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Deb NollerEMAIL INTERVIEWDeb Noller and Ken Sinclair

Deb Noller has a Bachelor of Commerce with a Computing major so is adept in both business and technology. She is also skilled at building relationships and understands the growth and scalability challenges of taking a platform to the global market. Deb is passionate about sustainability and is keen to ensure that Switch helps our customers tell their stories.
Switch Automation

‘Perfect Storm’ for IoT in Buildings

Yet, the vast majority of these portfolio managers have no knowledge or solution for fully ‘IoT’ing’ (i.e. networking and connecting data) their biggest assets, under the status quo.

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SinclairWhy is right now such a ‘perfect storm’ for IoT in buildings?

Noller:  One strongly-worded theme keeps repeating itself in the halls of Switch Automation lately: ‘if you don’t have a ‘digital strategy’ for your building portfolio, then you won’t have a job for long.’ A bit threatening? Perhaps. True? Undoubtedly.

Here’s the thing…technology is evolving so rapidly [enter, Internet of Things and the fact that building systems, “edge devices” are now primed for enterprise networking and software connections], energy consumption in buildings is still off the charts and the world is under pressure to save resources [in all of its definitions].

And buildings, one of the largest asset classes, AREN’T KEEPING UP. Basically every single thing that a modern building owner purchases for their building now has some semblance of a digital control [think large mechanical equipment, like chillers, sure—but these days even basic systems like generators and elevators have DDC, not to mention new-generation technologies like solar power inverters]. Yet, the vast majority of these portfolio managers have no knowledge or solution for fully ‘IoT’ing’ (i.e. networking and connecting data) their biggest assets, under the status quo. Many do not even understand that their competitors are doing just that, right now as we speak. There are huge problems with disparate systems from dozens of vendors, most notably in the complexity it creates coupled with a complete lack of overarching management and engineering oversight. Many technology vendors have been taking advantage of building owners / operators / managers for a long time—selling them systems that are not well understood and poorly commissioned in the field, only to subsequently sell them costly service contracts to remediate and monitor the original problems. These assets are well on their way to becoming a huge liability without a solid digital strategy. They need a digital strategy that not only aggregates and displays data in a readable way—but actually gives functional next steps on how to best operationalize, manage and improve efficiencies across the enterprise.

The time is now because it’s the year 2016 and we are completely WASTING money, energy and brilliant technology, simply because the masses haven’t adopted the end-to-end solution that already exists.

It’s really a choice for building owners at this point--get in front of it, or risk getting left behind.

SinclairHow can we really trust security in the cloud?

Noller:  In reality, with the proper hosting partners [Switch is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform] and expert onboarding team, hosting your data in the cloud is actually a MORE secure approach than the alternative default. The key is to find a solution that was BORN in the cloud [aka got it right the first time], that lets you own YOUR data FOREVER and that can have you fully deployed [and trained] within days of implementation. [Spoiler alert: Switch Automation has a proven program to get it done].

SinclairWhy are new construction planning and specs for controls and Div. 25 - Integrated Automation still so misunderstood?

Noller:  Three main factors limit the broader adoption of smart building technologies in the Design and Build phases of the building lifecycle. It starts with the design process. Design engineers, particularly more junior engineers, who are often tasked with the bulk of the actual tactical design work, tend to have more of a deterministic view of the world. If they design it to work a certain way, they expect that it will operate that way in the field. They tend not to understand the operational complexities of systems and equipment in the field, and they are typically not trained in controls. You have to look no further than a sample of controls specifications on a few projects to see the inadequacies. Of course, this is not everyone, but it is a common problem.

Second, automation often gets dealt a fatal blow in the budgeting and construction process. Everyone knows the normal structure: controls are sub to mechanical and electrical, and mechanical and electrical are sub to the GC. In this structure, the controls budget is squeezed to the absolute limit, requiring automation vendors run at or near a loss to win the jobs. This does two things: it gives a structural advantage to large manufacturers who can afford to buy the jobs, and it results in a situation where automation contractors have an incentive to minimize field work (e.g. commissioning) and recoup their margin with future service contracts. Furthermore, mechanical and electrical subs are not often not adequately coordinated for things like metering, lighting control and HVAC control, so you get multiple systems with disparate interfaces and data is not properly integrated to be made useful.

Finally, there is a general lack of knowledge in the industry about Division 25 – Integrated Automation and how that can help owners. The key to Integrated Automation, or “smart buildings” technology in general, is that it needs to be driven at a portfolio level. Div 25 is about pulling together the disparate systems across properties into common platform(s) for data management, analytics and control. While it is important that we educate the industry on the future of building technologies and “BIoT”, the design and construction industry really always operates on a project basis. The strategies and specifications for Division 25 need to be driven from the owner and enforced by the owner’s representatives (architects, consultants, construction managers). This is coming, however, and the industry needs to do a better job of understanding and meeting these requirements.

SinclairYou claim to be ‘better, cheaper, faster’ than any other ‘smart building’ solutions provider in the market. What, specifically, do you mean by that?

Noller:  It’s true. We are the only company in the world that can provide all  building operational metrics in one place [think beyond just energy…we mean carbon, waste, water and other kinds of data like work orders and people counting data], in one platform in real time regardless of source.  But beyond the scalable platform, we’re a team of experts that thrives on partnering with clients to unlock actionable insights. We’re able to make these claims because we can scale, e.g. we can literally start with as few as a couple of buildings with simple utility data, and our software development team is continuously building our suite of implementation and analytics tools. There’s no need to install expensive equipment out of the gate, and because we can deploy remotely, we save labor time and money. Switch builds software that minimizes the effort to do things like integrate data points, set up databases and ‘trends’ (a dying term), automate data feeds, configure graphics, etc. so that our customers can quickly get to the task of managing, optimizing and reporting as quickly and with as little risk as possible. We do all of this in a single cloud-hosted platform that is accessible by users from anywhere with an internet connection.

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