Month: February 2014

Technology Working for You: Real Estate Technology Saving Millions

Technology in the Real Estate industry is changing the world and saving building owners, operators and tenants millions of dollars in the process.  Real Estate, for those who do not know this, is traditionally a place where things move slowly.  For those who are outside the Real Estate industry, think about the time it takes to build and purchase a new home.  It is not as simple as purchasing a candy bar from a vending machine.

Technology in the Real Estate industry also moves slowly and while other industries have made progress at break neck speeds, Real Estate has been a late adopter.  There are, however, several reasons why Real Estate is becoming an interesting arena for technologists.  Today I had the privilege of attending a webinar hosted by Realcomm where real estate technology companies presented some of those reasons.  Spoiler alert:  The best reason is millions of dollars saved; I really like that reason and every company featured here has the ability to do just that!


With the objective to lower costs, reduce risks and enhance experience, Intelligent Buildings is a leader in smart building consulting.  As more and more building operators focus on really knowing how their buildings operate so that they can be more profitable, Intelligent Buildings offers valuable insight into how to know what buildings are doing in order to reduce operating costs.  While many older buildings have escaped the need to improve performance by passing most energy costs onto tenants per the terms of leases, regulation is coming into play requiring higher performance.  Tenants are also demanding more efficient facilities in order to reduce their utility costs.  Low-performance is no longer acceptable.  Intelligent Buildings helps improve performance by collecting available data and using advanced software technology to find patterns and identify opportunities for savings, savings in the millions.


You’re in an elevator, the lights flicker and a moment later you’re enveloped in darkness and the movement stops.  Claustrophobia! Agoraphobia! Whether this is something that haunts your nightmares or has actually happened to you, it certainly is not something you want to experience.  Selex ES is using technology to do amazing things, including preventing the aforementioned trapped in an elevator situation.  In large power outages like the major blackout in New York City, utility providers know 30 to 40 seconds before an outage that an outage will occur.  By connecting that valuable information from power suppliers to building elevator systems, an elevator can be instructed to stop at the next floor and open the doors seconds before the lights flicker and the world goes dark.  Hooray for technology making life more bearable!

Selex ES can do more than make life more bearable.  What would you do if you came home from work, opened the utility bill and it was $3,000 for last month?  Most people would experience some sort of anxiety.  What most people don’t realize is during certain periods of the year, it is not uncommon to spend $3,000 an hour or more for the energy needs of a large office building.  You read that right, $3,000 hour.  At this rate of consumption, even small changes in energy use can make or break the budget.  Selex ES brings the data from various sensors in a building together to produce energy savings and at the same time increase occupant comfort.  You see, building operators are under obligation per the terms of leases to provide a comfortable climate for building occupants.  Building operators cannot simply turn down the heat when it gets too cold outside and turn down the AC when it is a scorcher outside.  By monitoring temperatures and occupancy closely, though, they can adjust how much energy is used to heat and cool a building.  One sample implementation resulted in reducing electrical consumption by 10%, a savings of over $1 million a year!

Fischer Logo with tag

Fischer believes in a simple process to adding value through technology.  In real estate, simple is key and their solutions are designed by real estate experts.  By aggregating data, visualizing that data in meaningful ways, automating business processes based on insight from the visualization and then reporting the results, Fischer guides real estate businesses on a path to leveraging technology to generate cost savings.  One client saved $4 million over a period of two years by taking disparate systems and automating processes.


There are tags on our cloths, our food and literally everything we consume.  We tag our photos, we hash tag our tweets, we tag blog posts.   Sky Foundry takes tagging to the next level in the real estate world by using tags in various disparate building systems in order to leverage big data and turn data into actionable insight. This results in cost savings worth millions of dollars.  Now tag that!



Entrepreneurs dream of making it big.  They have big ideas, big plans for taking over or creating their own niche in the world; some of them make it and some do not.  Nir Ayal has taken a look into human behavior to find out why some technology products are more successful than others.  I had the opportunity to hear him speak about his new book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” at the most recent ZURB Soapbox.

Nir reaffirmed my belief that technology will change the future but he did it with valuable insight into habits.  Having worked as a project manager with countless technology tool implementations, I understand resistance to change and have wondered, as he has, “Why aren’t users doing the thing I want them to?”  Nir’s answer is based in habits.  He gave several examples and from a skim of his book it appears to be full of more.

