The Future of Building Automation Controls: Insights from Johnson Controls Bill Schwebel

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Johnson Controls Business Partners Conference in Milwaukee. Johnson Controls showcased their new products, updated existing ones, and organized insightful breakout sessions. These sessions ranged from technical to business-oriented topics.
Johnson Controls had arranged awesome activities outside the conference rooms for us. They indulged attendees in golf, fishing and even a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. This thoughtful blend of business and leisure highlights the company’s commitment to its partners. Their ability to be excellent product developers, partners, and gracious hosts stood out.

I want to give a special shout-out to Rick Van Buren, Jane Wamsley, and their team for orchestrating such a memorable event.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share videos of my interviews with some of the product managers from the event. I had an enlightening conversation with Bill Schwebel, the VP/GM of Building Automation Systems and Controls. Stay tuned for my detailed interview with him in this post.

Highlights from the Interview:

🏢 Dive into the rich history of Johnson Controls as Bill Schwebel, the VP/GM – Building Automation Systems | Controls

Bill takes us on a journey from Warren Johnson’s invention of the first thermostat in 1883 to the future of smart building technology.

🔗 Key Highlights: Bill’s passionate insights into the digital transformation journey from his early days in telecom. The challenges and opportunities of integrating digital technology into diverse building structures.

Unpack Bill’s perspective on why our homes are more intelligent than our buildings: The massive fragmentation challenge in the building industry compared to others, like automotive.

A deep dive into the impact of Covid on building automation: The future shift in office space design and control.

Why Johnson Controls stands out: As the sole giant in building technology, they integrate every system, from HVAC to security.

The hurdles to digital transformation in buildings and Johnson Controls’ proactive approach to educating the consulting engineering community.

🔍 Notable Quote: “A lot of that transition still needs to happen. Our homes are a lot smarter than our buildings.” – Bill Schwebel

Do you want to listen to the podcast instead?

More thoughts…

The Fragmentation Challenge

One of the significant roadblocks in the evolution of building automation controls is the sheer diversity of buildings. Unlike sectors such as telecom or automotive, where standardization is relatively more straightforward, the building industry is complex. Bill compared the challenge to his work on the connected car. Transformation in the automotive sector is quicker because the primary product – a car – remains consistent.

In stark contrast, every building is unique. Bill noted, “Every engineer that worked on a building built it differently, even in the same city.” The design nuances between buildings in New York City, Westchester, and Dallas exemplify the diversity. Add to this the varying codes and requirements for each region, and the challenge becomes even more daunting.

COVID-19: A Catalyst for Change

The global pandemic has inevitably influenced every sector, and building automation controls are no exception. With more individuals working remotely, Bill and I concurred that the demand for office space would diminish. However, a new challenge arises: creating and controlling office spaces that people genuinely want to come to work in. It is here that building automation controls will play an instrumental role.

Johnson Controls: Pioneers in the Field

While the challenges in the domain are manifold, Johnson Controls is a beacon of hope and innovation. As Bill emphasized, Johnson Controls is the only entity that can genuinely amalgamate all the systems within a building. Johnson Controls covers products from chillers, AHU units, lighting, and building automation controls to fire and security.

 But the true magic lies in orchestrating these systems to deliver tangible outcomes, ensuring a building is primed for digital transformation.

Bill also pointed out that their customers have options regarding how they can purchase Johnson Controls products. Customers can have a Johnson branch or work with factory-trained System integrators supported by Johnson’s local distributor network, giving owners many choices.

Reimagining the Purchase Paradigm

Arguably, the purchase mindset is one of the most significant challenges to digital transformation in buildings. The current norm skewed towards the lowest bid in new construction keeps most building owners from taking full advantage of the most advanced technologies. Only when stakeholders, from building owners to consulting engineers, transition from focusing on installation costs to product lifecycle costs can significant strides in building automation controls be made.

Johnson Controls is at the forefront of tackling this challenge. They proactively engage and educate the consulting engineering community, ensuring that the merits of a long-term perspective are evident.


The trajectory of building automation controls is undeniably encouraging. Our conversation with Bill Schwebel offered a deep dive into building automation controls complexities, challenges, and vast potential. As smart technology continues to evolve, ensuring our buildings aren’t left behind is imperative. Johnson Controls and leaders like Bill Schwebel are making sure they won’t be.

For anyone invested in the future of our built environments – from engineers and system integrators to prop tech professionals – understanding and championing the advancement of building automation controls is not just a fascination; it’s a necessity.


3 Responses

  1. Love Johnson Controls! Very interesting! You may be interested to know about our Particulate Matter Solutions LLC soon to launch US patented Direct Air Capture which is designed to retrofit to all global commercial building HVAC – sits atop cooling tower fans and draws in ambient air, capturing Ozone, Heavy particulates, CO2, and Methane. No moving parts. Uses no new net energy. Takes advantage of waste energy already occurring 24/7/365. Willing to discuss at your convenience. Thank you. John

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