Run Your Building From The Coffee Shop: A Conversation With Honeywell Forge’s David Trice

By Patrick Moorhead - January 25, 2021
The Building of The Future

One thing that the average office worker probably rarely, if ever, thinks about is how much time, energy and resources it takes to simply keep their building running. From HVAC systems to lighting to security, there are many crucial, behind-the-scenes assets and operations we tend to take for granted. That list of infrastructure grows even larger and more complicated when you move into the realm of manufacturing and supply chain work sites, where predictive maintenance practices are crucial to avoiding a costly day of lost work. Also often taken for granted is the personnel responsible for keeping all these processes and equipment up and running—floor managers, site leaders, engineers of all stripes. As the concept of digital transformation becomes more mainstream, and businesses are looking to automate and simplify their day-to-day business operations, why not include building management in the reimagining? What might the office building, manufacturing facility or warehouse of the future look like? 

As far as next-generation building management goes, the company I believe is taking a leading role in it is Honeywell. While it is perhaps known best for its residential thermostats, the multinational conglomerate is a player in many different, perhaps surprising, areas—from aerospace, to workplace safety and productivity solutions, to quantum computing (see my recent write-up on that topic here). But we're not here to talk about that today—we're here to talk about buildings. Honeywell Forge is Honeywell's EPM, or Enterprise Performance Management, solution, which we will define further in this column. I recently got the chance to speak with David Trice, Honeywell Forge's Chief Product Officer. Here are some of my takeaways from the interview.

Meet David Trice

Trice got his start at Honeywell as GM of its Connected Buildings unit. According to him, this was where and why Honeywell Forge came into being—the company set out to build solutions, from the ground-up, to fix what it saw as core business problems. At the same time, Honeywell realized it wanted to find ways to utilize its core cloud services and edge infrastructure in other parts of its business. Around then, the company bestowed Trice with the Chief Product Officer role (a job I am distinctly familiar with, as a former product person myself). He was responsible for guiding Honeywell's business units to incorporate these technologies and build them out from there.

Future-forward building management

What piqued my interest on this entire topic was a vision of the future, put forth by Honeywell, in which a facilities manager could perform all of their functions remotely from a coffee shop. This idea is all that more relevant in the age of Covid-19 when so many workers have shifted to a remote, work-from-home model. Guess who had to stick around on the on-site skeleton crew? In many cases, it was the people responsible for keeping the physical facilities up and running.

When asked about how this "coffee shop vision," as I'll refer to it, came about, Trice explained that Honeywell wanted to project a particular image—one that challenges the conventional wisdom of building management. As he described it, the traditional model is a lot like that trope in a heist movie (you know the one), where an overseer sits in a room in front of a bunch of screens and waits for something to happen. Multiply that by, in Honeywell's case, 900 other buildings, and you'll have, at the very least, 900 people in that position—a costly, clunky strategy that many businesses cannot afford. The question posed by Honeywell's customers in regards to this was, "how can we do more with less?" 

Working off that question, Trice and his unit came to envision a scenario where, instead of having those 900+ people on-site every day, one person could perform the job for many buildings, from the comfort of a coffee shop, not even necessarily in the same city as the facilities. Trice rallied the entire company around this vision, and Honeywell began to work backward from there—figuring out what pieces needed to come together to enable it. According to Trice, when it comes to the needs executives have in terms of running their businesses, there's a lot of overlap in buildings technology, manufacturing and supply chain—as Trice put it, "three areas we care about." 

In all of Honeywell Forge's messaging, a point that got hammered repeatedly was that EPM is not IoT. While Trice sees IoT technology as an enabler of EPM, he conceptualizes EPM itself as a digital transformation strategy. Execs don't ask, "how's our IoT project coming along?" Instead, they want to know how the company can hit new efficiency benchmarks or streamline their operation. It's the difference between the nitty-gritty and the bigger picture.

Enterprise Performance Management

What is EPM?

In all of Honeywell Forge's messaging, a point that gets reinforced repeatedly is that EPM is not IoT. I wanted to dig into this further—if IoT is not EPM, what is it? While Trice sees IoT technology as an enabler of EPM, he conceptualizes EPM itself as a digital transformation strategy. Execs don't ask, "how's our IoT project coming along?" Instead, they want to know how the company can hit new efficiency benchmarks or streamline their operation. They want to know how one of their plants compares to the other in terms of output. They want to check in on asset performance, sustainability goals and energy optimization. 

What EPM does is aggregate the information businesses need to answer these questions (yes, often gleaned from IoT sensors) and kick it up the ladder to present to executives. With this unified, big-picture view of operations, company leaders can see where the company actually is, where it is falling short, where it's overperforming, where to reallocate resources, etc. An executive of a large, multinational company likely oversees a ridiculous amount of assets, at many different facilities, with thousands of employees. Monitoring on the granular level is simply not an option. Execs want to know what that data signifies in terms of the big picture. 

