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IoT and Automation Improve Analytics in the Buildings Industry | Deb Noller from Switch

It has been nearly impossible to manage thousands or even hundreds of buildings controlled by one organization. Now, a new industry is rising to solve that problem.

We speak with Deb Noller of Switch Automation in this episode of UpTech Report about the struggles she has faced and the value that her company’s IoT and automation solutions can provide to building managers. She discusses the sorry state of analytics in the building industry now and how improvements can be made.

To learn more about Deb and Switch Automation, visit https://www.switchautomation.com/.


DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Alexander Ferguson 0:00
It has been nearly impossible to manage 1000s, or even hundreds of buildings controlled by one organization. Now a new industry is rising to solve that problem. We speak with Deb Noller of Switch Automation. In this episode of UpTech. Report, she talks about the struggles she’s faced and the value that her company’s IoT and automation solutions can provide to building managers. She discusses the sorry, state of analytics in the building industry now and how improvements can be made. Well, thank you so much, Deb, for joining us. I’m thrilled to learn more about switch the journey that you’ve been on where you’re heading, and also your take on IoT and this new world of technology and integrating all this data. To start us off. Tell me when did it start for you? When did this first begin? And where was it?

Deb Noller 0:52
Well, I guess it’s probably a couple of things there. So one is I was very fortunate to stumble across computer science. And then I was very fortunate to stumble across my co founder. And we were very fortunate to stumble into our first business, which was phenomenally successful. So those kinds of things happen in your life where you can’t really plan them, but they they occur. And we were building, we built an incredibly successful business in the 90s, that was doing logistics and shipping the.com Bust forced us to go look at other industries, we were exploring around the world of integrating devices and things for high end homes, and then apartments. But the big thing for me was the collision of all of that background, my enterprise IT experience all of this billing system experience. And then the aha moment for me, because I grew up in New Zealand was we can make buildings have less impact on the planet. And so that’s when I became just hell bent on making this business successful, no matter how hard it was, and just the resilience of just you got to keep going. Because even if you fail, it’s still worth trying

Alexander Ferguson 2:10
that underlying passion for for something more than just, hey, let’s build a business to make money. Tell me more about that.

Deb Noller 2:17
Yeah, so I grew up in New Zealand. So pristine, dramatic environment. I was born in the 60s, it was before plastic. And so in 50 years, I’ve watched us go from that to this. And I think, well, buildings, buildings use 40% of all resources on the planet, and humans spend 80% of their time in them. And still today, in 2019, the biggest issue is, I’m hot or I’m cold, it’s ridiculous, you know, 25% of all the calls coming out of buildings are because people have inappropriate comfort levels. And I think in 2019, we would have sorted that by now.

Alexander Ferguson 2:56
Wow. So the industry that you are focusing on is the building facility management, is that correct?

Deb Noller 3:01
It’s anybody who has lots of buildings. And because I come from this enterprise IT background, it’s astonishing to me that people that run large portfolios of buildings have such poor access to data, and such poor reporting or decision making analytics, because they really, they just haven’t been able to tap into the data coming out of buildings. So yes, it is a facilities management aspect to it. But really, what we’re trying to do is give people who run lots of buildings. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s schools, or universities or hospitals, or government buildings, or commercial buildings, or co working or tenancies or retail stores or banks, we actually, it doesn’t really matter to us, what we’re trying to do is give you the management tools, to be able to see in real time, what’s going on, on a daily basis, so that you, you and your team can focus on the things that will actually impact the experience, impact that comfort and impact the productivity and impact your bottom line.

Alexander Ferguson 4:08
Wow. So the the pain point that you’re really solving for, as you said, a very wide variety of types of organizations. Is your standing that the bottom line for sure. But it’s the sustainability of the environment. It’s an experience both of their own employees, but our customers that are coming in. How do you accomplish solving this, this pain point? The problem? Tell me more about then your solution? Well, that’s

Deb Noller 4:29
really hard. And that’s why it hasn’t been done before. So that that’s why we are in 2019. And people don’t have these management tools. It’s a really difficult problem to solve for because if you’re a bank with 1000, bank branches, or if you’re a real estate, Investment Trust and you’ve got 200 Big Class A buildings or if you’re a grocery chain and you’ve got you know, 500 grocery stores, or schools district you have and this wasn’t intentional, but it’s just you buy and sell buildings, buildings deployed in different eras, that deployed by different crews. And so that you just end up with every variety of system architecture. And you just, it’s very hard to bring all of that together. And that’s what we do.

