand controlled ventilation right now. Everything's on full outside air mode. And I, I can't seem to convince them that they need to stop that, but cause they're just in wait and see mode. It's kind of just like, well, no one knows what to do. So what do we do? You know? So where are you guys at?
Jim Whalen: [00:47:20] so I think, you know, I think what we're trying to navigate is, um, you know, as part, um, so this is kind of. Bridging out of our health security task force, Ben Myers, again, you know, VP of sustainability, um, drove that and we stood up he and I stood up this group. So he's, he's really, you know, if we were leading together in November that brought again, engineering talent, you know, business talent it talent at the table.
And we've gone on this journey. Um, and it's really been, I mean, I'll just kind of comment that it's been it's been enlightening across, I mean, for engineers to business, to sustainability, to me, um, to kind of. Go on this kind of awareness journey. I armed everyone with sensors, the helmet sensors, you know?
Aaron, you know, you had Aaron on air, turned me on to that, you know? Um, and yeah. Oh, I just literally bought one for every single one and they could take it home. They can take it to the office. They, and it was literally like to have a simple device that would.
Elevate awareness, what we're trying to measure, but it's just, it's been really fascinating. So I've got to know Ron, Ron Rowe at aware, and then we've, we've piloted well-staffed and we've got pilots with sense, sense where, you know, so we've got we're, we're kind of building reference points for how this gets executed.
And again, I think the thing for us is like, how do you move from a UL test? That's once or twice a year in our case, twice a year. To an active monitoring and that's the journey that we have to figure out. And then you have core and shell. And then you've got tenant space. So again, in a customer space.
So again, navigating those dynamics is really the journey ahead for us. James. So,
James Dice: [00:48:57] yeah,
and we talked about it a little bit earlier, but I've always struggled with the, like the different HVAC systems. Like we have central air conditioning. That's usually where the ventilation comes from. Coming from the landlord tenant has something else going on.
They're controlling their own terminal units that kind of,
and the distribution design and yeah, yeah,
yeah. They're on space sensors. Right. But are not necessarily getting back to the landlord. And so there's this. We need to bridge that gap in some way.
Jim Whalen: [00:49:26] and, and, and that process was already underway that whole, you know, as a trend prior to COVID, it's just been accelerated.
And again, we think that is here to stay and just kind of figuring that out.
James Dice: [00:49:35] What do you see the model as like the kind of replicable model that can
bridge that gap?
Jim Whalen: [00:49:42] Um, well, I, I don't know if I have an answer. Yeah, James. Okay. We're gonna have to figure that out. I mean, clearly we have to be responsive to our customers and, um, but you know, it's, it's it's gonna be a process, you know, we're gonna figure this out.
And again, we got some really smart people thinking about it and, um, and trying to think about it, how it, how it works in the context of our, our platform, um, for the benefit of customers. So, yeah. Yeah.
James Dice: [00:50:07] And it's so such a multi-factor problem too. Like, like that one client, the air handler is in there and then the tenant space and that building.
And so, and that their hand there could be in the landlord space, in another building. So it's just like this. Yeah.
Jim Whalen: [00:50:22] And as you know, I mean, it's a combination of the ventilation and the filtration, right? Both of those come into play in achieving, you know, achieving a result. Um, and and again we've also played with HEPA units as supplemental.
Whether that's long-term or not, but I mean, there's, there's ways of approaching, like I'm in a conference room you know, I never considered the dynamic of this conference room in my space. How can I actually, I can do things that are, you know, maybe not tied to the base building, I can actually supplement and achieve a result.
Right. So, yeah.
James Dice: [00:50:56] Yeah.
And Aaron just kind of, did a little mastermind presentation a couple of weeks ago for our pro members around like state-of-the-art as well. Yeah. You know, he, he kind of reinforced the fact that it's not just about air handlers. In fact, in some systems it's not about air handlers at all.
It's about what's happening locally. Yes. Yeah. So as you guys are kind of like. You have energy spun up, you have these goals set, and then you're spinning out this IQ group. How are you thinking about how those two kind of interact? Oh,
Jim Whalen: [00:51:27] actually they're they're members across both groups. Yeah, there's, there's some of our engineering leads and and then others that are crossing both teams and that there are long.
