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21 min read

SBA 281: On My Mind

By Phil Zito on Sep 22, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Podcasts

In this episode I share random things that are on my mind about sales, building automation, technology, and training.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my thoughts and beliefs.

Click here to download or listen to this episode now.

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Phil Zito 0:00
This is the smart buildings Academy podcast with Phil Zito Episode 281. Hey folks, Phil Zito here, welcome to Episode 281. And in this episode, I'm gonna do something I have never done before, I have absolutely no notes, I literally just wrote SBA 281, on my mind. And in this episode, I'm just gonna talk about what is on my mind for this industry, what is on my mind, for people looking to learn building automation to grow their businesses? You know, I, I haven't really done one of these ever, and I have so many thoughts. So here we go, this could be a complete crap show, or this could be really cool. So some of the things that are on my mind are related to kind of where we are as an industry, I was talking with one of my employees. And I was interested in potentially getting a generator for the house, you know, just we lost power a couple years back for a couple days. And that's something that's been on my mind for a while, like Kay, get a generator. And then she was like, how long is it going to take for you to get the generator, and I was like, till, you know, March 2022. If I were to get the generator, and I started thinking about, you know, then I saw, you know, I think it was James dice, who posted something about diversity and inclusion and was like, why aren't people showing up to my webinar? And I was thinking to myself, and my team and I were slacking about that were like, why aren't people showing up? And some of my team were like, well, because they feel like, you know, they don't have any really effect on that other people are like this not really what they're interested in, you know, that we're just thinking through, we're mind reading what potentially why people wouldn't be interested in this. And I started thinking to myself, I'm like, Well, you know, I was driving down the road. The other day with the wife, we're going to eat at Panera, or running some errands return and stuff. And there's an Arby's, which is like a burger shop, and it's got a $15 an hour sign on it like, hey, come work here. $15 an hour. And then I started thinking to myself, well, you know, people can't find workers. And so they're, you know, when we talk to our customers, one of the problems, like we did a sales Bootcamp, right. Like I said, it's gonna be totally random and rambling with no structure whatsoever. So just sort of survive, survive. Now, bear with me on this. But we were doing sales Bootcamp, and we did Cohort One in May, this year, and had like, 20 people. And then we run Cohort Two. And we got five people. And I'm like, man, we got really good feedback. Everyone seems interested in being able to close sales. Why did we only get five people? And you know, why is deiss getting less people to his webinar? Why are customers working crazy hours, and it's all because of this immense backlog? You know, I've never in my 20 years have I been in this industry, 20 years. In my 14 years in this industry, I got into it in 2007. In my 14 years in this industry, I've never seen backlog like we've got in this industry right now, where projects just backed up and backed up and backed up and back up. And then finally it got to the point where projects started opening up, people started going and being able to do projects again, and it all hit at once. And then you've got you know, you're trying to get employees back that you let go. But they've already been snatched up by someone else, a competitor who had enough cash to cash flow them through the downturn, and you can't get them back. And so I find myself, you know, I was talking to Scott Hoffman, who he's a friend of mine works with. Is it gel that Scott works for or is it a subset of gel? Let me see.

