Smart Buildings

#Podcast 28: The ‘Realist Technophile’ Perspective on Smart Buildings!

In our Podcast series “Sh*t You Wish Your Building Did!”, Memoori explores the intersection between technology and commercial buildings through interesting conversations. For Episode 28, we were joined by Zane Mansha from UK Smart Buildings Master System Integrator, Vanti. Zane describes himself as a 'Realist Technophile', having a love for technology but grounded in wanting to deliver real-world outcomes. We dig into the benefits of having this perspective on technology in the commercial building industry. Zane shared his thoughts on the current 'state of technology' in commercial buildings and the issues around translating complex user requirements into smart building technical designs. Don’t forget you can now Subscribe to ALL our Podcasts on Soundcloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Spotify. Transcript of 'The Realist Technophile Perspective on Smart Buildings!' James: Zane welcome to the podcast, really pleased to have you here today. Zane: Hi James yeah nice to be here thanks for the invite yeah. James: Of course um I'm really interested […]

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In our Podcast series “Sh*t You Wish Your Building Did!”, Memoori explores the intersection between technology and commercial buildings through interesting conversations.

For Episode 28, we were joined by Zane Mansha from UK Smart Buildings Master System Integrator, Vanti.

Zane describes himself as a 'Realist Technophile', having a love for technology but grounded in wanting to deliver real-world outcomes. We dig into the benefits of having this perspective on technology in the commercial building industry.

Zane shared his thoughts on the current 'state of technology' in commercial buildings and the issues around translating complex user requirements into smart building technical designs.

Don’t forget you can now Subscribe to ALL our Podcasts on SoundcloudiTunesYouTube, and Spotify.

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Transcript of 'The Realist Technophile Perspective on Smart Buildings!'

James: Zane welcome to the podcast, really pleased to have you here today.

Zane: Hi James yeah nice to be here thanks for the invite yeah.

James: Of course um I'm really interested in the way that you describe yourself you have to tell me what is a realist technofile what is it other than a pretentious combination of letters yeah other than um the the technophile part of it is um just always have been a lover of Technology from a young age um I was an only child um I was left alone at home a lot um got a hand me down Windows uh 2000 computer as my first machine and then my parents lost me to the internet from that point on um so you know have always L technology have always been told off about spending too much time on computers and spending all my pocket money on the latest gadgets um and that sort of has just become a core part of my personality it used to be a problem my parents dealt with now it's a problem my partner deals with uh with all the the random stuff that um is now dotted around our house and my insistence that anything that comes into the house have a USBC Port um so that's really where the technofile part of it comes from um and then the real list um is I guess mostly because of my sort of engineering background um everything that we used to uh sort of look at from um so for contexts I did uh aerospace engineering um at University and um you know we were looking at planes satellites Etc and what was really uh nice about that was how much everything had to come back to but how much does it weigh because when you're trying to get everything up in the air it doesn't matter how good or fancy the technology is it always comes down to where the rubber meets the road and you know how do physics work and how do you make these things interact in a way that um you know still obeys the laws of the Universe um and that's where the realest part of it for me comes from is not just thinking up fancy ideas but um doing them in a way that is actually deliverable um and is manageable and and safe and realistic.

James: Yeah I mean like a perfect um description of what you I guess need to deliver projects from in smart buildings.

Zane: Well yeah that and more you need in smart buildings.

James: Indeed yeah and that's what we're going to get on to so you work at Vanti that's interesting in itself like given your your background there in aerospace engineering how did you end up in the in the smart buildings field.

Zane: Yeah sort of um by way of corporate I guess so uh I studied aace um at Uni but then I found that the majority of the the work in that field was one it's a duopoly so you know as much as we complain about the big four or the Big Five in this industry um within that space is basically airb boing and no one else um and so you either end up working within those sort of constrained environments where it's very much around legislation and and regulation you know the a lot of the new stories you hear about the latest Boeing planes is because the latest Boeing plane is actually a plane they designed 30 years ago um and have updated very little over over the course of the years um but I found that it wasn't really um as much as I enjoyed studying it it wasn't in practice what I wanted to be doing um I wanted to work with technology systems um I wanted to work in a space where you had the freedom to I guess play and iterate a little bit um and so I ended up um having my first career role with Schneider Electric um and got really interested in everything that they were doing on the building technology side of things and then that was really the start of things and then just progressed from there with sort of in the background con constantly wanting to discover what the better ways of doing things might be um and how we might actually go about delivering the kind of end goals that people were talking about um so then just sort of a Learning Journey that then took me towards honey well because of niagra and tridium and then from there into uh into vanti because of uh the master systems integrated space and this idea of middleware that sits above Building Systems.

