How did you become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
I’ve always worked in the IT industry and and more specifically been involved with communication technologies of one sort or another. It’s obvious really, but without the underlying connectivity none of the ‘smart’ solutions that are built on top of this layer will work. I’m responsible for Smart Cities within Cisco and buildings are an important part of any city. Many current smart solutions only address one problem in isolation such as lighting or parking, I want to encourage people to look at the broader benefits of connecting unconnected things. If you start by making a building smarter (and over 90% of current building are not smart at all!) you gain many benefits: better management, reduced running costs, lessened environmental impact, better insight into how the building is performing etc. But if you then connect the building to others and to the broader city, that’s when you really start to get the full benefits from smart and connected solutions.
What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
People have been making shelters for many thousands of years so I guess the building industry is one of the oldest in existence and many towns and cities in the UK have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Smart buildings are a relatively recent phenomenon and anything new is always exciting. The level of innovation within the Internet of Things (IoT) is incredible and billions of new ‘things’ are being connected every year. Smart technologies can be applied to all aspects of the building industry from construction of a new building, management once complete and even the demolition of old sites. Like many other industries the smart building space is changing very quickly with new innovations appearing every day. It’s an exciting time to be involved and helping two very different types of industries come together is a great thing to part of.
Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
I’m lucky, I see innovation on a daily basis and there are lots of new technologies that are worth a mention. Pervasive connectivity is necessary to enable any smart solution to work, so as well as more common technologies like wired and wireless networks, 3G/4G & now 5G mobile networks it’s worth having a look at low power, wide area networking technologies and also LiFi (Light Fidelity) which is a high speed and fully networked wireless communication technology similar to Wi-Fi but through a light fitting! The other thing I would definitely recommend looking into is smart lighting solutions. Cisco has recently announced the Cisco Digital Ceiling which enables previously siloed building systems and services to be connected on a single network. With a Digital Ceiling, lighting, heating, cooling, sensors and other actuators can all be connected over a single network – even the lights are powered over Ethernet rather than via traditional power cables! I’d also take a look at data storage and analytics solutions – neither is exactly under the radar but as you connect more things together you need to be able to handle, store and analyse the torrent of new data. Less than 1% of all the data currently collected is actually analysed, yet here is a huge amount of insight that can be gained from this data But you have to be able to extract the value, otherwise why collect it in the first place?
What services does your company offer?
That’s a huge question to answer. Cisco is one of the best known IT companies in the world. We provide everything from straightforward connectivity solutions to city-wide management platforms and for those that we do not cover we have an unrivalled partner ecosystem to help deliver really smart and connected solutions. We also help new companies from our unique post-accelerator at IDEALondon and a number of those companies have a focus specifically around smart buildings and smart city solutions.
Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
I’m not sure they are. There are so many and I’ll be honest, I’m not an expert in the building industry and it’s just as confusing to a newcomer as the world of IT. I know there are lots of standards for everything from environmental requirements for new builds to PAS standards, building regulations and many more. It’s like any other industry, you need to find the requirements that are applicable to your organisation and then ensure that any company you work with is compliant or can help you achieve your or your project’s compliance.
How big are the benefits of a Smart Building?
The benefits of smart buildings are huge. A smart building will have less impact on the environment, it will be easier to manage and maintain and the building manager will be able to be much more proactive than reactive to situations arising. But maybe more important than all these things, they will be healthier, safer and nicer, possibly even happier, places to live, work and play.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
I’m not sure I can answer that question very easily, honestly it’s not one person. I have been lucky enough to work for and with some great people and I’ve learned something invaluable from many of them. I’m always inspired by enthusiastic people who are passionate about what they do, but equally don’t take themselves too seriously! It’s important to me that I enjoy what I do; and I’ve learned and laughed a lot throughout my career and for that I’m very grateful.
What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
I work in the public sector and during these times of austerity the most common questions are always about funding and justifying new investments in technology. There are good solutions to these funding problems and they start with a sound business plan and a measurable return on investment.
What are the best/worst things about your job?
I work in an industry that is constantly changing. Innovation is around us all everyday and I get to be a part of that, which is really exciting. But it has to be innovation with a purpose. We shouldn’t do something just because we can. Translating those innovations into something that can solve genuine problems and then sharing these with other people is the best part of my job. The hardest thing is that people are often wary of new things, so challenging existing beliefs/approaches with something new can be difficult, but when you see them ‘get it’ that is also one of the most rewarding things you can be a part of.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Be authentic to who you really are, Listen, and sometimes you really do just have to do what you are asked to.
What living person do you admire and why?
I’ve seen a lot of amazing and inspiring people live but one that really stands out is Jack Andraka - he developed an early detection test for pancreatic cancer that’s super cheap, effective and non-invasive — all before his 16th birthday! I saw him live at a TEDx event and he really is amazing. You can see his TED talk here - https://www.ted.com/talks/jack_andraka_a_promising_test_for_pancreatic_cancer_from_a_teenager?language=en
Where would you most like to live?
I lived in Sydney for a couple of years and absolutely loved it so I would recommend to anyone to try living in another country if they get the opportunity. I would like to try another country for a year or two, but I really love the place I live right now.
What is your favourite book?
I love reading so it’s really difficult for me to answer. I try to read books in three categories and when I finish one book I’ll pick one from another list: ones I want to read, ones I think I ought to read and ones related to my job. I’m a big fan of Jasper FForde, Michael Marshall Smith and Christopher Brookmyre as novelists and I think Steven Johnson has some fantastic ideas about innovation and creativity. I’m also a big fan of Unbound.co.uk, a crowdfunding model where authors pitch ideas and people pledge to support there publication. I’ve funded a few and the really cool thing is that you get your name in the back of every copy.
How do you relax?
I’ve spent the last seven years renovating my house so my spare time has been filled by rebuilding my home. I have a pretty sedentary job so doing something physical is not only good for me, but I also find it incredibly rewarding to create something that you can touch. I also love taking photos, cycling and spending time doing fun stuff with my family.
What sports team do you support?
Despite growing up in Sheffield I don’t support either Wednesday or United. I love cycling and follow the Tour de France every year. A couple of years ago it went through the village I grew up in and that was amazing.
What is your desert island disc?
As much as the book question was hard this one is impossible. I listen to lots of music and have some real favourites but picking one is impossible. You get eight discs on desert island discs and I can’t narrow it down to just one. I’m a massive Jethro Tull fan and have seen them live at least a dozen times so I’d have to pick one of their songs, I’ve also been a Pink Floyd fan since the 70’s so I’d pick ‘Wish You Were Here’ from them and the first dance at my wedding was a song from the 90’s band Dodgy “One of Those Rivers”.
What is your ideal holiday?
I’m not very good at sitting on a beach doing nothing, so something adventurous. I’ve been to some amazing places like the Galapagos Islands and Kakadu in the Northern Territory of Australia but the world is a big place and there are lots of others my list – I’d really like to go and see a live volcano, so maybe Hawaii, I’d also love to go to Antarctica.