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🏢 > The Sum Of Its Parts [Nexus Newsletter #101]

🏢  > The Sum Of Its Parts [Nexus Newsletter #101]

Do you ever find yourself having the same conversation over and over again?

One that keeps coming up for me: Why is an overlay software platform needed? What does it do that traditional systems don't do?

In many ways, this is actually the central conversation happening in the smart buildings industry. In other words, why smart buildings?

You could explain this in 1000 different ways—and if you look around the industry, we are doing just that! It's confusing and we're talking past each other.

Here's my version... This is as succinct and buzzword free as I can currently do it.

Picture a single room: perhaps a conference room in an office.

You have all these siloed systems:

We need them to work together as a system of systems. Why? Because if they did, they would produce the outcomes we need:

  • A productive, safe, healthy, efficient, comfortable, collaborative occupant experience
  • Minimal carbon emissions
  • Minimal operating expenses, maximum revenue

Take a look back at that image and think about it: the success of each of these outcomes depend on multiple silos working together. That's not happening today.

Today, we have a bunch of individual musicians. We need an orchestra.

But let's take it one step further: we don't want them to merely work together. We want to dynamically optimize for each outcome based on many dynamic factors.

If you're asking the occupant to control the blinds, lights, or thermostat... they're not productive, they're probably not doing a good job, and they're probably annoyed.

If you're controlling all the silos with only one outcome in mind... you're jeopardizing one outcome in favor of another. For example: it's good if you're curtailing electric demand to reduce carbon emissions, but you can't do so by under-ventilating the conference room.

I use the word "control" very intentionally. Today, our siloed systems are control systems. They're controlling to one or two outcomes that rarely change and aren't in conflict. To actually enable the outcomes we're looking for, we need to move away from control and towards full autonomy.

In our context, autonomy has two layers:

  • System automation—We need the overlay to actually send commands to the underlying silos.
  • Human workflow automation—Automating human tasks, helping them reach outcomes easier, and enabling better collaboration.

Continuing our orchestra analogy: if the humans are the musicians and the technology is each instrument, that means we also need an intelligent conductor. We need someone (ahem... something) to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Whew, and it's no wonder there's lots of confusion, fluff, and over-promising. This sh*t is difficult.

So at the risk of buzzwords and confusion, let's take a crack at summarizing: what boxes do we need to check to enable this? Here's my best shot:

  1. Physical infrastructure, networking, protocol translation, data storage, and cybersecurity—Notice this has (almost) nothing to do with the overlay software, but enabling the overlay software.
  2. Ontology—The conductor needs to understand the context and relationships between all the systems, people, and their workflows.
  3. Math and logic—Once the data is collected in context, now convert it to action. You could say "AI", but that gets hand-wavy.
  4. Persona-specific applications—If there needs to be a human interface to accomplish the action, then serve the action to the appropriate stakeholder in context with the rest of their workflows. If there's an ecosystem of application providers, that ensures the platform can meet everyone's needs.
  5. Contextual integration between those applications—If the outcome depends on multiple stakeholders working together, then update their applications accordingly.
  6. Supervisory control—If the action can be taken without a human, then command the underlying control systems accordingly.

Most of the marketplace isn't here today, but this is where we're headed.

What do you think?

P.S. In our Foundations course, we spend a whole week walking through the different types of overlays on the market today.