I will mention one example here.  Google vs Bing.  He said that in blind tests people cannot tell the difference between search results from Google and Bing.  Yet, even though the results are the same, a quick showing of hands in the room indicated we had all formed the habit of searching via Google.   Not only is Google now a verb, it is a habit.  Part of what makes habits so interesting is that humans are creatures of habit.  We find a successful pattern and repeat.

In the world of marketing, finding the right consumer-oriented message that creates revenue-generating repeat behavior is the ultimate objective.  Marketers strive to change human behavior and the most successful changes are ones associated with habits (although with the negative connotation of the word habit this is usually termed something else like repeat purchasing).  For those out there afraid of being marketed into habits they don’t desire, there is good news: any habit can change and any bad habit can be replaced with a good habit and any good habit can be replaced by a better habit.  I look forward to experiencing habit forming technologies that make life easier; I’m hooked on technology.

Teams, Ideas & Strategy

At events in the Silicon Valley over the past two months since my return to the US, I’ve grown more and more impressed not only with the distinct environment that the Silicon Valley is to work, live and collaborate in, but with the caliber of people and ideas coming from


this historical hub of innovation. Yesterday was no exception at the SVForum Apps to Platforms Conference in San Jose, CA. Mayor Chuck Reed opened the event by highlighting several of the unique attributes of the Silicon Valley. San Jose, crowned years ago as Capital of Silicon Valley, is still a thriving place for innovation as was evidenced by the advanced topics of the conference. With visionary thought leaders speaking and participating in panel discussions from big name companies IBM, Microsoft, Google, Box, and Twitter alongside visionary thought leaders from several companies that may become big names in the coming decade, the conference has me thinking about three things: First, the importance of the team, second, the importance of the idea and third, the importance of the strategy.

First, teams play a vital role in determining the success of any venture but in particular that of a fledgling venture. In a personal conversation with one entrepreneur yesterday, we discussed teams as one of the things that venture capitalists are looking for. While it seems like common knowledge, it is worth repeating, if you are an entrepreneur: know that venture capitalists aren’t just investing in your idea; they’re investing in you and the people you are working with. Many great ideas have been left in the dust because the right team was not at the helm. Later, some of these entrepreneurs may wonder why someone else took the lead with a similar idea and unfortunately look outwards, rather than inwards for reasons why their success was not the same.

While it is hard to judge exactly how entrepreneurs make decisions about the team they work with, it seems to be generally accepted to work with the people you know or the amazing buddy you struck gold with when the idea was born. The point was made during the conference that sometimes founders need to step aside so that companies can grow because the same fortune that brought that person into the venture may not actually turn into fortune. If founders do not step aside focusing on their strengths as their companies grow they must adapt, growing and developing. This is what we see with those at the helm of companies such as Facebook and Box; those CEOs are the same people but do not lead the same as their younger selves with the original ideas.

Second, ideas are important and having the right idea is a good part of the equation for success in Silicon Valley. It is important to know when an idea should be abandoned. As the conference yesterday was centered on apps and platforms, it was obvious that ideas can be successful as either apps, platforms or both but it seems that when an idea encompasses both it is more likely to be successful. This had me re-thinking through one of my own ideas, which had previously been focused solely on the application side. I realize now there is far greater potential in platforms and this idea could benefit from a platform approach. Now, don’t go expecting me to quit my blogging and dedicate the rest of my life to the idea; I’m good at sizing up market segments, analyzing growth rates and making projections and this particular niche idea would be a nice project, not a world changing idea. My future ideas, though, will bear in mind the definition of a platform business model as presented by Sam Ramji, VP of Strategy at Apigee, “It is a business model which builds value for multiple sides in a given market by consolidating customers, simplifying market-wide processes, and rewarding each player in the value network between the value network and the customers.”

Strategy, the third of the things on my mind today, should be the driving force behind every maneuver in a company, especially at its inception and, as was discussed yesterday, when deciding app vs platform. I once heard a story about a baggage car of a train that due to an incorrect switch at a rail yard ended up several thousand miles from the intended destination. This was not like today when if you and your baggage are separated and it can be flown to wherever you are in a matter of hours. This was a terrible mistake. To the passengers on the train, this meant they would be much longer without their belongings. The mistake was a relatively small one, not more than a few inches separated the rails that ultimately separated the baggage from the passengers, yet inches became thousands of miles. The wrong strategy at inception can similarly equate to you being very far from success. You’ll go farther with the right people, the right idea and the right strategy.

Credit or Debit? Credit.

