Known as a strategic thinking, enthusiastic and inspirational team builder, setting high standards for executing a wide variety of programmes and projects, Dr Marcus Schumacher, Vice President & General Manager GCC at Johnson Controls, speaks to Emirates Projects Magazine about the company’s priorities, evolution, sustainability and growth.
Emirates Projects Magazine: With so many years of experience in the Middle East market, what would you say are your strategic priorities and vision for Johnson Controls in the GCC?
Marcus Schumacher: With more than 5,500 building technology specialists in the Middle East and Africa, Johnson Controls has supported the tremendous growth in this region over the last 45 years. We are a trusted technology partner pretty much present in all major landmark buildings in the wider GCC. We continue to build on our unique offering in the HVAC, Controls, Security and Fire space. As an example of our achievements, we have built with our partners some of the largest installed district cooling capacities in the world with some of the biggest cooling plants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.
However, our vision and company direction had to adapt to the new market and technology realities. We have significantly expanded our leading product solutions towards connected IoT building solution offerings. With a strong global digital solutions team, we have established connected solutions and service capabilities, focusing on better outcomes for our clients. Energy Services and Digital Transformation in all areas we touch around a building are becoming the backbone of all we do. Fostered by rapidly emerging IoT technologies and steadily decreasing digital infrastructure cost, data has become the new currency in this industry. Johnson Controls, however, has been driving technology focus to the next level beyond simple data lake generation and administration.
We are now in the position to create predictive, tangible outcomes for our customers by using such data intelligently. The new Bee’ah Headquarters in Sharjah (UAE), where employees will enjoy an unmatched workplace environment with virtual artificial intelligent (AI) assistance everywhere throughout the premises, is one prominent example.
Last but not least, technology is made for and by people, and we are proud to have developed one of the strongest and most diverse talent bases in the Middle East and Africa in the building technology industry. This will enable us to realise our vision to further grow jointly with our customers and partners in this rapidly changing technology environment.
EPM: What progress or change have you seen at the company since being one of the first certified Energy Service organisations in 2014?
MS: Johnson Controls has globally completed more than 3,500 energy services programmes within all end segments of the market. We are holding more than $6.5bn in Performance Guarantees, which is a testimonial from our customer for the partnership and trust they have in Johnson Controls’ technology and employees. When we decided in 2014 to be one of the first Energy Service companies in the UAE, we realised that this market was at an early inception point at that time and had to undergo a lot of education and process implementation. Today, we see the Energy Service model is widely accepted and understood, while financing vehicles and policy matters have been established. This mindset shift was further underlined and accelerated by National Agendas such as the UAE 2050 Strategy calling for increased energy efficiency measures for drastic CO2 footprint reduction. A lot of other Emirates have meanwhile successfully implemented their corresponding certification and transformation programmes, which now further expand quickly across the entire GCC. We at Johnson Controls had to be fast and agile to be able to respond to those requirements quickly by transforming our talent base accordingly. In leading areas of our business, we went one step further in helping our customers to articulate the questions they should be asking to get the right response from their technology partners. As a result, this moved the perception of our organisation from a core supplier to a trusted advisor role.
EPM: In your professional opinion, what transformations have you experienced within the Gulf region in terms of companies adopting and implementing sustainable practises in the past five years?
MS: Awareness for sustainability needs is now engrained into all levels of the building lifecycle – from design and operation management through to final retrofit of the building. Building owners have started to upgrade their ageing building assets via their in-house facility management teams or by deploying one of the certified Energy Service companies. Early and easy wins have been already taken to the bank in the areas of water and energy-efficient LED lighting programmes. In addition, we have noticed that since the introduction of variable speed drives (VSD) for cooling, end clients and their consultants are accelerating in specifying energy-efficient cooling equipment. This puts total lifecycle cost ahead of first cost requirements when designing new buildings. Steadily, we also see similar trends in the residential construction space where energy-efficient inverter technologies are increasingly being applied.
