Getting smart about buildings

An interview with Anant Maheshwari, President, Honeywell India

Anant Maheshwari

A Fortune 100 company that is present in more than 50 cities with seven manufacturing facilities and five engineering centres in India, Honeywell’s businesses broadly span aerospace and transportation, automation and control and performance materials and technologies. With a focus on connected buildings, homes, safety of workers and industrial facilities, it recently released a Smart Building Score to rate the safety of different types of buildings across India. Results were nothing short of interesting, says its India President ANANT MAHESHWARI, in a conversation with BWSC. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement surrounding the Smart Cities Mission in India, offering a host of possibilities for the private sector. How does Honeywell view this opportunity? All of our businesses participate in making urban life smarter but I feel we need to move away from talking only about infrastructure when it comes to smart cities. From smarter airports to better urban transport planning, we are present across the board in transportation, be it setting up of control systems for metros or train stations or making energy-efficient vehicles with turbo chargers that can save roughly 20-40 percent of fuel. Apart from performance ma­terials, the areas where we are most visible to our customers are smart buildings and smart homes as well as in the area of connected workers and industrial facilities. What would you say has perhaps been the most exciting change in the past few years, as far as the Indian economy is concerned? If you just take the overall macro view, I think we are in a very good place globally, in terms of growth projec­tions vis-à-vis other economies that India normally gets compared to. Projecting over 7-8 percent growth for the next five to ten years, you’re definitely positioned to get a lot of attention from around the world. China will continue to grow in abso­lute terms more than India but the percentage growth rates are slowing down. It’s a good place to be! From an Indian point of view, I think the fact that such growth is accepted as a very good thing in all sections of society, and not just in the business community, has also made the political establishment under­stand the need to promote it. Such momentum is very positive. There is a problem in the way that infra­structure is either created or not created in India. Given the task at hand, where do you see cities going from here? It’s a given fact that infrastructure in our urban spaces is deficient. I ap­preciate the renewed focus of both the central and state governments on ur­ban infrastructure in the form of new initiatives like the 100 Smart Cities and AMRUT initiatives. Developing Greenfield cities may be more expen­sive, in terms of the capital invest­ments. Still, it is easier to do because you have a clean sheet to work with but we do need a lot of transformation of existing capabilities in cities. That’s where we started from, a year ago, in our mission of looking at urban spaces where human beings spend most of their time – in build­ings, be it schools, offices, homes or public places like malls or hospitals and transportation hubs like airports, bus or metro stations. We’re in a building for a majority of our 24-hour days. Thus, if we are able to make these buildings smarter, we can truly make our lives smarter as well. Also, retrofitting buildings is much more tangible and easy to do in a shorter amount of time, with the help of both government and private in­vestment. You can fix roads and basic city infrastructure or clean up the air but if you are still spending about 80 percent of your time in buildings that don’t even get a good mobile signal, your quality of life will still not be good. What is the Honeywell Smart Building Score and how do different buildings fare under it? Soon after the government an­nounced the smart cities initiative, one of our first instincts was to look at how smart our buildings were, given that definitions of the same vary around the world. The only area where this was consistent, with tangible impact, was in the green areas around a building, seen via the prism of the green building councils or other initiatives. The simple way in which this worked was the direct translation of ‘green’ into rupees and dollars at the end of the day. For example, via energy savings. There are definite benefits of going green. We also realised that smartness is not just about being green but also about being safe and productive and that the body of knowledge and power that exists behind ‘green’ does not ex­ist behind safe and productive. That’s when we commissioned a research, got Ernst & Young on board, who then extensively interviewed people across the entire value chain for buildings to finally come up with the Smart Building Score construct after about three months of work. What were some of the key takeaways? A score is only good once applied, so we commissioned a research with IMRB to apply this score to 2000 buildings across eight Indian cities and across ten verticals to measure the smartness of buildings around the country. While some of the results were expected, others were very in­teresting. We found that the average smartness of buildings in India is low, and their green score is much higher than their safe score. In general, there’s greater focus on green and energy efficient buildings and not so much on safe and produc­tive ones. Secondly, there’s not that big a difference between government/ public buildings and private ones, the latter are only marginally smarter. Thirdly, if you really look at these ver­ticals, airports and hotels are much smarter than educational institutes, while residential buildings are the least smart. We also found that com­mon social spaces are not that smart either. The research itself has given us more questions as we move forward. Building safety has many facets, each one that impacts our lives in one way or another. Your thoughts on the Smart Cities initiative? I think I would say that broadly we’re moving in the right direction but the devil is in the details. Firstly, I think we should be clear that this is not just a central government initiative; it rests on states and municipal admin­istrations. Secondly, it can’t be just public, it has to be public and private. We need the right enabling mecha­nisms on these two very important constructs. I think cities competing with each other is a great idea. We also need to recognise that our cities cater to a lot of people with both space and capital constraints so we must evolve solutions that truly fit our needs rather than just ‘plug and play’ or ‘copy and paste’ models of what may have worked elsewhere.