In technology, as with anything that needs to be designed, it is all too easy to mistake addition for enhancement. Adding features to a tool seems like it would increase its utility. Often, the opposite is true. The new elements often subtract from the tool’s main purpose. French writer and early aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery has been quoted by many modern designers for his words: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
This is a bit of a idealistic over-simplification. Some problems are inherently complicated and need multi-faceted solutions. But, the important lesson that this school of thought teaches is to constantly reevaluate and prioritize the most critical components of a process or object.
It is this mentality that Jon Bolen of Entouch Controls think will eventually change the built world. His company builds customized IoT software controls that help multi-site restaurants, retailers and property managers. “Connectivity and control means something different to each occupier, facility manager and portfolio manager,” he said speaking at a recent CREtech LIVE Future of Work event.
Rather than creating as complex of a dashboard as possible, he suggests that companies ask themselves what are the most important factors of a building’s success and what are the best metrics to track them.
One great example he offered of simplification comes from a company not know for innovation. Entouch recently worked with children’s entertainment focused restaurant Chuck E’ Cheese. “They didn’t come to us and say, ‘we want to change the way we run our locations,’” Jon explained. Instead they identified that they have higher than normal HVAC expenses due to the amount of computers and equipment they run and decided that that was a place to focus.
Here is what focusing on an identifiable problem like heating and cooling and applying technology did for everyone’s favorite kid’s gaming center:
When it comes to the process of analyzation, simplification comes in the form of identifying the most important inputs. One of the most famous examples of this was told by Michael Lewis in his book, along with the subsequent movie, Money Ball. The story is of how Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane reexamined player selection in Major League Baseball. Even though baseball is a sport built on statistics, finding talent is a nuanced process. Teams had always relied on the gut instincts of some of the veteran insiders.
Billy made the unpopular decision to take a more quantitative approach. In doing so he found a General Manager named Peter Brand that suggested a better way. It was his hypothesis that a couple of key metrics, on-base and slugging percentage to be exact, are the most correlated to winning baseball games. Together they created a team that was able to compete with rivals who paid multiple times what the A’s did for their roster. Doing so made waves big enough to reverberate throughout the baseball world and forever changed the recruitment process.
Once one piece of a complex problem is thoroughly investigated, it can lead to even more insights. Putting in smart controls in a building for something like heating and cooling can achieve the obvious: reduce the energy use for the system. But as Entouch is keen to point out, this is only the start to how technology can help. Once comprehensive data is collected then important initiatives like predictive maintenance and strategic capital spending. This can only be done by truly focusing on one aspect of a building’s inputs.
Simplifying by focusing on what is truly important should be applied to tech adoption. All too often I have seen companies that become overwhelmed by trying to roll out too big of a tech initiative. They can start seeing negative feedback and reduced returns as their team struggles to figure out how to deploy an entirely new toolbox worth of solutions.
As Jon said in his parting words, “The people that say ‘what we got to do is everything right now’, that is the first statement in a project that never gets done.” Instead, they should focus on what is the most critical part and take on technology upgrades using manageable steps.