That's just the next logical question, because again, the challenges are we just, are you building another silo of just this IQ data? Are you going to rationalize it? Hm. Um, and in combination and what is that? Is there a journey here that we need to, we need to really be thoughtful about and that's, that's the context here, James, you know, so, yeah.
James Dice: [00:51:54] Got it. Cool. This is good to hear, like how far you guys, it's kind of like refreshing for me to hear, because I think what I get in the course that I teach a lot is like, People were kind of relieved to understand that there's no like magic bullet or like super app or like organization out there that has all this figured out.
Right. Cause we're all trying to figure this out kind of as we go. And it's sort of refreshing to hear that from you guys too. Cause it's like, you know, you have a little smart people that are on this and it's like, there's a L there's a lot of things to figure out still, which is awesome. I guess, very exciting time to be in this space.
So with that, I think what if we, why don't we just like summarize on how given how difficult it is and maybe difficult. It's not the right word, but like, What do you think it takes to be successful to create these strategies in this space?
Jim Whalen: [00:52:48] Really in the last 10 years as we've kind of done more in some really significant investments we've done, I find it really important to gain executive sponsorship on any initiative. And that's from, Owen and Doug in our case, our CEO and president to have a buy-in on, and then to create a framework, because again, I went back to framework, so you have to kind of do your due diligence and kind of get grounded in a prism of how you would, how you're going to look at it.
And then to execute on it around some clearly defined goals. Again, nothing insightful here, but there's some fundamentals. And then I think the other thing that I've just really valued is just the cross discipline teams that we spin up here that bring expertise in different insights, into a process that builds depth and builds a better result, as a kind of foundational.
So again, how you conduct and do innovation. There's just some tenants there. You know, the other thing I just recognized this year, James, I started doing a technology briefing series for a construction and development discipline. I ran three of them already this year and it's just all on different topics.
One of them was on IQ, with Ben and some other engineers, but it's really, how do you get the level of awareness across the fabric of our company to understand and provide, in context for how you think about the access control while you think about the network?
Think about cyber. Think about DAS, you know, distributed antenna system. Think about telecom provisioning. Think about, I mean, these are all things that our teams deal with. And how do we facilitate those in our development and construction trades, as an example. So yeah.
James Dice: [00:54:31] Totally. Yeah. That cross-functional like group forming seems really novel and important.
Um, I think that, yeah, the other thing that's important, that's novel from what I'm hearing from you versus hearing from others is like these three different groups, you talked about funneling up to you and you able to make decisions and facilitate across the groups. Right. And sort of knock down silos.
Jim Whalen: [00:54:54] Yeah. Yeah, no, I mean, and again, not everything's perfect. You want innovation occurring wherever it occurs in the company and in the context of the company, but you try to provide context. We've tried to be thoughtful in our decisions and what we do.
So again, you have a role there. It's not always perfect, but it's a, you know, we try to do it better than others, so let's put it that way.
James Dice: [00:55:14] Yeah. So as we kind of wrap up here, what are you excited about besides what we've already talked about? Or maybe that's what it is, but what are you excited about for the rest of the year?
Jim Whalen: [00:55:23] I'm just so excited about being post COVID. I just, I know that a couple of others and I I'm excited about visiting and engaging with our teams downstream. I told you I'm going out on my first trip, um, doing an East coast. Swinging and then a West coast swing and that hasn't happened in 14, 15 months.
And that's gonna, you know, it's just, it's such an important asset, you know, I just in terms of engagement and understanding what's going on in the fabric of our company. And then, um, and then I'm just I've just, I've just generally excited about the, I had a mini kind of. It summit for my team yesterday.
And we literally went through all the investments we're making and did these many briefings across the team. So, um, we just got some really exciting things going on and I'm excited about what we did last year. I'm excited about this year and just, you know, having impact for the company. So, yeah.
Awesome. Awesome. Well, it was great to hear about all the different parts of the smart buildings program at Boston properties. So thanks for walking us through. It could be, it could be digital building surveys. Yes. Yes. Well, thanks for coming on and telling us about it. Yeah. Thank, thank you, James. I really appreciate the conversation today.
So that was great.
All right, friends. Thanks for listening to this episode of the nexus podcast for more episodes like this, and to get the weekly nexus newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry. Please firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.