Clockworks Joins the Studio Live Stage at Realcomm IBCON

November 14, 2022

Alex Grace, VP of Business Development at Clockworks Analytics, recently joined Joe Aamidor of Aamidor Consulting on the Realcomm IBCON Studio Live stage to talk about Clockworks’ growth, fault detection and diagnostics, and leveraging building analytics to drive a more proactive facilities maintenance strategy.

Watch the video, or read the full interview transcript below.


Realcomm IBCON Studio Live with Clockworks Analytics

Venu: Realcomm IBCON Studio Live Stage
Host: Joe Aamidor, Aamidor Consulting
Interviewee: Alex Grace, Clockworks Analytics

Joe: Welcome to Realcomm Live. We’re continuing our live interviews. I’m joined by Alex Grace of Clockworks Analytics. I’m Joe Aamidor of Aamidor consulting. I do a lot of work in the smart building space with product market strategy. Alex, welcome.

Alex: Thank you. Great to be with you, Joe

Joe: I guess it has been eight months since our last one. Why don’t you start with just a quick introduction and maybe just tell us a little bit about Clockworks?

Alex: Yeah, sure thing. I’m the Vice President of Sales and Business Development for Clockwork Analytics. I’ve been with the company for nine years now. So. very close to the early days when the company was founded out of MIT. The founders did PhDs in building science and I came aboard pretty close to the beginning there to start scaling the program.

Joe: Yeah, I think I first met Nick—one of the co-founders and CEO—10, 11, 12 years ago actually at a Realcomm. I was just really impressed and a lot of my colleagues were really impressed. And it’s been great to see your growth over the years within fault detection and diagnostics. That’s a term that I know means a lot in detail to me, and probably to you. But it can be kind of a nebulous term. So, maybe just start with how you think of fault detection and what is Clockworks’ core value proposition? Help to differentiate a little bit.

Alex: Absolutely, happy to. It’s true, Clockworks has been around in the world of fault detection and diagnostics for a while and we talk a lot about that second “D”. So lets break that down real quick. A lot of people running buildings are familiar with Building Automation System alarms, right? Temperature is too high. Trigger an alarm. And we have to react. There’s a lot of firefighting that goes into alarm management.

And then when we get into Fault Detection, that’s the next level, where we’re starting to pick up more faults that are current in the building. But you tend to have a laundry list of faults in the same way that you have a laundry list of alarms. There’s just so many problems happening in buildings. And then you really need an engineer, someone skilled that can take that list of faults and really dive into it and understand how the things are connected.

When we start talking about Fault Detection and Diagnostics, we’re talking about getting to the root cause of the problem. So, not just triggering a laundry list of faults, but actually triggering them in a way that they’re rolled up together. And that the interrelated nature of them is collective in a whole. And those related faults are put together into a single core diagnostic with a detailed problem/cause/solution. Which means getting to the root cause of the problem faster and fundamentally spending less time troubleshooting, more time fixing.

Joe: Yeah, that makes sense. I know. I mean, alarms. If you’re an engineer of a building, you get an alarm that might just say it’s not the right temperature. It’s like, great. But across millions of square feet, you’re going to get a lot of alarms. At some point, you start ignoring them. One challenge that I hear you saying is if you’re just getting faults, that basically tells you the same thing—or maybe slightly deeper. There is a fault in this room. That almost could become just the next version of an alarm where it gets ignored.

Alex: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a fine line between advanced alarming and fault detection. But once you add that diagnostics layer, that second “D,” now you’re cutting through a lot of noise. You’re saying, fundamentally, “If I’m running a building, what do I want to know?” You know, we’ve never met a facilities team that’s looking for another to-do list. We’ve also never met a facilities team that feels that they’re not short staffed. So, the reality is it’s getting harder and harder.

There are interesting demographic trends happening as well. More people are retiring. The war for talent when it comes to people that really understand the technical systems in buildings is a big topic. So, more and more there’s a need for technology to help people say, “Look, what are my top priorities?” And if you’re running a building to say, “Do I know that my people are working on those top priorities every single day?” And then how do you define priority? What is it costing us? What’s the impact from a risk perspective—meaning threatening the health of my equipment? And what’s the impact to the comfort of building occupants? Can I avoid hot and cold calls by knowing where the problems are beforehand? And there is the big topic of indoor air quality as well. Can I pick up on my ventilation issues and be able to make sure that my building is performing the way I want it to?

Joe: Right it’s so funny. About 10-12 years ago, I remember a lot of the discussion was around ‘I don’t need software because I have staff that does that.’ And I like the staff. I want to retain the staff. And now it’s very much flipped to ‘I don’t have enough staff to do what I need to do.’ And, oh, this can augment my labor. Which I think is a good thing. That’s what we want to see because we’re always going to have people running buildings. I just think what they do might be more data driven, a higher value of tasks.

Alex: That’s right. That’s totally true. It’s interesting, I almost forgot. It’s like 10 years ago, there was kind of a threatening feeling. Technology is coming in. I don’t know if I want to try this technology. The reality is, there are always more problems in a building then there are people to address them. No matter what. That’s always been the case and being able to identify where those are is critical. And again, what we hear consistently is that teams want to spend less time troubleshooting and more time fixing.

Break that down and think about a preventative maintenance program. So, you’re regularly doing preventative maintenance on equipment. But, for example, no one’s doing preventive maintenance on every VAV box in a building, right? So how do you know where those problems are in a proactive manner? Because you’re not going to check all of them all the time. Some of our clients say having Clockworks’ fault detection and diagnostics is like having a room full of engineers that don’t sleep. That don’t take bathroom breaks. That are constantly telling them where their highest priority issues are so that they can get ahead of them. I like how someone phrased it to us recently. They said, “You know, we’re in the facilities world. We’re constantly looking in the rearview mirror. Clockworks allows us to look through the front windshield.”