Phil Zito 4:44
Let, yeah, it's jello. And we were just talking about just how hard it is like in his neck of the woods. There's restaurants that are shutting down like the entire weekend and, you know, I went to culvers the other day and talk kobelt the other day, and it was closed. I mean, I remember I was sitting in the drive thru at Taco Bell, because my wife's like, I want to talk about and I'm like, okay, fine, I'll get you to talk about whatever. And the guy in front of me is like sitting at the order window for No, no joke for like, 510 minutes. And he finally pulls away from the order window, and I see a sign, like, right on the order thing that says we're closed. And I'm like, Dude, why did you sit there and look at this workload sign for 10 minutes, I was so pissed, I was so mad. But then I ended up going to Wendy's and getting her dinner. And it makes me think, like, they're gonna buy robots, and replace all these people. They can't find people to work. And I don't know if this unemployment expiration that I think it was Labor Day that it hit is going to like, after a month, people's money is going to dry up and they're gonna be like, Oh, crap, I gotta go back to work. And that's gonna fix things, or if it's not, and people are just like they've adjusted and they're comfortable with not working now, I don't know. But I know one thing, these companies are not going to accept their profits declining, lying down. So I fully expect us to see robotics. I fully expect us to see like people putting robots into restaurants. And then it got me thinking about Amazon. And I was like, man, Amazon pays people buku bucks to work warehouse, I am certain that they are trying to figure out how do we replace these people with robots. I mean, they've got to I got to imagine in the services industries, we're going to see massive layoffs. The Walmart, right down the street from me, is an I promise, I'm getting to a place where this will relate to building automation. But the Walmart down the street from me. They just added, like 12, self checkout lanes to the Walmart. And I'm like thinking to myself, wow. And every time I go there, I see there are people walking up and down the aisles picking stuff for online orders. And that got me thinking like, how could this be automated? How could this be replaced, which then brings us to building automation, we still, we're still to this day, the majority of the building automation systems are exactly the same as they were when I joined this industry, back in 2007. was sure the technologies change the law, we have IP controls now instead of mstp. We have thin clients instead of thick clients. You got some analytic stuff, but by and large, like, we still install the exact same way, we still mess up submittals the exact same way. A lot of stuffs still manual the exact same way, we still have pretty much the exact same estimating tools, the same scoping tools. We still it's just the wild wild west of standards on any project, you know, it's like we don't know what you're gonna get, you know, university A's solutions may be completely different than University B's solutions. There's no standardization. And and I started thinking to myself, I'm like, where does this problem get fixed? You know, if you've listened to me for any amount of time, you know, my solution to this problem is standards. It's that customers and as an industry as much as I despise the idea of licensure, of standardization of job roles, and I'm very libertarian. I'm very libertarian, I have no problem saying that might leave me alone. Let me do my own thing. You do you I'll do me, let's just do right by each other. And may the best man or woman win, right? That's kind of my philosophy. But the thing is, is that

Phil Zito 9:27
I don't see how as an industry, we can get advanced technology and get things into buildings. I know all these prop tech people are trying to sell their goods and gosh I can't stand prop tech and I know that probably makes me not a lot of friends and I know I could probably makes more money for our business if I would just be nicer and would bring these people on to the podcast and collect marketing dollars from them and I would say come on to the podcast, and I'll introduce you to our audience. And, you know, you'll give me some money. And, you know, we'll share marketing stories. And, you know, we're gonna bring people onto the podcast. And I'll be honest, I'm trying to figure out how I can monetize that. But I just, there's so much prop tech stuff out there that I don't believe in, I'm only going to bring people on to the podcast that I, I think are actually delivering value to the industry. And oh, my gosh, I swear to goodness, if I hear another digital twin, prop tech, fancy fin tech, all If I hear that stuff again, I swear, I'm just Oh, my goodness. And I don't know everything. You know, I'm, I am far from the sage of building automation. Far from it. I mean, I'm just one man, who, you know, by the grace of God has a business that has been successful, and gives me a platform to reach people. And I'm thankful for that. But if you've listened to me for any amount of time, I always say question when I say, don't just follow me blindly. But I sit there, and I think to myself, all that stuff. I mean, I remember working for the pan optics team at Johnson Controls. And that was a really cool idea, you know, for all the Poopoo crap, the industry gives that product line, and it's like, oh, look, Johnson Controls when did pan optics and blew up and was Bala crap and all that stuff, you know, for all the Pooh poohing people gave. I mean, that was ballsy, right to like, go and commit that much capital to that kind of solution. And it was a it was a good solution that was trying to be delivered through a sales team that could not deliver it, not because they were incapable of delivering it, but they weren't properly incentivized. To deliver it, they weren't. I mean, you got to understand, like at any OEM, and the big ones are the worst about this, they have so many products on their line card. And as a salesperson, you're out there trying to make your number, right, you're in the branch trying to make your number and you know, your specialty, like you got relationships that are equipment, relationships, you got to either service relationships, or you know, controls relationships. And you know, you can make your number and you can hit your number for a certain level of effort. And then comes along these regional sales managers, these product sales managers who are representing this internal product to the OEM, and they're trying to get you to buy into this technology, the solution and maybe you get a spiff, maybe you get a kicker, if you sell it, but oftentimes, it's not you, you don't even get that right, you don't get any real incentive. And so it's trying to get these sales people to go and sell these products that don't really resonate with them. And they know they're not going to make their numbers, so they're not going to go and focus on them. And that's kind of what we ran into. Because I remember being It was a state and just out of respect for that state, I'm

