Why The Coalition for Smarter Buildings Is Your Best Bet

ControlTrends covers the Coalition for Smarter Buildings

What I learned about the Coalition for Smarter Buildings at the AHR Educational Session in Las Vegas

Anto Budiardjo is tall, alert, with calm, intelligent eyes that speak even when he is not talking. He is direct without being pushy, excited while remaining calm, but most of all, he is passionate about what he says. I notice that everyone on the panel at the AHR Session “The Coalition for Smarter Buildings” is passionate. They speak with the conviction of people with a purpose of magnitude and importance; necessary and game-changing.

This is a group of industry heavyweights, CEOs and Presidents: John Petze, Melissa Boutwell, Rick Justis, Jim Lee, and the moderator, Anto Budiardjo. These smart building veterans have been around the block enough times to know that affecting real change in our industry has little possibility — a 1000 to one bet. They should know better than to be this excited, this optimistic, yet here they are, pushing all their chips in and playing all out. This got my attention.

The Coalition for Smarter Buildings (C4SB) is ambitious. Ambitious and forward thinking in the way Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan were forward thinking. Two pioneers that pushed the latest technology of their era, sailing, to its limits, to the point, that the experts of the day did not take them seriously, convinced they would sail off the edge of the earth to their deaths, because every reasonable person knew the earth was flat.  In a world that designs and builds smart buildings in a fashion that is reasonable and flat, the C4SB sees the world of smart buildings as round.  Instead of being reasonable and accepting the way things have been done, they are challenging us to sail beyond the edges of what we know and find a new ways to construct Smart Buildings and Smart Building Control Systems.

This new way of seeing the world of smart buildings touches the boardroom, the classroom, and the rooms in Congress where, with the stroke of a pen, a legislator can change the world of smart building controls forever. It is the framework needed for us as an industry to evolve and possibly survive; it deserves our attention and support.

To comprehend and appreciate the C4SB, imagine boxing with an octopus. Focus on any of the arms and you miss what the other arms are doing. Like an octopus, the C4SB has many moving parts, which makes it hard to write about and do it justice. I will try.

Think of the C4SB as two things, a planning tool called the Smarter Stack and an implementation tool called The Five Pillars.

The heart of C4SB is the Smarter Stack. The Smarter Stack is many things: a map, a specification, a multidimensional model that connects the who, what, why and how together with agreed upon outcomes. It get’s all the people involved in making a building smart and profitable on the same page.

The Smarter Stack is more than a map or a framework. It is a multi-layered soothsayer, a conveyor of information, purpose and progress.

There are seven levels from top to bottom in the Smarter Stack:
Purpose Level: it answers the question why and defines the outcomes for success. Although it is at the top, it dives deep and answers these questions for each stakeholder. The CEO will have a different why than the operations manager, and so on.
Operations Level: lays out how things will get done
Delivery level: how the outcomes get delivered to the stakeholders, for example how will we deliver smart data to the different stakeholders.
Apps Level: includes software and digital apps used in the building
Data Level: the storage, normalization, and management of data.
The Exchange Level: matches apps, data, and services.
The Systems Level:  where building automation controls live.
The Physical Level: includes equipment and the physical buildings itself.

The beauty of the Smarter Stack is that it can apply to just about any process. It is an expansion of Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why,” a proven method that leaders used to organize and inspire people. The stack defines the “Why”, and moves  the “why”through the layers in each stack to facilitate predictable outcomes and galvanize stake holders.

This group is more than theory and talk. They are about action and getting stuff done! What impresses me about the C4SB is how much they have already accomplished and how much more they plan to do.

Rick Justis gave an example of the process being used at a fire station in Kansas City. The client wanted it to be “the smartest fire station” that  included “indoor air quality and system interoperability.” Rick used the Smarter Stack with the client and the result was a client that got what they wanted, and the C4SB had an example showing how well the Smarter Stack worked on a real project.

The group organizes and tracks goals around 5 Pillars of Action: Interoperability, Analytics, Specification, Financial, and Workforce. It is a comprehensive and powerful approach to change.

As John Petze says, “so, all of these pillars are really equally important, but some people only care about one pillar or the another at a time. But the coalition’s goal is to focus on all and try to bring information exchange, and consultative input into achieving these types of goals, and do it around an organization that has a better ability to communicate.”

Let’s examine a couple of these pillars. Regarding specifications, the group is proposing and creating a massive overhaul for division 2525.

“If you look at the smarter stack and look at how it’s laid out. It’s laid out according to division 2525. What is that? That’s part of the construction specifications institute. And that’s how we built and designed buildings for 100 years,” says Jim Lee.

“And why is it called division 2525? When it’s actually division 25? Well, we think that what we’re trying to do is to create specs, so good that you have to name them twice,” remarked Anto Budiardjo.

According to John Petze, the specifications have not changed to meet technology changes, and don’t address adequately cyber security and data analytics.

So what makes the C4SB specification different?