EPM: Tell us about your sustainable products and services – how do you tackle lowering energy costs and reducing carbon footprint?
MS: Global demand for cooling is rapidly increasing. At approximately 4% global construction growth, we expect our worldwide building footprint to double over the next 20 years. In the Middle East and Africa region, cooling is the major energy efficiency driver of every building. Since Johnson Controls pioneered the first variable speed drive controlled chiller in the late seventies, this technology has been further mastered towards medium voltage water-cooled chillers solutions, not only for new installations but even more for retrofitting our existing install base. With this technology, we have demonstrated up to 30% efficiency gains. On the water-cooled chillers side, Johnson Controls has been heavily investing in magnetic bearing chiller technologies, which has eliminated the need for oil change services. In essence, this not only drastically reduces operating costs but also significantly enhances the equipment’s life-span.
We have developed self-learning chiller plant software solutions (CPO – chiller plant optimisation) for the overall operation and scheduling of a cooling plant. This further supports our customers in running their cooling assets most efficiently using predictive operating models. It not only helps to improve current and future cooling demand utilisation but also reduces human interaction during plant operation on a daily basis.
Energy efficiency focus does not stop at cooling applications only. Our entire Building Controls methodology product and software offerings platform is geared around increased building efficiency operation at increased operating visibility with modules for predictive maintenance, allowing for service on performance concepts rather than relying on regular maintenance only.
Our Connected Buildings Platform JEM (Johnson Controls Enterprise Management) solution is currently experiencing strong demand from a large number of our regional clients operating one or multiple building assets across a wider territory.
EPM: Where do you see growth coming from; which sectors are looking particularly healthy at present?
MS: Construction in the GCC region remains solid in all areas of our core segments. Mega investments like NEOM and Red Sea Developments in Saudi Arabia or New Cairo in Egypt are just two examples. The increasing population does foster a number of investments in infrastructure, education and healthcare programmes across the region, while the need for affordable housing is steadily rising. All of this requires strong building technology expertise to allow extendibility of applied technologies where smart building and city concepts come into play. Saudi Arabia, similar to the UAE, has strong tourism investment plans, which has shown strong year-on-year growth performance, and we expect this to accelerate further.
EPM: How do you envision sustainability practices progressing in the Gulf region over the next five years; what trends do you expect to see? What is Johnson Controls looking to achieve over that same period?
MS: Regional governments are setting strong sustainability goals in their national agendas. This, combined with revisiting energy cost subsidies, will set a strong need to accelerate energy efficiency measures both for new construction programmes and for ageing buildings across the region. Not only electricity, but water has equally become the centre of any future urban planning and a key enabler to make future growth affordable and long-term sustainable. We expect energy cost to further increase to intrinsic cost levels where policies and laws will further tighten, giving asset owners an additional stimulus to reduce the energy footprint of their assets. We at Johnson Controls aspire to remain at the forefront of this transformation by offering solutions and services across the entire building portfolio and lifecycle, enabling our clients to remain at the leading edge of what a smart and energy-efficient building can look like.
EPM: Tell us about the 2050 Sustainability Strategy. How does Johnson Controls plan to achieve this?
MS: There is a famous African Proverb which says: “If you want to go fast, go alone…if you want to go far, go together”. Unfortunately, we believe we have to go far and fast looking at the current impact of the climate shift. In this sense, Johnson Controls will accelerate its effort in partnering not only with our clients but even more so with other leading technology companies to join hands in solving important technology challenges together. The enormous tasks we face require a profound but also broad focus that can only be accomplished by partnering with the best in each technology discipline. Both Energy Services, as well as Digitalisation Programmes, are most successful when strong alliances are formed between partners and clients. Speed matters. At the same time, attention to details counts. Of late, we have been having partnership alliance discussions almost every week with key clients and technology companies in the region. Johnson Controls is always open to collaboration and partnerships to build a better tomorrow.