Phil Zito 13:27
not gonna say the name, but they had a frickin hole in the side of their building. And they were just maintaining stuff so poorly. And we're sitting there trying to sell them analytics. And it was funny to me, I'm like, there's no way these people are going to buy analytics. And I should have, you know, in keeping with my values, I should have been like, you know what, we're wasting our time here. But I was young, dumb, and still tried to sell them on the analytics solution. They had holes in the side of their building that literal two by fours, in actuator or in dampers. I mean, it was bad. So these people didn't need analytics, they needed to fire half their staff and set up actual operational processes. So where am I going with all this, like, with this technology, and these kind of silly stories? Well, if we don't have standards, if we don't have some form of truth, in regards to how we name things, how we install things, how we set up things, how we could figure things, then all the technology in the world is going to be useless. I mean, that's been the problem with a lot of this technology is just the cost of applying. So the places that could use analytics, the places that could use fault detection, the places that could use workflow, automation, all of these places that need it the most are the Least prepared and most expensive to implement. So you go to a 20 year building, it could definitely use analytics got a lot of just skeletons in the closet as far as maintenance goes, but it's gonna cost you more than you're gonna make in savings to go and implement analytics, that's kind of the dirty little secret, right? Is the cost of configuring these buildings, to get them able to execute these technology stacks is just so high. And then you look at the exit the new buildings, and it's like, first off, I mean, right now, if you're in commercial real estate, and you're spending money on new buildings, you know, that's probably pre allocated cash, because right now, it's kind of in a turtle mode, where you just want to suck into your shell and protect yourself. But there are other vertical markets that are expanding and growing like crazy, especially the warehousing and the industrial markets, right? Those are growing like leaps and bounds in the housing market is, you know, as well, right, because we don't have enough housing. But the commercial market, like applying technology just for technology's sake, and yeah, maybe downstream, it's going to protect you, it's going to make things better, it's going to make things kind of just an overall better experience from operating the building, making sure that it building last longer making sure that things are properly maintained, you're saving energy, you're driving comfort all the big buzzwords, right, that's gonna happen, but it's hard to quantify that and see it, so you don't see that technology getting added. So it brings me to think like, as, you know, one of the leading providers of online training for the building automation space, right. I don't think there's anyone else out there that does quite what we do, right? delivering training, within 90 days, or less, completely online, self paced, and delivering results so that people are able to execute work. As you know, the leader of that, I have to ask myself, like, what should I be training people on? And, you know, I get asked that by my team, they're like, you know, should we do this? Should we do that? Should we do an analytics course? Should we do Elana guideline 36? Course? Should we, what should we do next? And I find myself thinking, no, no, we shouldn't. Because, yeah, it's cool to talk about, it's

