IBM's 'Building Whisperer' on the future of smart buildings

Nature of Business Radio

IBM's 'Building Whisperer' on the future of smart buildings

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

He is on a mission to take data streaming in from the physical world and help all of us live in a more sustainable and efficient way.

At IBM, they call Dave Bartlett the "Building Whisperer."

I have been looking forward to speaking with Bartlett for some time. He told me about some of his incredibly impactful efforts with IBM's Smarter Planet campaign, why he is so optimistic about his work and what the future holds for smart buildings and cities.

In our conversation, Bartlett emphasized that smart buildings and cities are well beyond what most people think of as green. It is really about providing optimal occupancy services in a reliable and more sustainable manner, he says.

"Ultimately, if our buildings aren't maintaining a safer, more secure and productive workplace, then it doesn't matter how much technology you fill with them," he says. "If people aren't seeing a difference in their quality of life, productivity, health and safety within the building and the environment, is it really smarter?"

Bartlett likes to think about buildings as animate objects. To him, they are animate objects with respiratory systems, or buildings with lungs. They are in place, he explains, to provide a healthy environment for people.

"If you are aware of the oxygen and CO2 levels much like an organism, then you are going to exchange air when it is really important to maintain that healthy environment," he says. "If you are doing it too often, you are just wasting a lot of energy, just like you are breathing way too fast and too hard for what you need to do at the resting state. If you aren't doing exchange enough, then you are creating an unhealthy environment."

What do we really do with all that data out there? How do we sense of it and make it work for all of us? Bartlett believes we have an unprecedented opportunity to listen to the data, to understand it, run analytics on it and get deeper insight on it. It's an unprecedented opportunity for transformation that we have never had before in how we run our built environment in a more efficient, task-oriented manner.

"The idea is that if we holistically listen to a building," he says, "we can heal it of its energy- and water-wasting ways."

The principal challenge, he points out, is that technology won't cut it alone. We the people have to get behind it. Although the opportunity is in front of us to transform the way we interact with buildings, it will require a major paradigm shift, a new way to think about the built environment that needs to be embraced with all of the possibilities.

With people like Bartlett leading the charge, we have a real shot.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.