Swipe the card, wait, sales clerk says ‘please sign’, quickly scribble something that you know doesn’t resemble your signature but don’t care because no one has ever checked it anyway.  Been there, done that?  We all do it and somehow it makes some people feel more secure about their credit card transactions, but are they really more secure?  What brings me to this topic today is an email I received from my Australian bank with this message:

“From 1 August 2014, signatures will no longer be accepted for purchases made in person on all credit and debit cards issued in Australia and will require a PIN to complete the transaction.”

You can learn more details at Their message, “Soon the pin will replace the pen”, is exactly the type of thing that excites me about technology.  Just because something has always been done one way, with a pen, doesn’t mean it cannot be done another way, in this case with a pin.  The Aussies will no longer make useless signatures (and wait), the retailers will no longer transmit the images, the tellers will no longer have to remind people to sign, and the Australian financial institutions will embrace technology driven change with pins ahead of the US.

This isn’t the first time Australian financial institutions have done this, something I realized while studying at Melbourne Business School.  At first I thought it was an oddity when I discovered that in Australia at any retailer you don’t swipe your credit card, you insert it into the machine and a microchip is read.  The microchips can carry more information and are harder to fraudulently replicate.  This technology is coming to the US but slower than it came to Australia.

I also enjoyed the ease and lack of additional fees associated with online bill pay, which I actually always did with my phone.  I didn’t write a check the entire time I lived in Australia; I don’t even know if the bank would print them.  No one would have needed them anyways because through BPAY every institution has a unique ID and you simply transfer money from your account directly to theirs.  Water bill, power bill, rent: it is all done with BPAY and a breeze.  For those of you who are too curious for your own good, BPAY is a registered trademark of BPAY Pty Ltd ABN 69 079 137 518.

I know you can do online billing in the US.  I point out, though, that it is easier in Australia.  The ease goes beyond paying bills.  Owe your friend $20?  No worries mate.  You can do a quick and easy transfer with your phone and the funds are sent immediately.  None of the waiting we have here in the US.  First time transfers are set up in less than a minute too and confirmed instantly by entering a text message code sent to you from the bank.  Email confirmations are automatically sent so you get confirmation right away.

Long story short, Australian financial institutions can probably get the credit for eliminating signatures at point of sale for credit cards first.  When will the US institutions follow?

Eating Technology

Advancement in technology comes after tremendous effort.  At times technology appears to be too cost prohibitive and time consuming to continue expending the efforts required to develop a technology to the point where it can be used profitably.  It is also a challenge to get to the point where a new technology requires less, not more, time to use it.  Yet at the same time, entrepreneurs plod on creating newer and newer technologies.  We value the efforts of entrepreneurs for their substantial risk taking because ultimately, their successes benefit us.

Similar to entrepreneurs, in the field of research scientists expend tremendous effort at what seems at times a painstakingly slow pace in order to discover on the outer fringes of science.  What is similar between entrepreneurs and scientists also makes the relationship between entrepreneurs and scientists even more interesting, and that relationship could not be more exemplified than by those on the forefront of technology in the food industry.

Obviously there is technology in the food industry.  Farm equipment has become increasingly effective and efficient.  Farmers now drive GPS guided equipment while sitting on comfortable chairs with dust-filtered warm or cool air blowing on them depending on the season.  My grandfather, whose family was like most farming families at the turn of the twentieth century,  shared with me that when he was a young boy guiding the farm equipment across the fields the last thing he wanted the equivalent of the equipment’s engine, a horse, to do was blow air.  Certainly technology has come a long way in improving farm equipment and the associated pleasantries of working on a farm.

What brings me to this topic, however, has relatively little to do with these advances in technology and more to do with a deeper application of technology in the food industry, technology posed to change the way the world thinks about what it eats.  Technology posed to change how food is, and I’m going to use this word deliberately, created.  Yes, not harvested, not grown, not slaughtered: created.   Biotech meets the dinner plate and a whole new type of technologists emerge, food technologists.

With rising demand for food, in particular food that provides the necessary nutrients and proteins, food technologists are charting new ground in the production of new products designed to reduce the carbon footprint, the land and even the killing required in order to put protein on the plates, not just of Americans, but of everyone in the world.  At VLAB’s “Where’s the Beef?” event yesterday the question was asked, “Does the biotech industry have the potential to disrupt the food chain?”  The answer is yes.

Eating technology does not mean you’re going to find computer chips in your next steak; it does mean, however, that at some point in the future the steak you eat may have been created by using technology driven 3-D printers, cultured similar to how bacteria is cultivated for yogurt, or brewed similar to how yeast is used for beer.  That meat, at least according to Andras Forgacs, Founcer & CEO of Modern Meadow, will be better for you because it will contain less of what is bad for you.

