Beyond Buildings and “Rurality”

– Is Rural the new Reality?

hanks to Ken Sinclair, Rick LeBlanc, Rick Rolston, Therese Sullivan and Brad White for inspiration and comments in an email conversation. YOU are the inspiration! (Please click the link and listen to the sone when reading the article for some added ambience).


The head of research here in Sweden from the largest PM company in the Nordic said that more people were moving to Stockholm from abroad than it was internally in Sweden. Swedes are moving away from the city out into the suburbs or rural areas. This was even before COVID, whereas now, I predict this will increase.

Location, location, location, in the big cities will matter some, but they probably will not drive innovation. The big player HQs might, but not the city as a whole. It might be different in the US, but still, more people will move domestically from silicon-valley type settings to more suburbs, rural areas, keeping most of the salary if not all, but still working from wherever. The companies that are 3D-printing houses, and building smart from the start could buy up some land in rural areas, develop properties, and make a… living? 🙂


i. The background for my new newsletter/podcast series that should come out in June if all goes well – Beyond Buildings.

The semi-old-new-not-so-normal? Some thoughts.
Routine will soon enough set in and that a lot of things will go back to some kind of normal. But, the workforce, the global landscape, government income, all these things will change a lot, and the US especially has a lot to do in comparison to most countries around the world, which might drive innovation even faster than other places.

Will the gap between the poor and the rich increase or decrease?

  • There is a lot to be said about the Covid-response and differences to Sweden and the US, but I don’t want to get into politics. Personally, I dislike the stance Sweden took/did not take, sacrificing the lives of the people who built this country, but some other aspects have been… Okay.
  • Buildings will become more proactive, predictive, and possibly also prescriptive once the data-impact loop has settled in where people understand what the data is telling them, and are able to take action on it.

Industry 4.0
I am involved in a possible new build of a factory here in Sweden where it seems that industrial players also want to do more with less (who doesn’t?). Partly because they want to, but most importantly, because they have to, where energy savings will be a bonus for trying to get the building in shape. The classic one today is the gap between the production line digitization and everything else, including the HVAC side, but also MES systems in general and how to expand digital maturity seamlessly.

The new build will definitely be building the digital twin first, and then the building will come. Then in 3 years, when they will actually build it, they’ll probably 3D print it, build it Smart from Start, and have it connected throughout the company, the supply chain, making the building TRULY aware of what it needs to be aware of. And not only the building, but the people in it.

Touchless and hospitals

  • When talking about touch-less interfaces, that can also mean voice, which is rather simple to do. I’ve been talking to some specialist companies in the field, Talkamatic, which states, “Dialogue first, user firstest.” Could/should be an alternative to other mechanical approaches.
  • I also recently got in touch with some people responsible for FM in hospitals as well as tech vendors providing digital twin connectivity through and through not only making the building smarter, but also predicting, preventing, and reducing the number of lives lost, through a holistic view of what’s going on. Post-COVID compliancy will be at the forefront in most areas, I assume, but not really Sweden. Here, no one really cares.

Some of the questions I still see
Ecosystem thinking is beginning for real, where vendors, customers (especially customers) understand that no one solution can do it all.

But, there are a lot of questions right now. Where the most obvious ones are, how do we start? And if companies have started, how do we continue? And if they have continued, how do we measure success? And some other questions below.

  • What is the digital maturity now – what is the “now situation in general” of a building?
  • People are trying to throw tech at problems they don’t know enough about.
  • What is it that they want to achieve?
  • How far should we take it?
  • What are the first steps?
  • How to avoid vendor lock-in?
  • How do we integrate the thermal, the IoT, the HVAC/BMS, classic IT/OT/IoT conversion with sensors, etc.?
  • What does it mean for us as a company in our field _____?
  • If wireless, what to choose?

And for the more mature ones, what does the data strategy look like, security aspects, legal, regulatory, edge and cloud in a hybrid approach, distributed intelligence, harmonization platforms, REAL digital twins, and again, an understanding that the ecosystem play is the way to go and that hardware needs to be commoditized where sw and hw need to be separated, where control strategies aren’t held hostage by vendors.

The Trillion Dollar opportunity

Four years ago, the legendary rocket-scientise, energy expert, overall snake oil advisory thought leader – Brad White wrote this seminal article below. You could see it was a while ago because his hair was short and not the Kurt Cobain-esque, statuesque energy guru that he is today.

Is the Trillion Dollar Opportunity here now? Well, yeah, it’s always been here. BUT, will someone grab this opportunity by the forelock, and go after it?

YES! Probably everyone! Is it happening right now? Yes, most likely! Wellbeing, health, people health, building health, all of this will be in focus, where energy savings, as well as lower maintenance costs, will be the added bonus of turning dumb buildings into smart buildings and creating future-ready facilities.

The Trillion Dollar Opportunity in Transforming Existing Buildings  

Future-ready facilities

will definitely be the norm, and my thoughts are that the workplace side, co-working stuff (we-work but for real) will drive innovation in a smart “large” town kind of way, and not so much the big cities. They are still extremely complex where People, processes, existing systems, culture, hierarchy stand in the way of doing something fast, that works where people, companies, can reap intended benefits.

The definition of done and business models is also not there yet. I was in a Smart City seminar this morning, and they deemed that the first cycle was ready when everything was “in place.”

…. in place of what? Sensors sending data to somewhere? Is just open APIs enough? Or should someone be able to make sense of the data and to turn it into information? Or that information into insight? Or that insight into some action? And for that action to have been measured to some impact? What’s the definition of done?

And also, what’s the business model for companies providing solutions? Capex or Opex? Can they be flexible? How proven is cutting edge? And how obsolete is proven?

To bike or not to bike
 Will more people take the bike? Will more people walk? Possibly. But still, the US seems to be built for cars. And there are predictions that the COVID craze will lead to less public transport, for obvious reasons of social distancing etc. Although, when unemployment seems to rise, the question is if people can afford to spend. Will car-sharing improve? Doubtful again in regard to contact tracing.

Biking? Possibly. Maybe invest in an electric bike, leasing something, and if you get it before the first of July, we’ll through in some high-velocity safety masks as well. Guaranteed to stop bugs coming your way – Corona-and-the traditional ones.

One thing is for sure; the companies not having a strategy will be left by the wayside because buildings are becoming more and more part of a Smart City context. Luckily, I help companies find their role in a Smart City context, so just reach out if you need any help!

Those are my thoughts right now, definitely subject to change so ask me again next week. 🙂

/The (Swedish) Smart City Shaper – Reshaping cities for future generations

Nicolas Waern

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