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Smart infrastructure delivery at Innovation Day

Johnson Controls puts the smarts into infrastructure delivery at Innovation Day


The role of ‘smart’ buildings in accelerating infrastructure delivery in South Africa was placed under the spotlight at an Innovation Day hosted by Johnson Controls at the Sandton Convention Centre on Thursday 21 November. Held under the theme of ‘Talking Tomorrow, Today’, the event engaged a range of stakeholders to not only make them aware of the complete solutions available from Johnson Controls, but to stimulate an important debate about the increasingly critical role played by technology.

innovation day with johnson controls smart city infrastructure

Designed as a showcase of innovation, the event gave a comprehensive overview of smart city technology, green building solutions and energy efficiency, and infrastructure and human capital investment. Here the focus was buildings across the board, from hospitals to universities. “Our aim was to engage with important stakeholders in order to understand what is on their wish list in terms of benefiting their end-users,” Archibald F. Makatini, GM for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Johnson Control MEA headquarters in Isando, Johannesburg, says.

Smart cities are not only about “bright shiny new buildings”, but must focus on developing infrastructure that caters to the overall needs of society, according to Makatini. Born in South Africa, Makatini’s 23-year career with Johnson Controls has taken him from New York City to New Jersey, Hawaii, California, and now back to South Africa. “What brought me full circle was the opportunity. Africa is primed for infrastructure growth across the board.”

johnson controls smart buildings

Johnson Controls is ideally positioned to assist cities like Johannesburg to revive their dilapidated building stock, as it grapples with a growing deficit of affordable housing. “A lot of these buildings do not even have simple functionality such as air-con. We as a company can assist in turning Johannesburg around. We have the know-how to turn those buildings into liveable environments.”

A major issue faced by both national and local government level is its capacity for proactive maintenance, which is increasingly constrained by a lack of funding and the necessary technical skills. “We have engaged with our partners in order to demonstrate our capabilities in terms of maintaining infrastructure and systems,” Makatini points out.

Johnson Controls, known traditionally as an HVAC company, has subsequently moved away from its exclusive focus on chillers and air-con equipment to completely integrated smart building solutions. “In addition to our technology and long-term R&D commitment, we are also an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). This means we can offer a turnkey design-and-manufacture capability, guaranteeing both performance and quality.”

This places Johnson Controls in a unique position to respond to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for smart cities in his State of the Nation Address on 20 June. The President referred to his “dream of a South Africa where the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories … The city we build must demonstrate democratic spatial planning; it must also be a smart city and illustrate that we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Makatini comments that the President’s comments are an acknowledgement of the enabling role that technology can play. “Technology is here to stay, and nothing can stop its progression. What is key is having the vision as to how it can enhance the lives of ordinary citizens.”

Johnson Controls has an impeccable track record in this regard, counting the US government among its many global customers. Some of its flagship international projects include its work at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest in the world.

It collaborated with the facilities management department to introduce ‘smart’ technology into rubbish bins. Equipped with trash compactors to maximise their storage capacity, the bins communicate automatically when they are full, whereupon workers are dispatched to empty them. This allows workers to be deployed more efficiently and productively.

At Johnson Controls’ One Albert Quay headquarters at Cork, described as Ireland’s ‘smartest’ building, full Internet of Things connectivity covers security, fire prevention, HVAC, and building management. The building has achieved Gold certification under the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scheme.

“These are not only examples of what can be achieved with technology, but of our approach to innovation and out-of-the-box thinking,” Makatini argues. He also highlights Johnson Controls’ work in Hawaii, where it has guaranteed a 25% to 30% saving in utility costs over the next 25 years. “Our assessment included airports, highways, and harbours, and we committed to delivering results. What is important here is that we now have a customer for life, as this is such a long-term project.”

Makatini plans to bring this thinking to Africa by focusing on Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) as the best vehicle to leverage technology in infrastructure delivery. “What I am pushing for here in South Africa is to move away from tenders. As a solutions-driven company, we are able to generate our own opportunities by listening to, and understanding, our customers’ requirements. Our team here is committed to delivering on that promise. We are also a strong ethical company, and always strive to conduct our business in the best manner possible.”

While Makatini acknowledges the many challenges facing local municipalities, in particular, he is confident that the PPP approach is ideal in unlocking value. “The problem with delivery vehicles such as the tender process is that it does not allow companies to take the initiative. We need a path of least resistance to get our solutions out there, and to be able to collaborate with government at all levels,” he stresses.

With its strong focus on design and manufacture, Makatini reveals that local manufacture is definitely on the cards. “We ensure that the best technology solutions are affordable in Africa. We realise that governments are struggling right now, and that funding is a major issue. Therefore instead of waiting for tenders to be issued, we can bring in external investors so that some of these critical projects can reach fruition.”

Ethiopia is an ideal example, where the government has introduced a dedicated PPP ministry to drive investment. “Our performance contracting not only means we deliver on our commitments, but it enhances our credibility as well,” Makatini notes.

Johnson Controls has both a direct and an indirect division. The former focuses on turnkey solutions, while the latter caters for its extensive presence in North Africa via distributors that it trains and upskills. The company is also in the process of registering a legal entity in Kenya, which means its first office outside of South Africa, with the Democratic Republic of Congo next on the cards.

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