Alexander Ferguson 5:16
Gotcha. And this world of the Internet of Things is definitely growing, and it’s become a buzzword, and everything is being connected to the internet. That is where now you start to shine, am I got that correct, you’re able to then bring all that data together.

Deb Noller 5:33
That’s true. But what we’re encouraging people to do is start with what you already have. Everybody already has systems in their buildings that are digital ready. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s meeting room booking systems, or help desk ticketing, or visitor registration, or building management systems or energy meters, you’ve already got systems that are producing data, you’re not harnessing that data. So we would encourage everybody to start with what you already have. And then the future proof of that solution, of course, is you should be able to add any sensor in the future that you that your heart desires. So you know, cameras or co2 sensors or door sensors or any of the plethora of devices that are coming down the down the pipe

Alexander Ferguson 6:24
for this journey that you’re on to ideally cross the chasm, what, what hurdles? Have you already faced? That? You’re, it’s a yes, we’ve accomplished that we figured that out? And what hurdles are coming up that you see?

Deb Noller 6:36
Yes, so we’re really lucky, we’ve got amazing logos. And we’ve already proven the technology. So that’s the bit that we’ve faced. The the things that we still have to figure out, and that’s not just switch, that’s the entire market is which are the verticals are going to adopt this in droves, you know, we’re who’s going to accelerate this first, we haven’t seen that yet. We haven’t seen one single sector, go gangbusters and adopt technology, even though a lot of them have extremely, you know, good economic reasons to do so. The other thing is, there’s no obvious person yet who is the person in the organization that’s responsible for this. So it could be the CIO, who’s been asked by the CEO to think about how they’re going to digitize their business. It could be the head of operations, it could be the head of facilities, generally speaking, they’re going to be quite forward thinking people who might have already done enough that they have the confidence to know what not to do, in that, you know, they might have made a few mistakes in their past, but they’re much more experienced around the selection of technologies. Now. Those are the pieces that I think we still have to figure out.

Alexander Ferguson 7:57
For your current customers. What’s your current customer base? Like? What how many customers do you have and your focus on enterprise? So what does that look like?

Deb Noller 8:08
We don’t have as many customers as you think. But we’ve got 1000s of buildings. Most of them are quite private about sharing logos. I can’t really share logos, but we’re doing banking, we’re doing grocery, we’re doing co working, we’re doing commercial a offices, we’ve just started to do some food and beverage, we’re starting to do some liquor stores, we’re starting to do some hospitals. I’m hoping that we’ll have some big universities coming on soon. I’m quite passionate about the industry changing because at the moment that the universities are churning out mechanical engineers and energy engineers and sustainability people, but we actually need people that have all of that and more you’ve got to know about cybersecurity, you’ve got to know about networking, you’ve got to be able to do data science, and you’ve got to be able to put together a solution. And there’s there’s no real obvious kind of industry driver for the skill sets that we need yet. And so I think if universities were to adopt technologies likes which expose the data and the and the systems to their students, then I think we would see some acceleration of the interest in this space, because there’s honestly not enough skills in the industry. Yeah,

Alexander Ferguson 9:23
that’s a fascinating point that talking about new jobs needed for this new world of technology. You’re describing a new job?

Deb Noller 9:33
Yeah, we need 1000s of these people to be able to, you know, you think about the number of retail chains that you can just think of off the top of your head that have more than 1500 or 2000 locations, you know, Office Depot and Starbucks. I mean, you just go on and on and on, right. For for the industry to adopt these types of technologies in the kind of mass that we need this to happen. We’re going to need 1000s of skilled people to do that. And you only have to go on LinkedIn and look at the people that have got a background in smart buildings and see how much they’re being headhunted right now. Like, there’s just not enough people in the industry.

Alexander Ferguson 10:16
Let’s talk more about the technology then, behind your platform. So obviously, there’s some some IP there weather, tell me more about it, what it is there.

