6 min read

The smart buildings shortcut I wish I had [Nexus Newsletter #86]

Hey friends,

Before our normal medley of links, I want to tell you a quick story about my career.

This will help explain the changes I made 5 years ago that I credit for helping me make an impact in smart buildings industry—changes that might help others trying to find their feet as the industry blazes forward.

That's highway 285 in Colorado. As you can see, it’s a stunningly beautiful drive.

I’ve been in many traffic jams on 285—like when the infamous leaf peepers pile into the mountains from Denver trying to take selfies with perfectly colored aspen trees. Or when that mama moose and her little ones caused a big pile up.

Here’s the thing: Each time I’ve gotten stuck here, I could not have cared less.

Why? Because it’s the scenic route. If you’re on this highway, you just take in the views. You’re not trying to find shortcuts. The drive itself is all you need.

Now… this is highway 25 in Colorado.

See the difference?

When you’re on 25, you’re wondering what you did to deserve such bad luck. You fear for your life. You’ll do anything to find a shortcut. You just want to get where you’re going… now.

About five years ago, my career in our industry was feeling much more like highway 25 than 285. I had just quit my third job in four years. When I got to my fourth gig, it quickly became clear it would be more of the same.

The same what? Well, project after project and meeting after meeting were so stuck in the status quo. Whether it was a construction project or energy retrofit or controls upgrade, our industry is very good at doing things the same old ways.

Meanwhile, news about climate change kept popping up in my feed—reminding me of why I had joined the buildings industry in the first place. But here I was, five years into my journey, not making much progress despite all my hard work.

And then there was the incessant technological progress outside of buildings. While I was hearing about some of this progress making its way into buildings, the buildings I was working in were using technology from the 80s and 90s.

Oh, and the vendors. Every week there was a new startup. Every week the incumbent vendors had new products. All of them were making grand claims that they had the answer that would change everything. It was overwhelming.

When I tried to drive change, it felt like I was making it up as I went. Inevitably, I would step on what I now call the landmines left over from our industry’s past. When they blew up, the reward for my efforts was more long hours at the office cleaning things up.

I was stuck on highway 25, falling behind, and I had to do something.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a shortcut. I had no idea what to do. So I just started doing stuff.

And because hindsight is 20/20, I can now see that some if it worked beautifully and some of it was a huge waste of time. Time I didn’t feel like I had to waste. Time our industry doesn’t have to waste.

That’s why I want to share what’s worked for me. These are the changes I made:

  • I dove into the history of our industry and why it creates dumb buildings (It’s actually fascinating and a perfect problem to spend your career on)
  • I started learning about where technology was headed, using other industries as examples
  • I looked at the buildings I knew and realized they didn’t have a plan. Worse than that, they didn’t have a strategy to inform the plan. So I created a process for building a Smart Building Strategy that could be applied to any building or portfolio.
  • I started building what I now consider my personal monopoly in smart buildings—the things no one can compete with me on

And fast forward to today… here I am working on cutting edge projects. I’m connected to the thought leaders in the industry, who I can call on if I get lost. As a result, I feel like I can get dropped into any smart building project or situation and provide value that moves us forward.

And while I didn’t have a shortcut, that doesn’t mean those of you who are new to smart buildings can’t find one. Here’s my advice: When you’re combining fast-moving technology with decades of history and technical debt, you need a new approach to learning and personal development.

If you want to hear my approach to keeping up with the smart buildings industry and finding my unique role, sign up for this free, updated deep dive series kicking off on tomorrow:

>>One click sign up for the free email series<<

You’ll also learn about how I packaged this approach into our flagship online course, Nexus Foundations. In fall 2020, we hosted 25 aspiring and established smart buildings leaders in Cohort #1. In the spring of 2021, we hosted 53 students and alumni for Cohort #2. This email series kicks off Cohort #3 by helping you decide if you want to join.

All you have to do to receive those emails is click here.

I’ll share with you my very best advice on how to approaching growing your impact in the smart buildings industry, including:

  • Why this moment in our industry is such a unique, “unparalleled” opportunity
  • Why on-the-job training isn’t enough for smart buildings leaders
  • The single biggest myth about smart buildings and the mistakes it causes
  • Your options for learning about smart buildings, which learning approaches to avoid, and where I think everyone should start
  • My hard-learned method for building a Smart Building Strategy for any project or portfolio
  • The big improvements we're making for Cohort 3
  • Schedule, bonuses, and other details for the upcoming cohort

See you soon,

James

P.S. Don’t forget to click here or you won’t receive the email series! If someone forwarded you this email, you can enter your email here to received the series immediately.


At the Nexus

Here’s everything we published this week:

REPOST: 🎧 #061: Why technology in buildings is decades behind—This week's podcast was an oldie but goodie, reposted from December 2020. It contains every answer to my favorite podcast question from 2020—all mashed together. It also serves as an introduction to all the newcomers to our space that wonder what the rest of us wonder:

Why the hell is the technology in buildings so far behind?

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Nexus Pro Member Gathering on Workforce Development (Members only recording)—July's member gathering featured a panel on one of the grand challenges for the smart buildings industry: workforce development. Panelists were:

  • Melissa Boutwell, President, Automation Strategy & Performance on filling 1000 entry level system integrator positions and a nationwide accreditation
  • Mike Conway, Founder and Executive Director, Stacks+Joules on teaching smart buildings to high school students in NYC
  • Steve Mayou, Instructor for the Sustainable Building Science Technology BAS Program, Seattle Colleges on teaching old (and not-so-old) dogs new tricks

Signal vs. Noise

Only the best smart building resources we consumed this week…

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One Billion Machines. Decarbonization, demystified—Yes, you should read this. It looks at all the carbon-emitting machines from the supply side to the demand side and what it will take to decarbonize.

"In a world full of fossil-fueled machines (and regulations that support them), it’s hard for many people to imagine the pathway to achieving net-zero emissions in time to keep global heating under 1.5–2.0 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.​But that pathway can be simply stated: electrify (almost) everything."

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Enhancing Performance Contracts with Monitoring-Based Commissioning (MBCx)Here's another report I co-authored while at NREL that was just published. It describes the benefits of integrating monitoring-based commissioning into energy performance contracts, and highlights applications of monitoring-based commissioning to energy conservation measure identification, commissioning, retro-commissioning, and measurement and verification.

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New to me—It's been a while since I've featured this section in the newsletter! Here are some new companies I've come across in the last couple months that I'll soon be adding to the Nexus Vendor Landscape:

  • DABBEL—Advanced-supervisory control software for HVAC out of the EU
  • Axonize—No-code IoT software recently acquired by IWMS software firm Planon
  • SWTCH—Fully managed service and software provider for EV charging solutions for building owners.
  • WeMaintain—Originally an elevator analytics platform which expanded into fire alarm systems via acquisition, they recently raised 30M euros to expand into new systems
  • Speak to IoT—Connect devices to an voice assistant

What new companies have you seen pop up lately?

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That's all for this week! Thanks for reading. 👋