Phil Zito 17:47
really cool to go spend your marketing dollars on it and put it on LinkedIn. And, you know, buy some sponsored webinars, buy some sponsored podcast episodes, go and you'll know that's happening, right? When you guys and gals see these webinars that are going on these podcasts that are going on these things in our space, you know, people are making money, right? They're making money either on the front end or on the back end somewhere. So whenever you're listening to stuff, and that's why I've been so hesitant about guests, because I know if I bring on a guest, like especially an OEM that's going to financially benefit our business. And so how do I in good conscience, bring someone on and also maintain that vendor agnostic stance? I've been wrestling with that. Maybe I don't maybe I maybe I'm just like, honest and straightforward with you all, like, hey, we've got a brand, we've got an audience, we've got a lot of people who listen to us and respond to us, and we want to monetize that. Because, I mean, why not? Why wouldn't you? But then part of me feels like that's not pure. But if you go through the stuff, right here on when I'm reading through articles, and I'm reading through posts, and I'm like thinking to myself, I see these super techie buildings, and I'm like, that can't be executed in real life. You know, there's marketing dollars buying that there's people dropping their pants to take it at a lowest price they can so that they can market the heck out of that and be like, Look at me, look at what we did and use it as a marquee. I know because we used to do that we used to go and take jobs at a low margin. That way, we could then market that job. And sometimes it's driven by ego. You got executives who are like, well, we're in this city and they're not going to get that job. So do whatever you got to do to win it. So you see that and then it's just man Okay, like I said, stream of consciousness. I don't know where I was going with that. Oh, yeah, Back To The Future of my business. So I find myself saying, you know, could I go sell an analytics course? Yeah, I'm sure I could, I'm sure I could do an analytics course. Matter of fact, we got a customer who wants us to create a custom analytics course for them. And we might do that, because they're willing to pay a lot for it. And as much as I've been like, I don't want to do this course. Because I don't see how I could resell it. They want to spend a lot of money. And so I have to ask myself in my compromising values in the pursuit of money, versus what is going to be best for the business long term, I don't know. But, uh, I find myself looking at, like an analytics course. I'm like, I could make that sounds super cool. I could get with an analytics company and get them to pre sponsor some seats. But then I'm like, is that really the best thing for a customer? Or is it better for a customer for me to just say, hey, go Google, Northwestern University, building automation, standard file, type colon PDF, and take what you want from that standard, because Northwestern has an amazing building automation standard, since CSI format, by the way, so it's already in spec format. So you can save yourself some engineering dollars, and just take what you need from that and apply it to your standard. And in the long run, in my opinion, that would be better off for most customers, they would be better off just creating a naming standard, a graphic standard, sequence standard and operational standard than they would buying analytics or digital twin or, and yes, I know, I'm upsetting all you people who sell that stuff and consult for that stuff. And I'm sorry, I don't think you're bad people, I don't think your product is bad. I just don't think it's the best thing for the majority of the market. And I'm not gonna say it is if I don't believe it is. I mean, it's kind of like how I went out there on BACnet sc and got flamed by a bunch of people. Because I said bagnet sC is a horrible idea. And really, at the end of the day, it's just the OEMs trying to make more money in product sales, they're gonna have to, they're responding to yo 123, loud crying customers who, you know, do not represent the majority of their customer base, who are like we need, you know, NSA grade cyber security and and so now we're gonna go force this.

