Rody Senner on transforming how buildings operate

Rody Senner on transforming how buildings operate

Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue makes buildings healthier, safer and more sustainable

Rebecca Gibson |

Disconnected building systems and equipment cost businesses time, money and, ultimately, staff, according to Forrester Research report Cracking the code: Unleash your smart buildings with the power of facility data. Only 10 per cent of those surveyed for the report had fully integrated their building systems.

We spoke with Rody Senner, vice president of commercial digital growth, to find out how Johnson Controls’ OpenBlue solutions can transform the operation of buildings.  

What are the trends driving the changes in the smart building industry?  

Several critical factors are converging to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building systems technology. Chief among these is rising energy costs and the imperative to decarbonise the built environment. There are also dramatic changes to occupancy patterns and building use brought on by new hybrid work practices.  

At Johnson Controls, sustainability runs through every aspect of our business and with buildings accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; there is no decarbonising our future without decarbonising buildings. At the 28th United Nations Climate Conference in 2023, we noticed that industries are now leading the way in understanding sustainability as essential for financial health. They recognise that the physical impacts of climate change and the shift towards a lower carbon economy directly affect asset values due to damage and regulations.  

How does Johnson Controls define a smart building today and how will it evolve into the future?  

While the term ‘smart building’ has been used for many years, its meaning has evolved and will continue to evolve with advances in technology and changes in the way we use spaces.  

In a very broad sense, a smart building uses technology to converge data from building systems, sensors and services using internet of things connectivity. It then applies machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate insights and automation that maximises efficiency creating safe and comfortable environment for occupants.   

Traditionally, buildings have been made ‘smart’ by integrating its disparate, siloed systems – such as HVAC, building automations systems, lighting and security – into a unified network that allows these components to communicate with each other, improving efficiency, safety and user comfort. Technicians extract and analyse data to identify ways to drive specific outcomes such as energy efficiency, carbon reduction, air quality improvement or asset performance.   

At Johnson Controls, we are playing a pivotal role in the evolution of the smart building which is not only integrated and connected but possesses increasingly more intelligent capabilities that enable it to adapt to people and the organisation’s purpose and goals.  

Technology Record Johnson Controls

Smart building systems use internet of things sensors to collect data and apply AI and machine learning to improve operational efficiency

What are some of the key benefits of smart buildings and what sort of barriers exist to unlock or tap into these benefits?  

Firstly, smart buildings improve energy efficiency and sustainability. Optimising energy usage and reducing carbon emissions present a win-win opportunity for organisations by enhancing sustainability and boosting financial performance, without sacrificing productivity or creativity.  

According to the Forrester report Factors Driving the ROI of Sustainability, “sustainability-focused companies have seen better financial results relative to their peers”. To give you an example of the type of impact we can create, the Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham, USA, looked to us to design, build, operate and maintain its new central utility plant through a 25-year contract. By meeting or exceeding yearly performance guarantees, we provided nearly $250,000 in annual savings and reduced the use of natural gas by 69 per cent. When complete, Children’s of Alabama expects this portion of the project to save $450,000 a year through our OpenBlue solutions, powered by Microsoft Azure.  

Smart buildings promote spaces for wellbeing and productivity. Last year we acquired FM Systems, a leading integrated workplace management system platform that helps customers manage workplaces and optimise space globally. The integration with OpenBlue solutions allows for richer data and insights to emerge creating operational and energy efficiencies as well as better occupant health and space optimisation. We know that a comfortable, healthy workplace supports productivity and peak performance. Considering that 60 per cent of respondents in FM Systems’ Inside the Workplace report said they want employees back in-office five days a week in the next three years, a healthy workplace is an important deliverable for our customers.  

Smart buildings also improve operational efficiency and equipment performance. A lack of skilled maintenance resources and actionable insights lead to costly unplanned downtime for building equipment. Technology like automated fault-detection diagnostics and predictive maintenance address these challenges and allow facilities managers and building owners to scale their organisations without necessarily expanding teams.   

Finally, the smart building of the future will automate physical security for improved protection and less effort for occupants, giving them peace of mind and more freedom of movement throughout a building or campus. For example, touchless access control opening doors for authorised individuals, but alert security personnel if a tailgater violation occurs or using occupancy data to efficiently help evacuate an area in the event of a fire or safety threat.  

At Johnson Controls, we create seamless integration with third-party systems devices and equipment through the support of industry standard protocols, a library of connectors and an application programming interface strategy to create flexibility, scalability and extensibility of the platform. Forrester found that 80 per cent of leaders said they seek partners that use the latest technology and can provide one digital platform across all sites and use cases, and our integration abilities enable us to serve a variety of customers.  

Where do partnerships sit in Johnson Control’s broader vision to create sustainable autonomous buildings?   

The intent is to forge strong alliances across the globe with top partners and customers so we can make sure we’re serving the needs of the world in a consistent way. We’re focused on building a top-down strategy for the most effective and impactful alliances and we were thrilled to win the 2023 Microsoft Global Independent Software Vendor Partner of the year award. In December 2023, we also launched our OpenBlue partner programme where together we will scale our businesses with partners who will have an opportunity to grow, and increase customer value through digital solutions.  

What excites you the most about the transformation journey Johnson Controls is on?  

I’m going to reference one of my favourite quotes from late US president John F. Kennedy in 1962 to answer this one: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Climate change is the existential crisis of our generation and addressing it is an immense challenge but that’s the business Johnson Controls and its partners are in today and it’s a privilege to be part of that story. 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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