James: Yeah right good so how would you describe the current state of technology that we have in commercial buildings at the moment?

Zane: It's I think that's a tough question because it it's it's sort of depending on which lens you look at it from appreciate it thanks for the tough ones um I think overall uh we're behind I think everyone in our industry knows that from a technology perspective we behind um there are things that have been standardized across other segments that we still um are not quite there with you know when it comes to even simple things like Network infrastructure um and getting everything to communicate over secure IP rather than Legacy protocol so from that perspective I feel like uh web B what I'm starting to notice is there's a lot more focus on the right things um nowadays compared to even three or five years ago um in terms of what people want to achieve and I think some of that's been driven by covid some of that's been driven by the energy crisis Etc uh but I feel like we have a lot of the right ideas and a lot of the right um pull factors in terms of the direction that we're heading I think on execution though we're we're extremely poor as an industry in terms of the how we go about doing things so overall probably I'd say a failing grade probably a d we're almost there we all you know we're close to being a passing grade we're certain know when there being you know work that we should be extremely proud of and shouting to the universe about.

James: That's good I certainly don't disagree with that assessment did um you mentioned there sort of a little bit about delivery and that being a particularly poor area do you want to dig into that a little bit more is there any is there sort of big reasons that jump out to you there?

Zane: Yeah definitely I think um when we get to delivery that's really um going back to the the sort of the realest part of um how I how I see technology is that's where rubber meets the road right it's where you go from having lots of ideas that you put into a specification to actually trying to deliver something in the physical built environment and the main thing that to me um is a roadblock that we run into over and over again is is lack of skills um there is a certain skill set that exists within the construction and Contracting space uh there is a whole essentially separate siloed set of skills that exists within um technology and it systems and there are a few companies that are sort of somewhere in that that middle space that gray area in between trying to be the glue um however we find you know most often where the problems occur is when you're speaking to people who don't have a technical uh it or networking background and trying to explain those technological ideas to them when realistically in their world it's a case of you know pipes cables and things plugging together not so much the how do they plug together or talk to each other part.

James: Yeah okay so do you think is it fair to say something like there's too much technophilia but not enough realism in this or where is that balance lie? Are we more one than the other in the industry?

Zane: Depends if you mentioned the words Artifical Intelligence or not um but I think um I think there isn't too much technophilia for me personally I don't think you can love technology too much and I encourage people in this space to to develop more of that interest in technology as well I think the part of fit that we're lacking is definitely the realism part um and part of it I think comes from a lack of understanding but part of it is definitely coming from a lack of validation um of actually you know taking ideas like uh a machine Learning System that controls a building completely automatically um improves Comfort reduces energy all of these things that that is very easy to articulate as an idea but thinking about it from a realistic perspective of you know it okay to have a system that is constantly tweaking a valve to figure out what the best valve position is when there's real friction and wear and tear happening on that valve throughout that entire time um and we're not really validating these ideas against the real world we're very rarely getting you know a skilled mechanical engineer to sit in the room um or someone that's familiar with the physics of a control system and how changing one thing might influence dozens of other things so getting more of those people together when we're sort of coming up with the what do we want to do part is I think where we'll need to end up so that you know we can be lovers of Technology all day long but we need to make sure that what we're thinking about is actually deliverable.

James: Right yeah and I mean in your role within you know as a consultant within this master systems integrator company Vanti I mean you're dealing with clients um and you mentioned there about uh making sure that you deliver of course for them deliver what what their expectations I mean how would you describe you know again this is just typically right you can't describe every client but like in general you know how what are the problems you face there in delivering what it is that they want are expectations aligned with reality for example?

Zane: Sometimes yes sometimes no it I guess it depends really um what I think changes that I've encountered is um sort of trends that seem to be making people think about things that they weren't thinking about before so I think home automation for example has taken off in a big way and people are used to being able to go home and you know have the controls for their lighting or even their radiators on their phone and then immediately that same idea arrives within the commercial space if you know it'd be great if we had a space and I could control it from my phone um but at no point during that has anyone thought about well your home is a you know a very constrained environment where you control all of the devices and the network that they live on whereas in a commercial space you've got many more things to think about in terms of who owns the network are you on the same network are you accessing that control Point through the cloud in which case you know what's the security implications of that so there are definitely ideas that are flowing into the world of commercial buildings from the kinds of experiences people are used to having in consumer technology um but I think the the hard part there is trying to draw the lines of who's responsible for what and how do you do it in a way that is still secure and safe and maintainable long term um in terms of uh how the clients come to us with challenges what we're finding is previously there was a lot of hard work in convincing people of the value in in doing smart buildings work or or doing energy retrofits or you know introducing occupancy detection um however now post covid post energy crisis people see the value in fact there's incoming demand much more so than sort of outgoing hey we think you need this people now come in and say we definitely need this so the the part of that has become a lot easier in terms of we're not really trying to convince buyers that there's value in what they're buying but we're much more now trying to distill the ideas they have into things that are um deliverable and maintainable long term.