While it may be hard for someone to stomach the idea of eating meat grown in a dish, technology is furthering advancement in developing non-animal sources of protein.  You can see those products at grocery stores which are beginning to sell more (and better tasting) vegetarian and vegan friendly products, products like those created by BeyondMeat.  Ingredients developed by Solazyme may also find their way to a plate in front of you.  Regardless of the company that delivers the product, rest assured that the reason the non-animal protein problem will be solved is because technology is at work disrupting the food chain. Makes Technology Work For You

I met today with two of the founders of the startup, Stephen Snyder and Joel Gaona .  Before delving into their product, a short bit of info from their story sets the backdrop for these two technology leaders.  They are both fellow San Jose State University alumni.  San Jose, CA, the Capital of Silicon Valley, is proud to host Silicon Valley’s university at its heart.  The heart of the valley, as well as the hearts of these two guys, is entrepreneurship.  They were members of the SJSU chapter of Alpha Tua Omega, an entrepreneurship fraternity.  It is through the SJSU environment that these two met and began working together which brings us to what they’re working on.

Designed for real estate agents, both the connected and the disconnected in this social media driven world, gathers and posts trending real estate related news to an agent’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages based on the agent’s set preferences.  This creates a huge amount of value for an agent, especially of the disconnected type, as the posting is done automatically.’s product is relatively new, but the success stories are rolling in, agents with new leads within days of subscribing.

Why am I so interested in  It makes technology easy to use and is a perfect example of technology working and creating value.  Sounds a little like my mantra:  Don’t work for technology; make technology work for you.

Two thoughts from the PITME Catalyst Conference

Yesterday I attended the PITME Catalyst Conference in San Francisco, CA.  The conference highlighted the work of entrepreneurs in the Middle East as well as provided engaging conversations surrounding entrepreneurship in various areas.  As a technologist, the conference excited me because of its entrepreneurial nature and all of the entrepreneurs who participated in the event were leveraging technology to one extend or another.  As a global citizen, having lived outside of the US twice, the conference excited me because I know that with the internet, every business with a website, even in far off places in hard to pronounce regions of the world, is an international business.

The conference has me thinking two things this morning.  First, the internet is in the hands of more and more people every day, especially in the Middle East.  Of course this is not something new to cross my mind; however, I was reminded of it again yesterday.  Some people in the region have never owned a computer, let alone heard dial up or even enjoyed browsing at high speed.  Yet, they have connected mobile devices and are now connected to the world.  These devices are in the hands of everyone, from the upper echelons of society all the way down to the street beggars, who may have to stop begging for a moment to take a call on a smart phone, as Vivek Wadhwa experienced during recent travels.

The second thing I’m thinking about is a similarity between each of the presenters, both in the panels and in the pitch demonstration.  There were people from all over the Middle East, men and women with different backgrounds and varying ideas in products, in services, in software yet they all had something in common.  They are all working at change.  Embedded deep in each entrepreneur, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, is the desire to see change.  These entrepreneurs meet with resistance to change as there are many who see change but do not want to make changes.  Yet, with technology, resistance to change is futile.  The best entrepreneurs understand how people work, and how to combat the resistance to change.   Regardless of industry, entrepreneurs are stepping up to the plate embracing change while championing technology solutions that invite their customers to change.

Technology in Superbowl 2014 Ads

The Doritos 2014 Superbowl commercial did a great job of selling the product and doing it with a sense of humor.  While time machines are a technology from science fiction and one that will never be invented, many technologies that once were science fiction are now realities.


Just take Microsoft’s commercial for a sampling of what is being done by technology for people.  Certainly this commercial has strong tear-jerking emotional appeal for anyone with a heart for humanity.

Ok, so without several beers and some real good bean dip you might only have had a few goose pimples re-watching this just now but those goose pimples are probably indicative of how amazed you are at the technology that is being used today in the medical world.

Technology has certainly changed the face of the business world over the past few decades (does anyone still use a fax machine?)  It will continue to change the face of the business world; however, in the medical field there will be leaps and bounds in world of what technology can do for human kind.  The Microsoft commercial illustrates how the blind can see, the deaf can hear, and the dumb can speak.  For centuries man has believed these were only the stuff of miracles and fairy tales.  Now, they are realities.  Technology is working miracles and the people who benefit from these miracles could not be happier to have technology working for them.