Deb Noller 10:26
Yes, so it’s a full stack. We’re partnered with Microsoft. So it’s all hosted on Microsoft Azure. We use some of the tools that as your provides, but a lot of it is our own IP that’s built into that, we have an IoT gateway, where we’ve partnered with Dell. So this is a device that has our, our operating system for want of a better word, it’s an embedded device, like an Xbox, if you turn it off and turn it back on, again, it will come back exactly the same, highly secure, which is why we’ve partnered with both of those organizations. So the IoT gateway goes into a building and connects on premise with every single system that’s on site. So it’s the building management system, and the energy metering and maybe the security or the access control, the senses, blah, blah, blah, that collects data from those devices and pushes it up to the cloud. In the cloud, we have a bunch of analytics that help people to benchmark their buildings, so that they can see basically with their morning coffee in the morning, that their scores are going down or up. And what’s going on, can I relax, oh, my scores are going down, which buildings are causing that? Why is that happening, and we go right down to Equipment level scoring. So we can actually help people get to the root cause of why their scores are going down, but also the root cause of why that score has gone down. Wow. So

Alexander Ferguson 11:57
this, this box this, that you’ve created, effectively your own operating system on this computer, that you with partnership that then connects to these local devices, or give me some examples, ah, FAK.

Deb Noller 12:10
It provides the interoperability, right. So as an example, we’ve just started deploying some bank branches. Now, if you think of bank branches, they’re really dumb buildings. They’re not smart buildings. When people think about smart buildings, they think of that bright, shiny, one example, you know, but we don’t think like that, we think about making buildings smarter. And if you think about bank branches, they’re like, there’s 1000s of them, they’ve got light switches with switches that turn on and off, they might have a smart thermostat, if they’re lucky for the air conditioning, but all of the systems in that bank would be disconnected except for their internal security system. So what we do is we connect those systems, but it actually can invoke controls. So when your staff member comes in, in the morning, and the first staff member comes in and disarms the alarm, you know, that you’ve got somebody who’s legitimately in the building, therefore, you can turn the air conditioning and the lighting on as the as an example. And what we found is just by automating the schedules, we’ve been able to get more than 20% energy savings, just automating the sheduled, that’s not actually going out there and trying to make those bank branches more energy efficient, it’s just putting the lights on when they’re meant to be on and the lights off when they’re meant to be off. And the air conditioning on and off when it’s meant to be on and off. So there’s an IT GETS obviously a lot more powerful than that, but that’s just an example. People that are running large portfolios like that have problems. were managing things as simple as is my signage on is my signage on and is it representing our band brand? Oh, actually, no, it’s half lit. And we know that from the draw on the on the energy meter, therefore, somebody should go and fix that. And typically, that kind of problem would only be reported when somebody drives down the street at nighttime and sees that and puts in a ticket. People that are running Class A office buildings apart from comfort, what they really care about is proving to their tenants that they’re providing space that helps them with productivity. So co2 sensors are an and the whole wellness and, and worker. Sorry, indoor air quality and the and the healthier buildings is a is an enormous driver for these types of technologies. And if you think about the costs to businesses, the people power of any business is the biggest cost. So anything that we can do to improve the productivity of the internet armament is absolutely what people that are running large enterprise care about. So that’s one. And that’s where all of these sensors are so fantastic the sensors that are coming into the market so we can measure humidity, temperature, co2 levels, I’m in a phone booth, which is beautifully ventilated. But a lot of phone booths are not, as you would well be aware of. And they become extremely stuffy and you feel like you’re going to pass out. The other one is door sensors for measuring security and risk when people are using the wrong doors or propping doors open and, you know, potentially providing a risk environment for for workers, staff, students, patients,

Alexander Ferguson 15:51
gotcha for this world where then all these different devices can then connect and are providing data, they also have their own many companies with their own solutions and stuff hasn’t been difficult to then create connections and API’s so that all come all that data is able to come into your platform. Tell me more.

Deb Noller 16:09
Yeah, that’s that’s one of the big challenges. But that’s actually what we’re really good at. And we’ve been doing that for years and years. And so that is part of our IP, we have a very comprehensive driver stack. And that’s expanding all the time. So that that’s actually it’s a challenge for the rest of the market, that it’s not a challenge for us, we just can continue to add things we just recently did a massive refrigeration company for a grocery chain.

Alexander Ferguson 16:38
Wow. For other businesses that are realizing that partnerships or API’s or connections, other companies, it could be a smart tactic, any thoughts that you can share? What is that? What is it like to build these many types of relationships with so many different companies.

