July 2008
Interview
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Keith GipsonEMAIL INTERVIEW Keith E. Gipson & Ken Sinclair

Keith E. Gipson, CTO, PhoenixESG
2008 Buildy Vision Award winner

Presently, Mr. Gipson is the CTO of PhoenixESG, a company dedicated to delivering Internet based, Enterprise Facility Management Solutions to large corporate customers using his latest, patent-pending technology.

 


This year at BuilConn in San Jose, CA, Keith E. Gipson was presented the 2008 Buildy Vision award for his past and continuing contributions to the industry. This award, which was based on peer nominations and voted on by BuilConn attendees, recognizes excellence and perseverance in the areas of intelligent buildings, open systems, and convergence.

A "visionary" and I discuss embracing change

"I've been very blessed to be able to express and demonstrate my passion for buildings and our industry throughout my career."

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Sinclair: Keith, Congratulations! Jane and I were extremely pleased that you received the Buildy Vision Award. What was it like to win?

Gipson: Thanks Ken. As I mentioned at the awards gala, I was very proud and honored to be recognized by my peers in the industry. To me, that is the highest mark of achievement. Also, the greater honor is to actually be able to meet and also befriend people (icons) in the industry who I used to read about from a far. Folks like you and Jane, Jim Lee and Jim Butler at Cimetrics, Jack McGowan, Tom Hartman, the list just goes on and on. I'm very fortunate.

Sinclair: Well Keith, you deserve it. You also called attention to your wife, Reta's continuing support as well?

Gipson: That's true. Reta's been with me on this journey, in a supporting role, for the last twenty-five years - and I appreciate and love her for it.

Sinclair: Quite a testimony to you as a couple - your contribution to our industry. What do you think it was that enabled you to win the Vision Award?

Gipson: I've been very blessed to be able to express and demonstrate my passion for buildings and our industry throughout my career. I think people look at some of the things, like starting a Dot.Com business (Silicon Energy), and I guess it's quite a story (with a happy ending!?).

I've spoken to many people over the years and they've told me that I represent in their eyes "the tech that made good". I'm proud of my career as a Honeywell service Technician and Johnson Controls Engineer because it forged the customer focused attitude that I've tried to maintain to this day. Automation techs and engineers are really the un-sung heroes of our industry. And I'm proud to "represent"!

Sinclair: I remember when I first reported on Silicon Energy over ten years ago - seems like you might have been a little 'bit ahead of your time!

Gipson: (laughs) I guess being too much of a "visionary" has it's drawbacks as well!

Seriously, what I tried to do was change people's minds about what an Enterprise Energy Management system was or could be. I remember a quote from Steve Jobs that stuck with me when he said "I made a big mistake with Apple the first time around. I didn't push hard enough and if I had it to do over again - I would have taken everything to the limit!" So there were some huge challenges for us to make that stuff work, "push" technology over the web through firewalls, rich client-side browser experience circa 1997, 3D Virtual-Reality geospatial (Google map-like) navigation, system integration using gateways to proprietary systems, etc.

I remember describing back then what we were building to a friend of mine at one of the major controls companies and he came back a week later and said "I went to my Engineers back east and described to them what you're trying to build and they told me what you're trying to do is impossible"! I laughed and remarked "Shoot! no wonder it's takin' us so long?"

Sinclair: That's funny. It's something that you mentioned "change". At AutomatedBuildings.com, we've re-focused our mission to encourage and support people to be "Agents of Change" within this industry.

What sort of changes are you trying to promote now?

Gipson: Well, I think, (putting on my "visionary" hat), top-side web applications and services using information convergence, is the next frontier.

At PhoenixESG (www.phoenixesg.com), my partners Fernando Ramirez, Lisa Varga and I all have a shared, common vision of providing an Enterprise platform that enables customers to manage their facilities and energy assets more efficiently. Fernando has always called the concept "EnterpriseDX" (Enterprise Data eXchange). We are proving that this sort of Enterprise integration, using gateways and multiple data feeds for EMS, weather, billing, metering, budget and other sources, creates a very powerful infrastructure for our customers. We are continuing to have success in the multi-site retail and commercial sectors.

Sinclair: Coming off of ConnectivityWeek in San Jose, you and some other industry leaders participated in a "who are we?" discussion. What are some of your impressions from that thread?

Gipson: Quite frankly, we're at a cross-roads. It's a paradox really. We all seem to be in agreement that a common infrastructure (protocol? framework?) is necessary, but beyond that I fear some may have a hard time defining who we are and what we're going to do to bring real value to customers. This last point should be our ultimate objective. I think, along with many industry leaders like you, that we need to concentrate on information management. Someone described it as "Googling the Facility".

