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Requesting Innovation

Nov. 12, 2020
Innovation is a timeless ingredient, a necessary part of our successful transformation.
Innovation is a timeless ingredient, a necessary part of our successful transformation, and we need it now more than ever.

In Mr. Linkair , our last chapter, we explored the great diversity of subject matter related to our focus, including those important “unknown unknowns”—things we don’t know, and don’t even know we don’t know.

To kick off the conversation, here’s an article from the Idea to Value community site that asks, What is your definition of “innovation”? In it, 15 innovation experts share their different ideas and definitions (the variety of answers may surprise you).

Put simply, Innovation is the future delivered.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote back in September 2001 about how to best purchase the rapidly evolving innovation of the day. I believe it still has value today:

Having problems specifying rapidly evolving building automation? Try the Request For Proposals Approach:

The Request For Proposal (RFP) approach has been used by the Information Technology (IT) industry for several years. This approach allows the purchaser to focus on actual functional requirements rather than being confused with the various technologies supplied by vendors. Time is well-spent defining mandatory requirements and gives a clearer understanding of how the technology will achieve our goals. Once mandatory requirements and "nice to have" features are defined we can send out a Request For Proposal to allow vendors using different technologies to present proposals on how they will meet our requirements as well as expounding on their ability to provide further enhancements.

As an automation consultant, I first learned of the need for the RFP in the early days of the Direct Digital Control evolution. It became clear that to purchase this rapidly evolving technology, while keeping focused on achieving the client's mandatory requirements, the traditional bid and spec approach would not work. If a known automation system with an operating history was specified the system was by definition obsolete. If another vendor was allowed to be equal to this specified obsolete product since there was little equivalence between products you could end up with almost anything as a control system.

The rapid evolution of control products was, and still is, many times faster than the construction timeline for most large projects. Specifying automation products in the original design ensures obsolescence and features limited products.

The concept of removing DDC automation from project design and purchasing it in a "just in time" fashion in an RFP became the solution to our problem.

This approach requires the complete buy-in of the owner of the project who needs an appetite to share and understand the risk/excitement of implementing deep innovation, creating what has never been done using newly found unknowns.

Here’s another article of mine discussing innovation, this one from back in 2015. It involves Several British Columbia start-ups that are now highly successful international companies. They all owe their start to a team of visionaries, who were focused and resolved to get high performance controls in BC:

This was early 1980s when this started to evolve and by the early 1990s a RFP manual was put on the internet which was another new evolving trend. BCBC had chosen to name their building automation energy management control systems, Client Comfort Systems, to reflect the strong concern of our purpose in achieving that goal with the least amount of energy.

It depicts a shift in industry thought as well as a tribute to the success of self-investment by the Province in creating several international DDC control companies. Plus the skills learned in the assembly of this CCS manual and early day use of the internet have been instrumental in the formation of AutomatedBuildings.com by Jane and myself.

If we fast forward to today, I see a parallel to the amazing opportunity my young mentors have to create that which has never been created before. Contributing Editor Nicolas Waern articulates this very well in this article, The Call of the Wild  Answering a Request for Proposal in Innovation:

But the question is if it is needed and how “open” and self-learning it should get? How should it be serviced? By whom? And who should do the programming if anyone? Should it be actual programmers that write code into the building to become a cognitive something, augmented with python-scripts on a raspberry pie? And that the maintainability of the building would be more towards developers working with technical asset managers or SI capabilities? Could/should everything be done remote? And would there be a need for Sedona type controllers when an AI-augmented algorithm could optimize the buildings based on historic and real-time data?

In my opinion, any solution in any industry has to adhere to the three Vitruvian virtues. They have to be robust, useful as well as attractive, for any and all stakeholders. Maybe I was just over-thinking it? Sensors, gateway, open API, an edge gateway on the side, select any of the up and coming virtual BAS/BMS vendors and…done?

It is quite easy to take out data from a building to an API and then download a software suite of tools that are not tied into any hardware. That controller in the building could even be an Android/BACnet device, enabling the possibility of running a virtual BMS/BAS that adheres to some tagging standards to commandeer the building irrespective of vendor, augmented with some wireless sensors in driving the building from the future, with the help of AI on the edge as well as in the cloud and sensor level.

