#5QuestionsWith is an interview series with RE experts to help the industry learn, grow, and be inspired. Read on as IoT and PropOps leaders talk to us about the highs and lows of being a change-maker in the smart buildings arena.
Ken Sinclair is the founder and publisher of AutomatedBuildings.com, an online magazine and web resource for the rapidly evolving intelligent integrated building automation industry. Ken has been called an oracle of the digital age. However, he sees himself more as a storyteller and hopes the stories he tells will be a catalyst for the IoT future we will all (eventually) live.
1. How did the pandemic affect the buildings industry? How do we navigate through the next new for us in the building’s space?
The pandemic has caused us to question why and where we have large buildings. What can be done remotely, shifts our original purpose for the building’s “collaboration, communication, community,” forcing us into an online anywhere, anytime, cyber world where everything is done differently. And about the next new; Whatever that is, I use navigation rules to suggest how we navigate the unknown. I draw from personal years of sailing for over 30 years, often in uncharted waters. These navigation tips seem to apply to navigating through the next new.
- Visual: Have the person on the bow quickly report of unseen danger to the captain/navigator
- Data: Build on your last known position. The ability to retreat quickly to the exact course you came is very useful
- Agility: Use the smaller boat to explore big potential problems. Remember terms like agile, speed of response, fastest speed achievable, fast currents, submerged rocks, kelp, flotsam, jetsam, etc
- Safety: At all times keep the mother ship safe. Always keep an eye on the weather, know the flow of the tide, its direction, strength and when it will change. Use the current flow and the winds of change to your advantage anytime you can
And of course, have fun and learn to use rapid adaptation and identify what information has changed and what and who you can “trust”.
2. You’ve been known to say “rapid adaptation is our survival superpower”. Can you elaborate on the adoption that needs to happen and the challenges occur when seeing it through?
What have 50 years in the industry taught me? The more I learn the less I know, but “Adaptation” is our survival superpower. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. The adaptation process is a critical part of cognitive development. Through assimilation and accommodation, people are able to take in new information, form new ideas or change existing ones, and adopt new behaviors that make them better prepared to deal with the world around them.
The building automation industry has seen growth changes, not so rapid yet significant. Today, we are at the cusp of a “perfect storm” of smart systems innovations and software-led transformations.
Multiple parallel technology developments, including data modeling and machine learning, are accelerating and enabling more complex and adaptive systems such as digital twins and centralized controls and automation.
Along with the value these innovations bring, however, the complexity of connecting and integrating machines, equipment, and data in a meaningful context grows.
There is an information overload in these areas. The mixed-media global conversations are drowning us in big thoughts but we need to disconnect from our learned perceptions – As our mediums of communication evolve the reach of our voice moves from local, to national, to global, from workspace to everywhere. We need to be the change, disconnecting from our learned perceptions to hone our superpower “Adaptation”.
3. AI and sustainability are on top of everyone’s minds today. How do you think buildings need to adapt to accommodate the advancements in both?
We need to understand that AI and Sustainability are not things – they are journeys we now need to embark on. We know that AI tools are trained on large data sets, but most people do not grasp that AI applications require thousands or even hundreds of thousands times more data than a human would need to solve an equivalent problem. Machine learning is successful when they are in domains where acquiring lots of data is relatively easy—think facial or speech recognition. This is why data becomes the key driver when you truly want AI to work for you.
Data-driven apps are the core value creation mechanism within Smart Systems and IoT. But the B2B world that comprises so much of the IoT doesn’t have the same unified sources or monolithic usage tracking and analytics that the consumer world utilizes to make money. We estimate that B2B development projects lack as much as half the data needed to inform new application values and fulfill artificial intelligence and machine learning opportunities.
The impact of new AI tools will be higher and more straightforward to achieve where the user’s propensity to experiment with new tools and methods is also higher.
As for sustainability, we all agree we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Prior to founding AutomatedBuildings.com we operated a company called SES as an Energy Automation Consultant for 35 years in west Canada now headed by Brad White. Read through A Practical Guide to Deep Carbon Reduction Retrofits. Eliminating the bulk of emissions from existing buildings poses unique challenges, but bringing an in-depth understanding of building operations into the design process offers a path forward. Again it will remain a journey to reducing Carbon and is not completely known waters.
The vast majority of commercial real estate in North America was built between 1960 and 2000. These humble buildings are the workhorse of the sector and, not coincidentally, responsible for the majority of emissions. Deep retrofits of these existing buildings are a must if we’re going to achieve the kinds of emissions reductions that are being targeted in the next 10-30 years.
The roadmap to deep carbon retrofits in an existing building then looks something like this:
Example Pathway to Elimination of Combustion Emissions in an Existing Building
He writes “You should plan for this to be a process that takes a few years. Aside from spreading out the expenditure, this length of time is recommended so that you can collect the data and properly analyze the impact of your changes before moving to the next step. Buildings are complicated and rarely are the results exactly as we predict them to be, let the building data and real-world performance be your guide”
4. You speak of digital dinosaurs and the ending of an era in the built environment. Could you talk to us about the markers of this shift and how the future would pan out for the industry at large?
I am a digital dinosaur. I have been on the leading/bleeding edge of the building automation industry for over 30 years. I have seen pneumatic control give way to electronics, which turned into mainframe computers which gave way to minicomputers that led to stand-alone panels which further gave away to micro panels and now to input and output devices. Now that the hardware has virtually disappeared and the migration of Direct Digital Controller control to the Internet had started it seemed that the next edge is here. The world has transitioned from hardware centric to software-led building operations and automation with IoT and AI as key enablers in the game and I had better get on with my life’s vocation of catching up.
Amazed by the implied simplicity of the Internet I was frustrated by the lack of organization of our automation industry. My special interest was how net web browsers would be used to present building automation graphical information anywhere. As I assembled a great number of bookmarks/links pertaining to this subject, it occurred to me that I might not be the only person trying to make sense of this wonderful new world.
This new virtual medium had the power to allow organized and logical presentation complete with industry interaction. The potential opportunity to pull the Automated Building Industry together as a virtual community excited me.
Our friends at Hometoys.com had a head start and did a great job creating a virtual community/portal for the home automation industry. Using Hometoys.com as mentors we started AutomatedBuildings.com. The net was a very different environment for us. The mentorship and encouragement of the community empowered with these tools totally amazed us.
The ability to follow the model of an online ezine allowed us the luxury of a minimum time to market. Yes, it is the end of an era but very much the start of several new eras we all better get on with our life’s vocation of catching up. Get at tipping over dinosaur thinking Embracing IoT, AI, Decarbonisation, etc. History repeats itself. I see us at a very similar place and time as 2000. The unknown of the internet that unfolded in these 22 years will be how we use AI and achieve decarbonization.
5. What was your motivation to start a publication like automated buildings? What has your journey as the editor of the longest-standing buildings publication been like?
I was fascinated with the impact the internet could have on our industry. The traditional industry magazines were not too receptive to accepting my thoughts. But peer review is required to move ahead; you can only move as fast as you can change your peers. Or, when forced to, you can create your own magazine and stop fighting those that resist change. We all need our own space. Industry support has been amazing. In this, we have documented the last two decades of how the industry grew and changed, which has been very fulfilling.