“Some of our clients say having Clockworks is like having a room full of engineers that don’t sleep. That don’t take bathroom breaks. That are constantly telling them where their highest priority issues are so that they can get ahead of them.”

Joe: Yeah that’s a good way to think about it as well. It seems like you’ve also, with your 10+ years in the market, been able to scale in individual accounts quite significantly. And that probably informs a lot of the value propositions that you just described. But it also is to some degree a contrast with this market. They’ve talked about it here at Realcomm. I think 140 vendors were here last year, which was a smaller show. There’s been an explosion of vendors, but sometimes those are very early stage vendors. So, maybe we could break it up from a technology and people point of view. From a technology point of view, what are some of the specifics within Clockworks that have allowed you to scale?

Alex: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, really interesting. I mean, right now we’re monitoring about 450 million square feet. That’s across over 320,000 mechanical assets—an asset being a chiller or a pump, a boiler, an air handling unit, a VAV box. And that’s in about 30 countries. So, we do have some experience doing this. The other number that’s really important for us is engagement and action. We’ve had over 30,000 tasks completed within Clockworks. That means a technician actually went to fix a problem because Clockworks identified that problem. They’re able to get benefits as a result when it comes to avoiding equipment failure, avoiding downtime, saving energy, improving comfort.

So, how have we been able to do that from a scaling perspective? On the tech side, the most important thing is the core information model that you’re working with. What makes Clockworks extremely unique is that we have this centralized information model. And what does that mean? It means that we really represent physical assets in a digital way. Another way to think about it would be a digital twin without the 3D model. Without the 3D layer. So, what is all the information that you need to have in order to understand how the building equipment and systems are supposed to function? Clockwork runs in that central way. One core information model, one core set of expert systems—which is an early form of A.I., it’s a form of diagnostics that incorporates human knowledge, so different than machine learning—and then and then applying that globally.

So, that’s on the tech side that’s really important. Having a scalable approach to not have to do custom coding and not have information silos on each building.

Joe: Whereas the building automation systems are already that siloed information. So, across a campus, which if it’s a University campus, they might have multiple building automation systems at individual buildings. So you’re unlocking—”unlocking” is maybe the term of the day—the information in those silos.

Alex: That’s right. Bringing it to that central cloud layer where you can run diagnostics in a uniform way.

Joe: And then on the people side, there’s being able to help the transition and onboard the new technology, which is sometimes overlooked. If you do things as a facility manager or a building engineer a certain way, it may be hard just to do it differently. Even if the new way, the data driven way is a better way of doing things. But I would imagine you have a lot of experience helping organizations transition in that way as well, right?

Alex: Yeah, we do. The people side is obviously critical when it comes to our world. With Clockworks and fault detection and diagnostics, you’re constantly identifying where the problems are. If no one takes that information and fixes it or fundamentally puts it into a workflow, then we haven’t accomplished anything. That’s why that 30,000 completed task number is so important to us. So, we end up kind of almost taking on a little bit of a management consulting role to look at what the existing workflow is and how work moves through this facilities organization and how do we align with that as much as possible?

One of the things that we see is that from an owner perspective, if you see this world of diagnostics and Clockworks as a separate program, as a new program, as an innovation program, it’s really hard to then build that into your core operation, right? So, we try to be as close to the core operation as possible. Yes, we identify a lot of optimization opportunities, a lot of chances to save energy, a lot of really interesting things. But we also identify a lot of leaking valves, stuck dampers, broken sensors. This is blocking and tackling from a maintenance perspective that maintenance teams are already having to deal with every single day. So, the closer we can align with how do you do those things now, and how do we fit into your core processes, the better the results will be long-term.

Joe: Yeah, it seems like the ROI is really multifaceted. I tend to advise clients that the energy savings is an easy ROI to figure out because you’re metering your energy. You get a bill, it has dollar amount on it, you can track the savings and that’s valid. I think energy savings is a part of the ROI, but there’s a lot of other aspects of ROI and you kind of generally touched on them. Maybe there’s more to share on being able to avoid a leak that can keep somebody in their space. Whereas if there’s a very large leak, the water damage might kick them out for a while.

Alex: That’s right. I mean, on the energy side, the ROI is very well established now with the Smart Energy Analytics Campaign from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. But we’re finding those broader values when it comes to risk management, to be increasingly important for a lot of our clients. If we can avoid downtime, if it’s a critical site or if they can avoid people from complaining, that’s a big deal for their business.

And then indoor air quality has also been an important issue, especially since COVID. Being able to really validate that the building is performing as required. We asked a fundamental question over the last couple of years, do you know where all your stuck outdoor air dampers are? What that means is, you’ve got no fresh air coming into the building, right? So, if you’re investing in lots of other tech around indoor air quality and sensing and various things, fantastic. Please do it. But if you don’t know that you have buildings where there’s no outdoor air coming in, that’s a real problem.

Joe: Yeah Yeah. I think being able to actually close the loop is to some degree what I hear you saying. Being able to quantify the savings across multiple facets, but also being able to close the loop of going from just we are tracking some data and identifying a problem to we’re actually helping you identify that it’s been resolved.

Alex: That’s true. Yeah Yeah.

Joe: So I think we’re about ready to wrap up. Alex, it’s been a pleasure to see you be able to share the stage with you and talk a little bit about Clockworks and talk a little bit about Realcomm and what’s happening in the industry. I think from there, we’ll close it out. And Thanks again.

Alex: Appreciate it, Joe. Thank you.

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