ORLANDO, Fla. — “The technology is actually here today at a cost/price analysis where we can actually use it in interesting ways,” Mike Ellis assessed.

Ellis is “100 days in” as Johnson Controls’ executive vice president, chief customer, and digital officer. Before the AHR Expo floor opened on Monday in Orlando, JCI hosted an executive panel for a substantial crowd of customers, press, and even a student or two.

The idea that data management capabilities and modern equipment performance can finally align more seamlessly with customer sustainability goals arose as a theme across the discussion.

Johnson Controls’ chairman and CEO George Oliver had recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos. Both during the panel and speaking afterward with The ACHR NEWS, Oliver emphasized that sustainability targets and tactics have moved front and center at the influential summit synonymous with its Swiss location.

In just a year, he said, carbon reduction target discussions among those corporate and policy attendees have shifted from “big level thinking” to “action being taken” as hurdles for carbon-neutral deadlines in 2025 or 2030 come into focus. A number of pressures combine to quicken the pace: accountability to investors, general (if not unanimous) consensus on climate change reality, and an increasingly sophisticated customer base who expects performance and sustainability to coexist without compromising either.

“Customers today are very smart,” said Joe Oliveri, vice president and general manager, global ducted systems. That desire for environmental responsibility along with comfort manifests today, Oliveri described, “as smart tech plus zoning can save up to 35 percent of a home’s energy.”

Outside of the home, mixed-use entertainment destinations such as Johnson Controls’ hometown Milwaukee Bucks’s arena represent a sector positioned to showcase leading-edge capabilities, said Ellis. He described them as “a good example of [savings] opportunity plus owners committed to creating leading environments” for both sustainability and comfort.

The combination of multiple systems such as HVAC, other sensors, and fire protection in buildings like those plays into Johnson Controls’ capabilities, in the company’s assessment.

A key through various applications: Ellis pointed to growing AI and machine learning capabilities as leading to better data management, optimizing efficiencies in ways previously unavailable.

Skill Sets and Service

CEO Oliver stressed that the various dynamics in play continue to encourage some workforce changes to meet a business’ changing needs. Jobs going from being a machine operator on the floor, he explained, to being more of an analyst to study and improve the process.

This can “totally change the skill set required in manufacturing,” he said, offering that these transitions can indeed focus on retraining the existing operators rather than replacement. Furthermore, Oliver expects that these trends will “change the world on the service side as much as anything,” noting the Johnson Controls’ own service side represents nearly one third of its revenue at roughly $7 billion per year.

Rod Rushing, president, building solutions North America at Johnson Controls, added that new technology allows service personnel to “do more from a distance, to see things before they’re happening, to use diagnostics.”

Asked about HVAC as a service (HVACaaS) after the panel, Oliver acknowledged that “we’re finding areas where you can come up with configured product and digital” combinations to deliver an attractive value proposition for building owners on more of a long-term basis that may differ from the traditional model.

He noted, though, that much of Johnson Controls’ network in the field involves relationships with local contractors, and neither he nor Ellis believed that HVACaaS as a growing concept would change a lot for those contractors.

Speaking of contractors and techs, Oliver pointed to how technician training continues to improve. Johnson Controls, he said, is cultivating a mix of online training with traditional settings, an overall blend that is more efficient and more tailored to an individual’s developmental needs.

Regarding the work itself, Ellis sees the digital component of people’s duties increasing across the board — from “shop floor to technician to contractors or salespeople, digital acumen is required no matter what you do.”

Personal tech often advances first, setting a new “normal” and often leading people to ask where that convenience is in their work life. Ellis sees today’s business tech doing a better job than ever in closing that gap.

The result, Ellis said, will be technology that is “embedded so deeply, and that translates to better ease of use, more natural language.”

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