James: well that's interesting I mean that's a pretty fundamental shift actually isn't it?

Zane: Yeah I think it's it's because people do what they see right people can talk about technology but until someone has an experience they don't really fully grasp it and now that consumer technology is heading in that direction I feel like people are having that experience much more often and so they're able to visualize it when you talk to them about it in a commercial setting yeah and I guess that they then understand they understand the value they've seen it they know what it can do for them.

James: So we talked about that change within the client I mean but how would you say I mean guess because again they're not all equal right I'm sure I'm not don't name names but like you have bad clients and you have good clients like what is a good client to you guys what do you think yeah that's that worked because you know they bought something else to the table and that partnership delivered what it was supposed to deliver?

Zane: Yeah definitely I mean there is there is a massive spectrum of clients uh in terms of what they're like to work with and also what they want to aeve achieve but I'd say the most consistent thing is a driven stakeholder um that for me when I compare the types of clients we've worked with or I've worked with over the years and the kind of end goals that we've achieved through those clients um the ones that stick out as the biggest successes most often are the ones that have a really driven stakeholder behind them on the client side that could be a head of real estate that could be a particular facility manager sometimes it might be a CTO you know the higher up the more senior they are the the better the results are generally going to be because they'll be able to Wrangle teams within their own um organization to give you the input that you need to design a better solution but yeah more more than anything else these days what I'm looking for when we're engaging with clients is who is the person in the room that really cares and cares about it not just in the sense that I've got a certification to deliver or I've got a specification to to meet but rather I've Got Deep interest in making my building better and I want to get help to achieve that um it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that but that as a starting point is is where I find the easiest client work tends to happen is to have one of those sort of Heroes you know the the stakeholders that within a client organization will will be teaching everyone else why they want to move in this direction and then absorbing some of the pain that comes with that if it comes to trying to talk to an IT team or trying to push something through Finance yeah when it when it actually becomes hard they're prepared to go that extra bit further to get it done.

James: Following on from that a little bit I guess as I understand it part one big part of your remit in what you do is taking or translating those kind of user requirements what the client has asked for and then Translating that into technical design and making sure it's delivered and can you talk a little bit about that process um how collaborative is it like how has it changed um over the time you've been you've been delivering projects?

Zane: Yeah so I think previously um before my work at Vanti it was much more a conversation about Point Solutions um a client may come to you with a problem um or specifically come to you with an inquiry about a solution that already exists um and then try to go down the route of deploying that so if we look for example that predictive maintenance as a a use case or a technology there were a lot of Point Solutions in the industry that did that and clients would say hey I want to get better at maintaining my assets I want to do it in a predictive way how do I go about deploying the solution on my estate um so that used to be a lot of the conversations was around these Point Solutions and now it's becoming a lot more of a conversation about these are all the outcomes I it achieve how do I put the infrastructure in place to allow me to achieve those outcomes at a time and date is convenient for me um rather than you know deploying one point solution today discovering more needs and requirements from the results of that point solution and then realizing that you've either got to go back to the drawing board and find a new solution or strap another thing on top and people were getting to the point of having you know three or four or five different solutions that they've essentially duct taped to their building um and then realizing that none of them work together none of from share data um and that problem got people a lot of people to the point where now they're like they're trying to think about this from a perspective of you know layers of a cake or a stack and how do we go about creating the right infrastructure and Foundation to build features and Solutions on top of in Terms of the process um it tends to be quite collaborative but it is highly dependent on the level of Engagement that you have from the client side sometimes it's as simple as hey this is what we want to achieve we're making it your problem come back to us when you have a solution others will want to be deeply involved with exactly how the solution is formed and be informed throughout that process depending on uh you know their sensitivity to different things so um I think a key example for example uh is government entity uh government entities so they tend to be very risk averse they tend to be um very sensitive to how are we authenticating how are we granting access uh who could get into this device um from outside the building if they wanted to when we're talking about iot sensors and things like that so they'll be part of the process collaboratively um when we go from hey what do you want to achieve to how do we do it they'll be in that process maybe on a weekly by-weekly basis where we're feeding back potential options getting feedback and then adjusting the solution as we go um and that process is generally there's always some common steps so starting with the outcome then working back from that to what are the systems that we need to put in place to enable that outcome what are the data sources what are the control outputs Etc and then working back a step from that again to look at each of those components that we've identified and then picking a vendor solution or a particular product for each of those um subsets some of those are existing you know when we're looking at buildings that already exist a lot of those choices have already been made for the BMS or the lighting control um and then finally getting to the point where we're able to validate that and actually say yes in theory this would all work but once we've actually dug into the detail design and coordinated with the suppliers we've discovered these various bits that then um inform you whether the solution Works overall or not and ideally if we can squeeze it in which is rarer um across projects but something we're trying to do more and more often is lab testing and validation of a solution before it's deployed to a site because we're finding um more and more often that the information that's handed over on paper sometimes doesn't reflect the reality um when you try and talk to a device.