However, I also think some of the secret sauce in this is how to put it together and go from ingredients to a full recipe, and in what order. I omitted some of the things I see necessary, but I also wanted to do shout outs to the people that have amazing solutions in this space. It was a fun exercise to see if I still got it and I must thank my network for all the advice during the years! And the big question that I want to know is. What would you do?

And what about digital twins as a catalyst for rapid innovation? From Harbor Research, It's Time for Smaller Firms to Leverage Digital Twins:

The confluence of fast, cheap processors and sophisticated but affordable software has made science fiction-level simulations viable for almost everyone. If you consider that the processors in a contemporary smartphone now exceed the power of supercomputers from the 1990s, it’s clear that even the smallest firms can now benefit from the power of simulations and digital twins.

And yet adoption of this technology has been oddly slow to catch on in any but the largest firms. That will change very soon, but the laggards will suffer to catch up to the vanguard because even low-cost simulation software offers huge capabilities and fast ROI on small investments. It’s time for firms of every size to seize the futuristic advantages of digital twins.

More even more from Harbor Research in this article, Living in Two Worlds at Once, about innovations for the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM):

Multiple forces in the marketplace are driving diverse opportunities for connected product innovation. As users and customers become more familiar with Smart Systems and IoT capabilities, they are realizing that these technology innovations will push the boundaries of how products, systems and equipment are managed today. This will, in turn, increase pressure on OEMs to embrace these capabilities.

However, traditional business practices, company cultures, and operating models inhibit the required creativity and speed to effectively drive new customer innovation and value creation in many OEMs today. Leadership teams in most OEMs live in two distinct worlds—running their core business as efficiently as possible while also trying to identify new and novel product, systems and solution delivery innovations. The two thrusts—operating the business and enabling new innovations—often creates contention.

Yet another history lesson, this from the CABA New Deal white paper:

The occupants of these buildings–we humans–are evolving our use of digital technology. Internet-delivered products and services are making our lives easier, more productive, and more enjoyable. Enterprises are also profiting from the increase in productivity through online tools.....

Here are some interesting thoughts that emerged from a Realcomm panel moderated by writer, question-asker and community-builder James Dice, What do you want to know about Digital Twins? :

Digital Twins are virtual representations of building that integrate data from BIM, BAS, IoT, workflows and other data sources and bring this data together where it is then normalized and semantically tagged to provide context and understanding of what is going on in the building in real-time, 3D, highly visual format.

The goal is to create a living digital representation of a building which would be used as a platform for dynamic, ongoing predictive operations and maintenance. To achieve this goal, a few questions need to be addressed. What are the challenges? Do we need data standards? How difficult and costly is it to maintain the integrity of the model? This session discusses the opportunities as well as a potential roadmap for Digital Twins for buildings.

Here is a great interview between James Dice and Matt Schwartz of Altura Associates on the BAS architecture of the future. It is part two of a three-part series; part one was on why the BAS industry is broken. Part two is about what we can actually do about it.

We need to create our Request for Proposal for Innovation from exploring alongside our client/owners the amazing opportunities we have to define their Mandatory and Nice to Have Requirements. Each new proposal will teach us about the unknown and about what is possible, today, and how it extends beyond our industry. Every product/device/asset is arriving with its own culture and capabilities. The innovation proposal must include connection to the culture and implied function/purpose of all it touches. Today's rapid communication when coupled with today's Zoom-able remote anywhere/everywhere/anytime give us the ability to convey the ideas and examples of innovation quickly/easily, making a Request for Proposal for Innovation feasible. The integration consultant is likely part of the proposal. As our original Mandatory Requirements grow, Artificial Intelligence will likely play a key role in crafting the final proposal. 

The "Request for Proposal for Innovation" is a journey to learn what we do not know—to expose many unknowns. Collectively, those proposals will someday be a source of education to the entire industry and beyond.

To quote again from my September 2001 article, "It became clear that to purchase this rapidly evolving technology, while keeping focused on achieving the client's mandatory requirements, the traditional bid and spec approach would not work."

If you would like to hear me try to better describe this article in a video interview, jump into this YouTube at the 55 minute mark.  

And I can’t close without a quick link to the latest Episode of ControlTalk NOW where I discuss the deeper implications of my November editorial theme, navigating the places we never thought we'd go.

Until next time, “Never say Never…” 

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