The C4BS model encourages deeper levels of understanding that unite stakeholder and system needs . It is not based on any one vendor or vendors guide spec or beholding to a hundred-year-old framework. It evolves as technology and needs change, which insures the owner gets exactly what he pays for and expects.

For example, regarding open systems, the C4SB definition of open leaves no room for disingenuous interpretations that leave an owner still stuck with one vendor, 

“if you’re going to talk about interoperability and talk about analytics, you’re going to talk about specifying the systems. The smarter stack became a tool in doing that,” says John Petze.

This opens up the playing field to more participants, that otherwise might have been “spected” out of a project. By having truly open, clear specifications, owners have more legitimate choices.

The Group is making this guide spec open source and putting it into the public domain. This is good news for the Industry and will define and set standards for new smart building requirements like analytics and cyber security.

Another useful distinction the C4SM makes is around interoperability. Today we speak of integration, which the group sees as limiting and not broad enough to address the needs of the modern day smart building.

“We do not use the word integration, which is feels much more like a point to point sign off on, project done , and the integrator walks out the door. Interoperable means these systems are going to work with whatever comes down the pipe.”—JohnPetze

Let’s talk about the Financial Pillar. Who is going to pay for this?

The C4SB is going straight to the ultimate decision maker, the one with the deepest pockets on the planet, our Uncle Sam.

“the DC based side of what we’re trying to do, there was this desire to have a lot more smart buildings. Because everybody understands that smart buildings are more efficient, smart buildings can be more sustainable be better places to work and play. So, so there’s a desire to have a lot more a lot sooner. But who was going to provide the leadership of how to actually do that?” —Rick Justis

 C4SB is steeping up to provide this leadership,  the team is lobbying in Washington to advocate new ways of funding government energy upgrades in buildings. According to Jim Lee, there are zero dollars in the Federal Government for energy efficient upgrades. This is because all such projects have been done on performance contracts. Jim asked the question, “ Now that LED lighting retrofits are done, what now? Is the government going to stop investing in buildings to save energy?” The C4SB is working in Washington to get money budgeted for smarter buildings, and incentives for owners to invest in the numerous buildings that have no energy controls.

 The Federal government needs to join the rest of the world, and reduce our carbon footprint. The team is making sure that our group of smart building controls experts are front and center as solution providers.

Let’s talk about Workforce . . .

Who is going to do the work? Labor shortages abound, the people doing the work now are retiring or being recruited away to other tech industries starving for qualified workers. With more skills needed to do work with new technical requirements, even the existing workforce will need to upgrade their skills.

“But what are the specifications for the workforce that we in our industry need? How many people do we need in these roles? What do they need to know? What do they need to be taught? And what will they need to know two years from now? And we already know that the average lifespan of technical skills is two and a half years. And we’re competing today with all kinds of industries. If you have good people on your team, don’t worry, there’s a recruiter near you trying to get them. So how are we going to solve these industry problems?” —Melissa Boutwell

Fortunately, the C4SB is working on this problem too:

“For the very first time in our industry, we now have an apprenticeship program for our industry. It is called the emerging technology apprenticeship program. It is being registered with the Federal Department of Labor. It is an IT based apprenticeship that is designed for professional level roles.” —Melissa Boutwell

Is our Industry like a sports franchise that is in decline, that needs to change but does not quite know how? As other teams come into our space are we vulnerable because we are not working together?

If you believe that , or some version of that, then the C4SB is offering leadership and a vision that can overhaul and revamp our team and prepare us to handle new competition and new realities.

The Smarter Stack creates a working specification that changes the process used for over one hundred years. Rather than talking about the lack of qualified labor, the group is defining and creating a curriculum for schools and getting federal support for education that will bring young and properly trained workers to our companies.

They are creating new opportunities with the two largest customer sets The Federal Government, and the buildings that have no building automation controls and no incentive to invest in these buildings. They are educating and getting support from legislators in Washington, DC.

If they make this sale, the Federal Government will have a budget to upgrade building automation control systems under funds other than funding from performance contracts. If they can convince Washington that one of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint is to give owners of smaller buildings adequate tax incentives to take action, we as an Industry will have more opportunities than we ever imagined.

 “out of the 5 million buildings in the US somewhere like 3%, has smarts in it, maybe it’s 5%,  And so there’s this huge amount of potential for us, One of the coalition meetings, I did a little calculation in my head, if we’re only to attack 20% of the buildings in the US, that’s 1 million buildings, Let’s say we want to do that in five years. That’s 200,000 buildings a year. How many is that a day? 800. Do we think as an industry, we can do 800 buildings a day?” —Anto Budiardjo

Well done C4SB!

To bet on this group is to bet on yourself. They deserve our support. I am putting my chips on the table and betting on the C4SB. I have applied for membership and encourage you to do the same. You can join the group by clicking here. to learn more check out Monday Live.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”—Chinese Proverb

Let’s get cracking!

Video courtesy of Cochrane Supply and Engineering


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