One of my favorite books of all time was written in 1993 by Daniel Burrus. It was entitled "TechnoTrends - How to use technology to go beyond your competition". In the book, he paints a portrait of a "big iron" mainframe computer manufacturer (IBM?) who was still trying to be successful playing by the old rules. They continue losing the game because they simply don't realize that "the rules of the game have changed!". At the end of the book, Burrus admonished the reader to:

"Give your customer the ability to do something new, that they couldn't do before, but would have wanted to do; if only they knew they had the ability to do it?" To say I took that book to heart would be an understatement. That and Bill Gates' "The Road Ahead" (Reta's 1995 Christmas present to me) really got me thinking.

Reliable Controls Sinclair: In your opinion, what are some of the major impediments to change?

Gipson: Easily the biggest one is the difficulty people have with embracing change in the first place. It's very hard! You have to have the will and desire to change. I guess this might sound like an over-simplification, but it's not. The phrase I try to live up to for myself is "relentless change". You have to be able to paint a picture for people. At this stage of development, it's even premature to label it a "better" picture, because there may not even be any empirical evidence or metrics to measure it's potential. This is why occasionally it's better to not listen to your customers, or the market. ("The Innovator's Dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail" 1997 - Clayton M. Christensen).

I'll give you an example: There was an executive at Sony years ago that had an idea for a miniature tape machine with headphones (the "Walkman"). When he approached the leadership of Sony, they rejected the idea initially because they surveyed consumers at the time and consumers stated that they would not be interested in a little tape machine with "tinny" sounding headphone speakers? But the executive persisted. Why? Because he had a prototype of a Walkman and he had experienced it. It wasn't just a little tape player, but a device that transported him into another place through music. It changed personal entertainment forever.

Another difficulty with change is aligning resources to assist in developing transformative products. To continue along the Walkman story, Sony was unable to transform its success with the Walkman into the next generation product - the MP3 player. Steve Jobs tells the story of how his Engineers at Apple gave him a list of thirty-three reasons why the iPod could not be built: "You can't get a hard drive that small", "The batteries won't last", "Navigation was problematic", etc. etc. Finally, one of the Product Managers said to Steve Jobs "Give me one reason why we should build this thing", to which Jobs answered "Because I'm CEO, I told you to do it and I'm going to fire you if you don't!". The Apple CEO is not known for his touchy-feely management style - but he creates compelling products that change people's minds. (see "How Apple Got Everything Right by Doing Everything Wrong" WIRED -http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-04/bz_apple)

Sinclair: Sounds like you're a prolific reader? You've referred to several books or publications.

Gipson: Oh, I love to read. Learned to read at age 3 1/2. My twin brother and I grew up in South-Central Los Angeles, the local public library after school was (literally) a life saver! I can't even go to bed at night without reading something. I try to stay up on the latest technologies and business trends. I'm also fascinated by what drives innovation or causes people and companies to stumble (or succeed).

Sinclair: Interesting. Any final thoughts on facilitating change?

Gipson: Sure. First, like I said before, paint the vision. Be passionate, try to change people's minds. Always design backwards from concept to production - and not the other way around. Don't be afraid to rapidly prototype and deploy product ideas to beta customers. "Learn to fail fast".

Finally, if you believe in something very strongly, simply don't let anyone talk you out of it!

Sinclair: Thanks Keith for a very informative interview and congratulations again. Where can people get more information about PhoenixESG and what you're doing?

Gipson: You're welcome Ken. Our web address is: www.phoenixesg.com or contact me at kgipson@phoenixesg.com


About Keith Gipson

Keith E. Gipson has been a technologist for over two decades. Starting out as a Technician with Honeywell Inc. in 1987, graduating to an Engineer at Johnson Controls in the mid-90's and at Pacific Gas and Electric in 1997.

A successful entrepreneur and business professional, Mr. Gipson co-founded in 1997 the world's first; Internet based Enterprise Energy Management company, Silicon Energy Corp (www.siliconenergy.com) . The privately held company grew from three persons to a 250 plus employee, multi-million dollar company. Itron Corp. acquired Silicon Energy in March 2003 for $71M.

Mr. Gipson was Awarded United States Patent number 6,178,362, Jan 23, 2001 as Co-inventor of: an Energy Management System and Method utilizing the Internet to perform Facility and Energy Management of large corporate enterprises. Southern California Edison recently honored Mr. Gipson as a "modern day" African-American inventor with significant contributions to technology and specifically, the Electric utility industry.

Presently, Mr. Gipson is the CTO of PhoenixESG, a company dedicated to delivering Internet based, Enterprise Facility Management Solutions to large corporate customers using his latest, patent-pending technology.

Mr. Gipson mentors young, inner-city future entrepreneurs through University of Southern California's "100 Black Men" program and participates at the California State University "Upward Bound" program. He is the Director of the Children's ministry, Deacon and Sunday school teacher at The Roger Williams Baptist Church, Los Angeles, CA. Keith enjoys music, computers and spending time with his wife and four children. He can usually be found on his computer late most nights, "hacking" away trying to create "the next big thing".

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