James: Yeah it's very interesting describing that process you mentioned there uh about like vendor selection I imagine a very important part of of the process uh and previously you know with your experience at Honeywell and Schneider and you mentioned earlier like those five sort of big companies within building automation. What's your sense of the vendor landscape now, coming from quite an independent position?

Zane: I would say I mean you do you see it changing um there's been quite a lot of new startups that we you know that we track over the years um are they having a a bigger impact now on the market yeah definitely I think there's a lot more attention towards smaller entities being able to fulfill some of the needs um that people in the market are after I think the difficulty always comes from um scalability when the client for example is a multinational portfolio and they're looking to deploy a solution not just in one territory or region but you know across the world and naturally their choices become limited because the only entities that are ready to serve them across every territory are those big incumbent Giants so I think there is definitely value in going to the the incumbents to the big guys for certain things depending on what your needs are as a client certainly for Global portfolio type Solutions uh where you're going to need engineering resource on the ground to enable a solution then there's definitely value to be had there then we've also got to factor in you know just how much Machinery uh exists Within These entities to deliver product so being able to have massive amounts of R&D funding have uh very clear product life cycles and going from um knowing that clients want a new feature to shipping a box that has that feature and doing it in a way that's well tested and well supported they're really good at that and I wish they would do more of that you know they are very good at creating and shipping boxes and if that was their main focus with um a more open approach to hear some documentation about how you interact with our Hardware they'd be in a much better place to support the overall movement within the industry but I think that that wall that people hit when they try to do the next thing and they get that the the the big fancy system that they bought can't do that because that wasn't part of the product design cycle um and they might need to wait three to four years before that product feature is integrated and things like that so when when people get to that wall of capability that's when we're finding that people are much more interested in going for a smaller company or a more agile company that may not be at that scale but has much more agility in terms of adding features or um solving a problem that is unique.

James: I think that's really good feedback. I guess you know if there's nothing more to add um I was going to ask I had a couple of final questions for you but um I think first one would be is there based on all the conversations and questions you've answered here is there is there sort of one thing that stands out to you that you would want to change in the industry if you could?

Zane: Yeah in terms of uh I guess the lesson that I've learned that I'd want um people to have for free as a salesperson that worked for um large companies and um has been involved in those conversations I'd say the one thing I want the the buying side of this Market to take away would be if the only contact that you had is with a salesperson do not make that purchasing decision um and really what that boils down to for me is the discrepancy between what is pitched from sales what is available in the marketing material and the brochures and the website and how vague that tends to be and then the technical reality of what are the languages what are the protocols how does it speak how does it Network and if you're making the purchasing decisions at this end of the tree where your only interface with the person that you're that from the organization that you're buying from is the salesperson who themselves is often quite far removed from the reality of how the solution works then um you may be buying into you know magic beans um and a bean stock that doesn't necessarily exist.

James: That I think is very good advice for anybody and then my final question Zane what is the one thing that you would want the audience to take away from today based on everything you said?

Zane: Yeah I think um as much as I'm a realist um I think people tend to think look at that more as pessimism it's really not that I'm very optimistic about where we are as an industry and the direction that we're moving in um I'm also terrified of the scale of the challenges that we need to solve um and the headwinds um you know that face us um as we're trying to pursue those outcomes but more than anything I'd want to communicate optimism to the industry as a whole uh there is so much attention now on what we're doing and how we're doing it and naturally I think you know that light that's being shed will hopefully uncover um a lot of progress um in future years so I think we're definitely on the right track and I'm really positive and optimistic about the direction we're headed in compared to the path that we've been on today.

James: A great way to end I agree like um I feel like that sometimes as well you know that realism does get um confused with pessimism and it's not the case it's just you know you've tried and tested kind of experience that about how things can be implemented and you know that's you can still be optimistic.

Zane: Yeah definitely and the fact that you're more optimistic because you know it can work yeah.

James: Exactly look well thank you so much for that today I think there was some really good advice in there for people as well so uh yeah look forward to Future conversations and thanks again for taking the time today.

Zane: Yeah no I appreciate it thanks a lot James.

James: Thanks everyone for listening bye-bye for now.

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