According to Trice, when it comes to the needs executives have in terms of running their businesses, there's a lot of overlap in buildings technology, manufacturing and supply chain—as Trice put it, "the three areas we care about." The overarching technology Honeywell developed over these underlying commonalities is what Honeywell considers to be EPM. 

Think "Tesla"?

I asked Trice to elaborate on a comparison he made off the record: investors should think about Elon Musk's Tesla when looking at the Honeywell Forge value prop. The first thing he cited was that, like Tesla, Honeywell built Forge from the ground up when it realized it couldn't merely adapt and build upon its other offerings. Similarly, Musk didn't just take some GM chassis from the junkyard and build his next-generation electric vehicle on it. Some things are foundational and must be included in the design from Day 1. 

For his second analogy, Trice referred to the Tesla strategy of selling a car to a customer and refreshing it with periodic updates. In theory, you'll end up with an even better car than you bought. Getting more bang for your buck is particularly nice given Tesla's steep price tag. Honeywell's vision is similar—it wants customers' buildings, factories, etc., to get intelligent and efficient over time, using the same model. 

Sine acquisition

While much of Honeywell Forge developed organically within Honeywell, it has also made several recent acquisitions to amp up its abilities. The most recent, which I wanted to learn more about, is Australia-based Sine, which Honeywell purchased just last month for its occupant experience capabilities. Occupant experience refers to how occupants interact with the building—do they have to whip out a badge to get in? With the pandemic still raging and folks starting to return to work, does the company have the technology to screen temperatures at the door without putting another employee or security guard at risk?

Sine's mobile platform is another example of a company building its specialized vision from the ground up. In addition to occupant experience, Sine's platform also has supply chain and worker compliance capabilities. Supply chain, as mentioned earlier, is one of Honeywell's focuses. Trice says worker activity is another area Honeywell Forge is hoping to flesh out. By digitizing worker activity, leadership can better understand their business's performance across the organization. 

For the third point, Trice roped back around to the idea of running a building from a coffee shop. The conventional model, as mentioned earlier, requires personnel on-site who monitor multiple screens simultaneously. That's not how the modern business operates any more, though—everyone is mobile. Sine's technology will enable Honeywell Forge to be a mobile-first platform. And that is how you start running operations from the coffee shop. 

3 weeks ago, Honeywell surprised the markets with its deal of $1.3B all-cash acquisition of Sparta systems, the AI-enabled Software as a Service (SaaS) company. It also happens to be the largest deal to date for Darius Adamczyk as CEO, and largest for the company since 2016’s Intelligrated acquisition. 

By acquiring Sparta Systems, Honeywell won’t only enhance its software offering, but will help life sciences companies innovate.

The NJ-based Sparta Systems provides enterprise quality management software (QMS), including a next-generation SaaS platform, for the life sciences industry, whose companies use the software for digital quality management to automate and standardize quality processes.

Honeywell has been providing the world’s leading drug manufacturers and biomedical firms with advanced automation and process control technologies for over 30 years, but with Sparta Systems the cloud and digital QMS SaaS platforms and artificial intelligence will serve as a strong addition. 

For the continued evolution of Forge, Sparta will bring added benefits to the life science industry in solutions that improve quality assurance, reduce compliance costs, verify process performance and help identify quality deviations in advance of the manufacturing process.

Honeywell's direction

As our conversation wound down, I wanted to learn more about Trice's time as a CX executive with Oracle. While there, he was heavily involved in the launch of Fusion, Oracle's digital business platform. Fusion ended up taking off and was a huge success story for Oracle. For that matter, Fusion was what won me over to the company. When asked about what lessons he carried forward to his work on Honeywell Forge, he had a few thoughts.

First, he cited his strategy of seeking out and recruiting early adopters who share the vision of what the project is trying to accomplish. The goal is to find organizations that will get in on the project's ground floor, investing time, effort and resources to see it to completion. Trice said that since his time with Oracle Fusion, he's carried this strategy over to every new project.

Next, he talked about the idea of "extensibility"—finding a way to describe, through basic extensions, how one sector differs from another, using a language everyone involved can understand. While terminology can vary widely between industries or companies, the core capabilities are not necessarily different. This brings us back to Honeywell's EPM process—finding the common, underlying issues different sectors are dealing with and developing a set of tools that addresses these shared needs. 

The last idea Trice ported over to Honeywell is the commercialization process. Like Oracle, Honeywell has thousands of sales team members and many partners to educate on the new offering. A big part of success is getting your network of people who are driving sales—on board with and well informed about the product's value.  

Wrapping up

I believe Honeywell's work with Forge is incredibly valuable, as is the company's efforts to drive a larger conversation around EPM. I see EPM as an essential part of any company's full digital transformation, and frankly, and quite possibly the most impactful. You can rig up your refinery with all the sensors under the sun, but unless you have a way to synthesize that information into something useful and actionable for the people calling the shots, good luck on getting them to sign off on buying more new toys. EPM is almost too good of an opportunity for businesses to pass up if they hope to stay competitive in the digitally transformed future. Honeywell, for that matter, seems to be the provider to beat right now.   

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.