At first glance, aviation and commercial buildings have little in common. In aviation, equipment and assets are typically a matter of life or death. In buildings, often the worst-case scenario is a lot of hot/cold calls. With managed services, commercial buildings can learn a thing or two from aviation. Our new Director of Managed Services Rob Vandenberg comes from the aviation world and now he’s here.
We talked with Rob about what commercial buildings can learn from the airlines and how software can be an equalizer.
Rob, welcome to OTI! I know you’ve only been with us a short time, but let’s look at the commercial buildings industry. Do you see any parallels with the aviation industry when you started there 20-or-so years ago?
Thanks, I’m happy to be here! There are definitely similarities that come to mind when thinking about aviation and commercial buildings. First, assets in aviation contain many sensors that generate a lot of data about operating conditions. Second, several decades ago, an industry-wide infrastructure called ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) was created. The purpose was to transmit messages between aircraft and ground stations.
While this was a common infrastructure, many software systems – particularly asset management and performance monitoring – were built in-house by airlines. We needed software systems we could apply more broadly. But that transition is still ongoing.
When I look at commercial buildings today, I see many parallels to the aviation industry at that time. Sensors and meters generate data. That data is available through a common, standard infrastructure. And the industry is looking for commercially available software to optimize the operations of their assets.
At this point, is software built on the same principles no matter the industry? Is this a development advantage?
Right now, enabling technologies have made it so that software can move much faster to deployment. The commercial buildings industry doesn’t have to invest in an infrastructure like the aviation industry did several decades ago. Instead, it can leverage the infrastructure and technologies that are now available to all industries. I’m thinking the Industrial Internet (also known as the Internet of Things or IoT) and the Cloud in particular. So, we’re not building nearly as much enabling tech just to get started. This is a huge development advantage.
What are some challenges you ran up against with your airline asset management software? Have you identified any particular hurdles yet in the commercial buildings space?
Aviation is heavily regulated. The only industries I can think of that are more regulated are nuclear and potentially healthcare. So regulatory and compliance factored heavily into the software we built. Also, aircraft and aircraft engines are large, expensive and complex assets requiring equally large and complex organization to manage them. When you add in the operational context – the assets are continuously moving all over the world! – the result is a set of requirements for a very large and complicated set of software solutions.
Another challenge we continuously confronted as we were trying to build a commercial solution was vastly different legacy systems within organizations with little existing integration or standardization. This made projects longer and much more complex. We also found that while we were on the way to building a standard commercial solution, it was difficult to move aircraft operators away from of their unique requirements. This resulted in highly configurable systems that are frankly difficult to build and maintain, and projects that had a lot of customizations. That’s difficult to scale.
With buildings, I see an opportunity to move faster. There just may be more appetite for more universal systems in the commercial buildings industries and that is very exciting to me. I haven’t run into any real hurdles yet, but it is still early!
In this industry, there is much talk of siloes that run in every direction – siloes between devices that don’t talk with each other, siloes across networks, siloes within the C-suite. Was this true of the airline industry as well? What’s your advice for using software to overcome those issues?
That was definitely true of the airline industry in my experience. We took on massive integrations on the systems side. Then we had to get everyone aligned on the organizational side. There was a continuous effort to re-focus on the problems we’re trying to solve and get everyone on board with those goals.
As for advice, “Don’t try to boil the ocean,” is one phrase I like to use. We can’t try to deliver on every feature all at once. The key is to deliver value early and deliver it often. Ultimately, we’re envisioning cost-saving solutions. Those are always harder to get attention for within an organization, compared to projects that open new revenue sources. So, to overcome that natural inclination, our cost-saving measures have to show value early and they have to lead us to become valued partners to our customers – both through the life of a project and through a long-term relationship. And finally, industry standardization cannot be overlooked. Proprietary options are always going to cost more while working on more limited scale.
What are you most excited about when you look at the to-do list for your new position with OTI?
Prior to working in aviation, I worked on a project to build a condition-based maintenance system in an industrial steel mill. What’s exciting is there is more standardization today and the enabling technologies have made tremendous gains. Plus, data is more readily available. So, I’ll be able to build something much more robust – and much faster – than I was able to over 20 years. OTI has a very strong customer base that is receptive to asset management and performance monitoring offerings and OTI has already made significant investment in the backbone infrastructure that will run these solutions.
Follow along as Rob and OTI work on the next generation of asset management for commercial buildings. Subscribe to out blog. Connect with OTI and Rob on LinkedIn. Follow us on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter. Exciting things are on the horizon – we hope you’ll join us.
*Featured photo by Joseph DePalma on Flickr.