Phil Zito 22:40
It standard, I'm making air quotes it standard of back net upon everyone. And oh, by the way, we need firmware upgrades, or you need to buy an overlay from people. So you're buying more product, you're getting, you know, having to spend money for a problem that most likely does not affect you. And I know that I'm upsetting product companies, and I'm upsetting, you know, consultants who sell cybersecurity services. And I'm upsetting people who sell software overlays for networks. And I'm gonna get emails about that about Phil, let me bring on why don't you talk to this expert, and they'll change your mind. And I'm like, Look, I don't know everything. I'm sure this person knows more than me. I'm certain of it. But I just don't see it. And having that conversation with your expert to try to change my mind. So I'll come to my audience. So I'll come to you. And I'll tell you something different. This is not gonna happen. Not only do I not have the time, but this is my opinion. And you don't have to agree with my opinion. And it may be not right. It may be wrong. And you know, like, Hey, I totally respect who was this dude? Who went in? And he wrote me. He wrote me a long response to podcast episode 279. You know what, I'm actually going to read it to you. Because you know what? He actually took the time to write this. He took the time to say, you know what, I don't agree with you. And that's cool. You know, he wrote, I'm gonna read the whole thing to you. And some of you may be like, Oh, man, I don't want to hear this whole thing, but I'm gonna read it. I'm gonna give you my thoughts. He said, this is from Andrew. So thanks for making the episode. We need this conversation in our industry. And while I disagree with you, it's great to have opinions. Exactly an opinion, right? I'm not the gospel. Anyone who tells you stuff. Unless it's like one plus one. There's no opinion to that. One plus one is two. I don't care what you believe is two. But he said he agrees on the back net se thing right? Because I was bashing se like I normally do. I said it, IT security one on one is physical security, right? And that's what I say is for most customers. physical security is the primary thing. And then administrative security changing passwords stuff like that. So he said, I grew up back in that se thing IT security one on one is physical security. Don't let anyone near your network. If someone can access your space and unchallenged get into the network, you have bigger problems, right? If I wanted to hack the building, the weakest point in my opinion is like the CCTV system, usually like POV on the outside is like, grab a cherry picker and go to the CCTV service and, you know, install a hub and an access point and hack the network from the car park. Yeah, right. Why not? He said, but then the BBs industry needs to look in the mirror at this one, like you got to show Dan i O, which shows exposed 47 808 ports all over the world, right? A bunch of and that's back net UDP 47 808. And we've been leaving those unlocked. No wonder it people grill us when we ask for IP addresses. Well, that's just stupidity. Right? That's just people either being stupid. And stupid is not the right word. ignorant. That's ignorance, people being ignorant to a problem. And, you know, should we use technology to solve ignorance? Or should we educate people to solve ignorance? There's a lot of people who believe we should use technology to solve ignorance, I believe we should educate people to solve ignorance. So, you know, and I will say this, and not a lot of people agree with me, sometimes really doesn't matter if you're building automation systems expose to the world. I mean, if it's running an office building, and it's like one Jace exposed to an office exposed to the internet. So what I mean, really, it's not that big of a deal. On the scheme of things he did say he wanted to get in why he thinks IP is better than mstp. And he said, He's not from the US. So that will have some bearing on it. Cost cost and more cost. So I just want to be clear, I never said mstp is better than IP, or IP is better than mstp. I hope I didn't, I don't think I did. I said IP is good in my preferred method for air handling controllers, large built up air handlers, rooftops, chilled water plants, etc. I do not feel it's best for Ms or for

Phil Zito 27:42
terminal units, due to just the limitations of Ethernet and the power issue I mentioned in the podcast, etc. But he talks about the cost of Belden being way more right, a twisted pair or sorry, a shielded twisted pair 20 to three basically being more than cat six, which sometimes is true. Sometimes it's not. It depends where you buy rs 45 ip routers are three times the price of a basic 48 port switch. I guess. I guess they are depending on what you do. If you're like most customers, you're using a Cisco managed layer two switch and in which case rs 45 to IP routers are, in my knowledge not more expensive than a managed switch. But an unmanaged switch. Yeah, absolutely more expensive than an unmanaged switch. But in my opinion, if you're going to be playing in the Big Boy IP world, you should be using managed switches. 48 485 routers are unsecure. That is true. They are unsecure. But then that comes back to my five sec thing. Then he gets into some stuff about you know, not having seen an mstp trunk with more than 30 nodes. That isn't a hot mess and controllers. Controls contractors underestimate the amount of traffic they want to put on a network and overload it. And yes, you can put 45 units on on a single switch. Yes, you can. So let's talk about that. Just because people are ignorant and do not have the pride in properly wiring up or do not have the education properly wiring up an mstp trunk does not mean rs 45 is bad, or that it doesn't work right. Or that it's a poor implementation. The issue is that people have not been properly trained. And of course, I'm biased because I run a training business. We've got to train them, train them all send them all to us, you know, right but but he is right you can put 45 units on a single switch. Now. One of the things I do like that he mentions you Using a different network cable and the BMS panel to the main trunk unterminated cables not connect shields, long tails on the shield touching the ground and correct MAC addresses cross polarity. temperamental routers have all of those, except for temporary mental routers. Those are all improper installation. So in my opinion, that's training. And then we look at IP troubleshooting. Yeah, he says, have a CAT cable tester crimping tool, cut off some ends, test it out, run it and figure out and yeah, it is easier to test IP, both physically and logically if you're trained on IP, in my opinion. But you implement mstp, right, you maintain it, it tends to run forever. Spanning Tree, right, he talks about using says it's a best practice to not use the same switch from start and end point. Yeah, in some cases, in other cases, I would disagree with you. So the philosophy is that if one switch goes down, and that's the switch that dies and you lose your root bridge, for your spanning tree, then it would switch to the other switch. This is assuming that you have planes between the switches. And also, I don't know how you do that with an unmanaged switch. I don't know how you do Spanning Tree Protocol with an unmanaged switch. There may be some out there that do that I honestly haven't researched that. So I'd have to dig into it. talks about speed for terminal units. I agree that speed is important. He talks about air being the least efficient method of cooling or heating the space definitely. And there's so many freaking people who don't understand that it's amazing. They don't understand that air holds less be to use than water and holds less be to use than steam. So he says the VIP box needs all the help it can get supply pressure reset could be more defined close to optimum if we pull the units faster symbol valve positions. But and he says this isn't the real reason. And I'm glad he says that because I wouldn't agree with his statement right there. I think we pull them plenty fast enough with mstp.

