interview with Gina Elliott & Ken Sinclair
Gina Elliott started her career in IT,
transitioning to smart building consulting engineering and has since worked for
building automation manufacturers large and small, always seeking the most innovative
technologies that are market disruptors. She is now at Switch Automation as VP
of Strategy where she is working to develop new go-to-market strategies for
software-based building operations infrastructure. Switch is led by Deb Noller
with an executive team comprised of 50% female leadership and 50% female
employees in engineering, programming and operations.
Ken Sinclair: Good to see you Gina and congratulations on the new position at
Switch Automation. So why Switch, and why now?
Gina Elliott: Thanks Ken. Why Switch? They had me at a demo of Switch Dx3.
Also, almost every industry has been transformed by digital technology, from taxi
service to food delivery to movies and TV. Why are we still behind? I’ve been
at this for a while and it seems every few years, there is excitement around
something new like integrated automation or IoT. But still, very little
progress. I am a bit of a professional nomad and I really want to be part of
something revolutionary that holistically impacts everything around it.
Ken: Such as?
worked with integrators, contractors and distributors. These guys have built
careers and businesses around brands. The industry is transitioning subtly with
the influx of capital and new technology as well as changes in how people live
and work. They need products that are flexible to meet their business needs and
the diversity of their customer base. I respect what they’ve built and their
responsibility to employees and customers. If I can help them succeed in their
goals, then I succeed. I know I sound very idealistic but those reading this
that know me, know I mean it. And if we make the world a better place while
doing it, what a great personal legacy.
Look, we need choices, not data silos. Partners
and customers should have the flexibility to choose the solutions based on
their business requirements. There shouldn’t be a question of data ownership or
being locked into to working with one manufacturer or contractor with proprietary
technology. There are a lot of new companies with very progressive solutions.
Ken: Are big
brands the safer choice for most?
guess it depends on your definition of “safe.” Companies like Google, Microsoft
and Netflix started in someone’s garage. Just because a company is small or new
doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the goods. Switch develops software with
programmers and data scientists applying their expertise specific to this
industry. It is what we know and do best. Would you buy an AHU from Switch? Probably
not. So why would it be “safer” to buy digital technology from a 100+ year old
company that has historically only manufactured hardware?
Ken: So we
in the industry should take a chance?
Gina: We live
in exciting times. It is easier than ever to start a company thanks to digital
technology – hello online classes and funding agencies. Our newest partners are
game changers. They’ve left corporate America and they’re really looking at
addressing the market from a different perspective – with PropTech.
Following up on my previous statement about
safe investments – with digital technology, there is less risk. Systems communicate with other systems or
software platforms, meaning customers aren’t locked into ecosystems and services
where they’re price gauged or held hostage to developing business based on
someone else’s need. Owners, operators and contractors can transition to
companies that meet their business needs while retaining data ownership. Digital
technology not only normalizes proprietary data but it normalizes business. Remember
when you couldn’t port your mobile number to another carrier? Gone. Or you
dragged your feet buying a new phone because you didn’t want to lose your contacts,
photos and all that? Gone. It’s all in the cloud so just reach out and grab it.
Ken: Do you
think we are finally seeing real change?
Gina: I am
cautiously optimistic. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella himself said that he’s seen “2
years of digital transformation in 2 months” in real estate. I can say that
the type of partners that I’ve met in the last 2 months have a very different
outlook than what I’ve experienced in the past. Also, customers are much more
receptive to digital technology. Perhaps it is an effect of COVID-19. Or maybe
it’s the many years of Automated Buildings and its contributors educating
consumers. But I think this is only a small part of the change to come.
There are going to be some traditional automation products that go the way of
the rotary dial telephone and some of our building system protocols will disappear.
For anyone pessimistic about the impact of digital on our industry, just rent a
video from Blockbuster, buy a camera from Kodak or buy a book from Borders.
I also think building design will change
with a focus on physical security, cybersecurity and environmental security. How
we buy will be based on need, meaning what we need now and nothing we don’t. Digital
technology will allow an ‘a la carte’ approach that is beneficial to the owner,
operator and contractor. In addition, it will allow for faster innovation to
meet the very different environmental landscape we live in. Historically, you
install a BMS and there isn’t much change in the 15 years you have it. Digital
technology allows for a broad approach to develop applications, functions and
features much more rapidly.
this – the UN tells us that 39%
of total carbon emissions in the U.S. are created by commercial buildings.
Not only is that shocking and embarrassing, it’s expensive. Seriously
With buildings sitting
empty for the past year, COVID-19 should have been the perfect chance to
make a dent in this number and save a hell of a lot of money along the way.
Guess what? The industry blew it and in many cases property owners actually
spent more, having to cough up for additional cleaning services to support
public safety and deliver on local guidelines.
Anyway with the right tech, we could have
done things very differently. Proactive versus reactive. Another prediction for
you – COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic. There will be more as we continue
to expand our human footprint. Environmental safety, clean air, and the ability
to meet the changing needs of the outside environment will play a major part in
the decision-making of commercial property owners and operators.
Ken: So how should
companies pick their digital technology vendors?
at your vendors’ people. Do they have a strong digital and building automation
background? There’s a lot of vaporware in the market with no real industry
knowledge, so I would be extremely wary of that. If a company promises you AI
and machine learning, make sure you know where they’re getting their data.
Next, make sure you go for an open solution
– if you make an investment into yet another closed ecosystem you’ll regret it.
Seek out a vendor that is ‘data agnostic,’ meaning the platform doesn’t
discriminate against any specific brand and the owner of the data is not in
question. Also, ask to see their roadmap so that you know the vendor is scaling
to suit the needs of the market.
change, create a business strategy that is agile to adopt to the changing needs
of the market and your business. Work with a vendor that is easy to do business
with and realizes partnership is a two-way street. If you don’t have PropTech
or digital technology in your portfolio or line card, find a suitable partner.