3 things I learned about convergence at VERGE

When my colleagues and I at GreenBiz Group first began talking about VERGE, it was all about tech: the convergence of energy, information, building and transportation technologies, and how their mash-up was destined to transform companies, cities, and society, with huge implications for sustainability. And that worldview makes sense: VERGE is about what happens when technologies collide to create a vast playing field for potentially game-changing innovation.

But, as I learned over the past year, and especially over our three-day VERGE DC event last week, all that technology means little without some key ingredients -- namely, visionary people with good ideas working in the spirit of collaboration.

That was my takeaway after listening to more than 80 speakers in three dozen or so sessions talk about convergence -- not to mention the dozens of hallway and mealtime conversations in which I partook. It was, all told, a mind-expanding, inspiring and hopeful experience.

As I said, I came to realize that the technology piece is only the starting point for leveraging the full potential of convergence. There are three other key pieces. Let me break it down:

1. Convergence begins with collaboration. This may seem axiomatic: Pretty much all business involves people working together. In the case of VERGE, it requires doing so in new and often different configurations, sometimes with unlikely or unexpected allies.

At VERGE DC, we had an insightful conversation between the heads of real estate at Google and the U.S. Department of Defense. (Rob Watson, who moderated the conversation, dubbed it the "search and destroy" session.) Google and DOD -- innovative behemoths both -- spend vast sums on energy and are investing heavily in efficiency as well as new technologies to reduce that sum: renewables, microgrids, storage, and more. "We see the convergence of a huge energy demand with 200 years of technological innovation," said deputy undersecretary of defense Dorothy Robyn.

Can these two giants collaborate on energy-saving solutions? They would do well to find ways to share learnings and best practices -- not just with each other but with other large institutional energy buyers.

Collaboration is key to breaking through barriers that sometimes come with convergence. Dan Probst, chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services for Jones Lang LaSalle, talked about the nine years it took to release the final standard for communication protocols for sharing building performance information. "It took a new wave of controls companies to create products that translate data from these towers of Babel into a common language," he said.