Q&A - James Spires, Smart Buildings Managing Director
ENGIE's Smart Buildings Managing Director, James Spires, discusses how he got into the industry and looks at new innovations in the sector.
James is a passionate business developer and strategist across the energy, services and digital / connectivity sectors. With over 12 years of experience working within ENGIE he is a strong leader with a continuous improvement mindset and keen strategic outlook. He has an extensive track record in large scale public and private outsourcing and transformation projects which include projects such as the London 2012 Olympics.
In his current role as managing director of Smart Buildings at ENGIE, James is responsible for ENGIE’s smart buildings and connectivity activity in the UK & Ireland and is supporting ENGIE’s customers on their zero-carbon transition through digital solutions.
How long have you been with ENGIE and what is your job role?
I have been with ENGIE since 2006 when I started on the graduate scheme. My current role is Managing Director for our Smart Buildings Business.
How did you become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
I have always had a keen passion for technology and how new innovations can drive our business and the solutions we provide to our customers forward. Having seen the progression of BIM and other built environment digital solutions over the last few years many of the barriers and industry wide shortfalls are disappearing.
What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
It can be so disruptive and completely change the way people, buildings and the environment interact with one another. The opportunity to reduce the impact buildings have on the environment has never been greater. Also the way we work and therefore how we need buildings to support us is changing at an ever-increasing pace.
Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
One of the great things about the industry right now is the level of disruptive innovation and the ability of new players to move into what has historically been quite a fixed group of companies. Open-source and inbuilding connectivity / IoT solutions are in my opinion two aspects becoming more and more prevalent. The roll out of 5G will again see a whole host of innovations that will change the smart buildings landscape and applications within.
What services does your company offer?
ENGIE is a diverse organisation offering energy, facilities management and regeneration solutions but we have a strong focus on supporting customers in their transition to zero-carbon and embracing an increasingly digital world.
In the energy field, our services range from clean power generation, optimisation and green mobility solutions; in the built environment we offer a wide range of asset-based services including asset investment, buildings refurbishment and renovation and the provision of long-term services arrangements; and in the digital space we offer a range of digital customer solutions across energy, assets and user experience.
Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
In short no! That is because in part they are still being developed. As we enter this truly disruptive period, regulations around cyber security, data and climate change will need to change to meet our future needs. The need for transparency and organisations to act responsibly will become equally important.
What are the benefits of a smart building?
The benefits of smart buildings are varied and often different based on the needs of the user. From an asset perspective reduced operating costs, lifecycle management, business continuity and space utilisation are all greatly improved with a Smart Building. The energy and environmental benefits are also huge, ranging from solutions to reduce carbon emissions to outright zero carbon buildings. Finally, as a building user many of the energy and asset related benefits are hidden from our daily lives, however the value that can be created from removing the friction we experience as we go about our daily lives can have huge benefits on our productivity and personal wellbeing.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
I have been extremely lucky to work alongside some great people during my career at ENGIE and it would be unfair to single one person out. But in summary there has always been a mentor, coach or colleague who has been there to shape my development. The simple investment of time by somebody is by far and away the most important thing I have benefited from. Coupled with an organisation which is bold and places its trust in you to give opportunities to further develop.
What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
At the moment it’s “What is a Smart Building?” and in reality there is no right answer to this as everybody has their own opinion. The good news is that we are now very much in a space of demonstrating this with tangible outcomes rather than talking conceptually.
What are the best/worst things about your job?
The best thing is working with a highly talented and innovative team within an organisation that wants us to keep on pushing the boundaries. The worst thing is time – there are so many opportunities to follow and so many people to meet, keeping the right balance between that and a young family at home requires constant focus.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t be afraid to be bold and innovative to challenge the status quo! At the same time listen as there is a lot of knowledge and insight people are willing to share with you. Throughout my career I have always found that the saying “you get out what you put in” is true. If you don’t put the effort in the opportunities and reward will not be forthcoming.
What living person do you admire and why?
There are many innovators and entrepreneurs who have taken their absolute convictions and used them to transform the world we live in today. If I had to pick one I would say Bill Gates because of the way he has balanced driving an organisation forward but has done so in a responsible manner.
Where would you most like to live?
Jersey – I recently went on holiday there and I just love the relaxed lifestyle and the climate.
What is your favourite book?
I don’t have a favourite but I always find books by James Patterson a particularly good read.
How do you relax?
I enjoy playing football to keep fit, family days out and keeping on top of the garden all help with the work life balance.
What sports team do you support?
Aston Villa – which is a slightly less painful thing to say now than in the last couple of years.
What is your desert island disk?
The Killers – Hot Fuss
What is your ideal holiday?
Beach and book!
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This article first appeared in Smart Buildings Magazine.