Phil Zito 32:16
He talks about exponential data growth. Now if you look at devices like AC DC motors, intelligent valves and actuators, intelligent peripherals, all the data they can deliver Nope, this actually is a valid argument. You know, like the Malema energy valve things like this. It's important. I agree. Um, that being said, the data that these devices will deliver can't really be handled by mstp. He's absolutely right. Not only due to bandwidth, but just due to how layer two communications and token communications work, it just wouldn't work. problem with this is they're not being put on enough jobs yet. They don't have enough market penetration. And you could argue that this is the chicken versus the egg. Right, you could say that the issue, the reason we don't have enough penetration with these technologies, is due to us. And I'm just realizing it's like 318, my kids are probably going to run into the house screaming and yelling, and just a little bit. But one of the reasons we don't have these technologies. And as a matter of fact, I'm gonna pause this and text my daughter to say, Hey, be quiet when you come in. Like I said, you could argue the reason you don't have these technologies, is because we're still using mstp. And if we were using IP, you'd use these technologies. And that would be a valid argument. But then you could also argue that we're not going to use IP, because we're not, or we're, Yeah, something like that. My brain is tired. So why should system integrators care? It'll make their service business more profitable, either through energy saving services or predictive maintenance, fewer attacks, managing more buildings means more money in the bank, and can use the extra margin to be more competitive and win more work. Yeah, I agree. I do agree with you. So that's where the kinda pessimistic side of me comes out. I do agree that IP, specifically BACnet IP is better in almost every way. I also do being a realist realize the limitations we have in our industry from an understanding of like, what a basic IP addresses basic networking fundamentals. So I have to ask myself, like, should that be an excuse for us to not implement something that is better? I mean, costs are kind of parody. It used to be that costs were a big contributing factor to this, but costs really aren't the contributing factor anymore. Now More. Do you have the technical ability to implement? So I'm not sure? That's a good question. All right. So, like I said, My kids are gonna be home in a little bit. And it's been 35 minutes of rambling. I hope you like this. Hopefully, maybe you did. Maybe you're like, this is a stupidest idea you've ever done, Phil, don't ever do one of these again, And hey, if that's your thoughts, I welcome them. Please let me know. If you all do like the random thoughts of Phil, and you want me to kind of just let you behind the curtain into my world and into my brain? Let me know. And I'll maybe do some more of these maybe like once every three months or something. So that being said, Thanks a ton for being here. I'll see you all on Friday. We'll actually do something on a you know, more structured building automation topic, then just whatever randomly pops in Phil's head. Thanks for being here. Look forward to talking to you. Take care.

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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