Nora Swanson, PE, LEED AP, is director of design technology for AKF, a global leader in engineering, technology, design, consulting and commissioning. Nora’s passion, infectious curiosity and futuristic eye for tech is evident throughout AKF, where she chairs the firm’s Virtual Design Committee, develops and manages its Strategic Technology Plan, and helps AKF’s Smart Buildings Consulting practice deliver fresh solutions to next-generation challenges.
Nora possesses an acute awareness of the connectedness of how things relate, as well as how they could and should relate. Nora is a much sought-after speaker, presenter, and industry panelist. She has been honoured as a “40 Under 40” in building, construction, and real estate, and has published multiple articles on smart building technology and the hi-tech future of the A/E/C community. Nora also mentors engineering students at her alma mater Villanova, as well as students from building21, a non-profit reimagining secondary school.
How did you become involved in the smart buildings industry?
It was a series of events, but ultimately, it came down to the culture and flexibility that AKF has given me to pursue my passion. My career has evolved organically during my tenure here, and together we’ve been able to grow, develop, and drive-change within the industry. My proclivity to ask “what-if?” and challenge the status-quo was encouraged from the very beginning, and it continues to be embraced today.
When I began as a mechanical engineer and project Manager, BIM and 3D-modeling were really beginning to make headway in our market sectors. I loved developing process-efficiencies using these tools. It was data-driven decision-making and workflows, and it began to fuel my desire for more tech. And then whmn my son was born, it all fell into focus. I realized just how much I needed to maximize my time to accomplish all that I needed to. That was the catalyst that really ignited my passion to discover the intersection of the human experience and technology. Understanding how intelligent and connected systems can impact how efficiently we move through and interact with the world, combined with my background as a building systems engineer, has allowed me to help others understand how Smart Building technology can contribute positively to our experience within the built environment and make our lives easier.
What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
The mass-customization that would allow everyone the opportunity to make the most of their own experience, whether it be at work, home, or wherever in the world they choose to be.
Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
I don’t think things are really under the radar as much as that there are so many options today that it takes resources to keep informed of all the technological possibilities.
What services does your company offer?
AKF’s Intelligent Building consulting service offers a unique, agnostic partnership designed to align, prioritize, and deliver on a Smart project’s needs and goals. The Start to SmartTM approach provides our clients with a partner in navigating and understanding the breadth of available technologies. It’s our job to be up-to-date on what is available within the landscape so that we can facilitate and design a smart solution that meets clients’ needs.
Our process may include:
• visioning and road-mapping
• strategy and business-case development
• development of a unique smart project/building definition
• coordination of smart documentation required of other project trades
• issuance of the division 25 integrated automation specification
• enterprise platform and master systems integrator selection assistance
• representation and facilitation through installation
• change management through roll-out to occupancy and use
• providing operational data support and analysis
Because AKF has 13 specialized in-house teams, including Building Controls, Lighting, IT/AV/Security, and Fire Alarm, we are able to provide the technical insight and high-level coordination required to make Smart dreams a reality for our clients.
Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
There are several different regulation areas that impact the Smart Building space, with energy related regulations being the most well-established. Smart Building technologies have the potential to help building owners and tenants understand their building energy usage in granular detail and aid in determining improvements needed to meet regulations. It is important to note that regulations are changing, and will continue to evolve, as further studies of the impacts of the building footprint on our planet emerge.
Much of the technological and security regulation and standardization that we will begin to see within this space has yet to be legislated, which means that corporate responsibility is of utmost importance right now. As the impacts and effects of 5G, Data Security, and Cyber Security emerge over the next few years, I would expect mandates and standard-of-care practices to be issued by institutions and governing bodies.
What are the benefits of a smart building?
Not every Smart Building needs to be all of these things, but in some combination a Smart Building has the potential to:
• reduce energy usage
• increase occupant engagement
• improve facilities operations and maintenance
• optimize space management
• provide competitive positioning both for attraction and retention
Ultimately, it’s just simply about making life easier. I know that in my own daily life, having the ability to command the bedroom lights off after I’ve already tucked myself in is a technological joy!
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
There have been so many people within AKF and throughout the industry that have influenced my career, but today I really want to give this recognition to my Dad. He has been, and always will be, my most ardent champion. His presence and encouragement throughout my life and technology career has made it easy for me to tackle new challenges and blaze new paths. The nurturing environment my parents created has had a tremendous influence on how I navigate through the world.
What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
It is a toss-up between “What do you think?” and “Can you help?”
What are the best/worst things about your job?
Being able to learn, dream, collaborate, and innovate are the best parts of my job. Understanding everyone’s resource and bandwidth limitations in being able to implement all the amazing things that could be done ranks up there as the not-so-awesome part of my work.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Stay curious and be willing to adapt.
What living person do you admire and why?
I admire and am inspired by anyone that is willing to push boundaries and advocate for the greater good.
Where would you most like to live?
For where I am in my life I really enjoy where we currently live. We live in a neighborhood with lots of families that get together quite often, and kids that are always outside playing and enjoying all four seasons. As life moves on, we’ll see how that ideal changes!
What is your favorite book?
Picking a favorite of anything would be denying the influence of so many things over the course of my life!
How do you relax?
I find tremendous value in relaxation – I think mental and physical downtime is essential to harnessing creativity. If I am able to relax by myself, I love woodworking, painting, cooking, or making cakes – all in silence. If I have no reason to do any of those things, I enjoy catching up on my favorite television shows! If I am with my family, we enjoy watching movies, miniature golfing, and spending time outside doing anything to enjoy the fresh air.
What sports team do you support?
I live in the US, but we have the English Premier League on every weekend morning during the season. We are also supporters of FC Barcelona.
What is your desert island disk?
As I mentioned, I do enjoy being in silence, but music does provide some fuel to my soul. I have danced most of my life and enjoy anything that makes me feel or feel like moving to the beat. So, if I could somehow find a way to have a music streaming service on this desert island so I could enjoy it all that would be the best!
What is your ideal holiday?
Doing anything and going anywhere with my family!