Deb Noller 16:53
So my view on that is no one company is going to solve the market, we all have to be part of a collaborative ecosystem, this is going to be an extremely large industry. And there’s no one company that’s going to solve all of this. It doesn’t like some of them think that but that’s just crazy. And if you think about 2009, and how Amazon Web Services opened up the cloud for developers to be able to develop software applications that we all use now every single day, and how those all have inter integration and interoperability with other apps. That’s what has accelerated our our adoption of technologies. And that’s exactly how the building industry has to go

Alexander Ferguson 17:37
down. Now, with all this data coming into one place, how are you helping people look at the data, you have any AI or machine learning that’s providing some interesting statistics,

Deb Noller 17:48
we do have machine learning that helps onboard buildings really quickly, because because the way buildings are deployed, a single person does every single building and they can name their data points, any way they like, they can tag them any way they like. And that has been problematic in the past. So we did a lot of machine learning to make sure that we could onboard buildings really quickly. Ai, we haven’t found a customer yet, that’s really got the collected enough info, enough data yet to apply AI. It’s absolutely part of the future. But I actually think that the smartest people in the industry have been locked out of this particular market, because the hardest thing to solve is how to get the data in the first place. Once you’ve got the data, then all of the clever people can come in and work out these amazing algorithms and apply artificial intelligence and we’ll get we’ll get to self healing buildings. But right now, the, you know, if you’re a super sharp, Google engineer, working on AI, you would look at this market, you look at the industry and go, it’s too hard to get too hard to get that data and give up and go and do something else.

Alexander Ferguson 18:57
You’ve painted a good picture of of the journey you’ve been on where you are, and also where you’re looking to go. So looking forward, you know, where do you want to be in five years? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Deb Noller 19:08
Yep. So I’ve always wanted to build a global business. I’ve been, you know, my, I graduated in 1989. So I watched the big tech houses in the 90s. build big scalable global businesses using technology, not people. And that’s always been, you know, one of my goals is how do how do you do that? And I just happen to combine that with my passion for, you know, improving the environment by attacking buildings. So we unashamedly are very ambitious on what we’re what we’ve set out to do. And that is to create a technology that will become the global standard for the way people manage buildings. So we are already speaking to a number of companies who can assist us with that. So we’re about to take an investment out of Hong Kong where that company has huge footprint in China and Asia. So they’ll help us with that. Last night, I was speaking to two companies based in India, you know, our company on its own would find it challenging to tackle India or China, but with the right partners, absolutely.

Alexander Ferguson 20:16
So an aggressive growth plan, a great vision, I see it and the smart tactic of creating partnerships to allow for that growth and seeing this this vision. We’ve already kind of talked about it, but what do you see as the the hurdles that you still need to overcome in order to realize this vision? Partnerships, what,

Deb Noller 20:36
it’s really getting that adoption faster, you know, it’s still business as usual in the real estate community. And I think some of that is just paralysis, because, you know, they don’t have the skills to know what to do. I think a lot of it is they don’t really understand just how big the opportunity is for cost savings in their business in their businesses. They don’t understand the inefficiency, inefficiencies and overlaps in the services that they’ve got. They haven’t seen other people doing it at scale yet. So I think that’s some of the issue. I think once once it starts, it’s like all technology. So if you think about Uber and Airbnb, once they start to take hold they they grow like wildfire.

Alexander Ferguson 21:23
For you, how are you innovating and staying current? What would you is there any places you go to look for information and new ideas, whether it’s technology or business?

Deb Noller 21:34
Well, I travel a lot. And when you travel a lot, you just observe the world, and I’m always at events, and whether I’m speaking or listening, and we’re lucky, we’ve got enormous customers, and we just get to speak to people and yes, and and I read and

Alexander Ferguson 21:56
yeah, what what books or audiobooks or podcasts are you reading or listening to right now.

Deb Noller 22:02
So I keep a couple of books on my, on my phone to listen to all the time. So my, my favorite book for all entrepreneurs is the hard thing about hard things, which has some really good business lessons in there. But it’s also just a reminder that it’s hard for everybody, even even the people that started Netscape. And at the moment I’m reading the waters will come, which is a book about the rising oceans by Jeff Godot. I met him last week at an event and he and we just had a fantastic conversation.

Alexander Ferguson 22:41
Awesome. For those who are watching along, what would you tell them to where should they look for more information and anything you’d want to share?

Deb Noller 22:50
I think that the best thing for founders is to talk to other founders, because if you just read the hype in the media, you’ll find companies that just raised you know, 14 million and you know, there’s that there’s those success stories that are just added in the media all the time. The the grim hard reality is creating a company is hard work. And it’s a grind. And if you go talk to other flat founders, it reminds you of that and you get a lot of all founders will happily help you with information and tips and how they got through and what they did and how they did their funding rounds. And so I would suggest, get yourself as networked as you can with other founders.

Alexander Ferguson 23:39
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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