Headquartered in Midtown Atlanta, a few blocks from one of the top engineering programs in the country at Georgia Tech, sits an arm of a company whose history spans the same 132 years as the University (both were founded in 1885) — Honeywell’s Home and Building Technologies headquarters and Software Center.
The Software Center has been repeatedly described by Honeywell executives as a startup within the giant corporate entity — an agile, fast-moving division that takes in data from devices across the gamut of Honeywell’s product portfolio, analyzes it to provide cutting-edge insights, and applies predictions that can improve and inform new products. Now, Honeywell has brought in a leader with a unique background leading both startups and corporate sectors to take charge on structuring and building out the Software Center.
Stephen Gold has recently been named Vice President and General Manager of Connected Enterprises at Honeywell. After serving as CMO at predictive analytics software company SPSS Inc., which was acquired by IBM, Gold served as an executive in the IBM Watson division. Gold spoke to Hype on how his background will serve him uniquely in his new role, how Honeywell brings the “things” to IoT, and what he’s looking for in the talent that will staff the Atlanta office.
How will your background in startups translate to the role you’ve taken on leading Honeywell’s new software center?
I spent a considerable portion of my career in startups, which I think gives you a real appreciation for what small organizations that are focused and determined can actually do. And in many ways, I think Atlanta and the work that we’re doing here with the software center— it’s a startup. It’s going to grow, it’s going to evolve, it will go through all those cycles. I came to a big organization by way of acquisition. A company I was with in the analytics space was acquired by IBM, which was really my first foray into an old-world, big type of corporate entity.
Coming from startups, it’s like you’re on a speedboat. You can maneuver quickly and adapt. But if you’ve ever been on a speedboat and you look back, the wake only lasts for a limited amount of time and then it’s gone. Big organizations, while they don’t necessarily last and move quickly, have a wake for miles. So how do you navigate quickly and be agile like the speedboat, but ensure that the work you’re doing leaves a lasting and meaningful impression? That’s the best of both worlds.
I look back at my experience working with fast-growing, innovative startups— which is really the goal and the heartbeat of what we’re doing in Atlanta. I also have my experience working within large organizations on how to get scale; and that’s important because one of the major bumps that any startup hits is when you get to a certain inflection point, it becomes hard to get scale. Well, Honeywell has a great history of building businesses. We’ll pull that all together in the form of a really unique business— it will span along all our activities, interests, and investments. It will have a charter to really push the envelope for us.
How will you bring your experience with IBM Watson to this new position?
Other than the technology— predictive analytics and data, which is certainly germane— a lot of what I’ll bring is really how to explore new ways of thinking. Watson really opened my mind to thinking much more broadly. One of the ways I’d describe it is to think ‘outcome-based’. Don’t start from creating something and hope it serves a purpose; instead, start from the problem, look backwards and say what do we want to solve and how do we want to go about solving it.
And while data is still at the heart of it, what’s really unique about Honeywell is that, in the Internet of Things, they’re the things. You don’t see startups often building the things— the startup disrupts the market, but you often won’t see a startup in the industrial sector, they’re working in the digital realm where there’s a lower economic barrier to entry. So we can partner with the startups that can bring those disruptive digital capabilities to our platform, using both our technological products and our physical properties to drive to new outcomes. Thus, our work in Atlanta won’t be a closed architecture.
Many organizations, startup and corporate giant alike, are working on the types of big data and analytics projects you say you’ll be working on at the software center. What’s going to set Honeywell apart?
You can look at these big hills of technology that we’ve gone through: originally computing was tabulation. Think punch cards. They revolutionized industry— social security, government, financial markets ran on these systems. Then it was 50 years before things changed— when we saw the introduction of computational systems. Then it was mini computers, then finally in the 80’s entered personal computers, which led the way for the programmatic era.
Now we’re moving into the era where it’s all about what we do with data — using it to see what happened, analyze why it happened, we can even use data to explore what will happen. Well, there’s only so far you get with data before you get to a physical device.
What’s often missing from the equation, and what’s really exciting about Honeywell, is that physical property. Where did the data come from? It came from some device, some sensor, some valve, aircraft, car or home. Your smoke detector beep— that’s a pice of data. Your garage door opening— that’s a piece of data. Being able to start to connect these things does a lot. It gives us new insight into why things are happening and how to prevent bad things from happening and amplify good things you want to happen.
Atlanta is really going to start to push the envelope for us and become a focal point to bring together all the things that Honeywell has done for 130 years in various markets— transportation, aircraft, automobile, health, homes, buildings— we’ll start to bring those expertise and learnings together and really start to push the boundaries to see what we can do next.
What industries will the Software Center touch?
As a pan-Honeywell initiative, it’s really drawing on our lineage of understanding certain domains. So it’s not every industry— it wouldn’t be financial services, as that’s not a core competency. But in all the areas that are Honeywell, it will all come through here.
What are you looking for in the talent you’re hiring?
I think the level of engagement we look for, the level of interest and passion and alignment with our mission, is important. It’s one part skill— and with schools like Georgia Tech advancing the curriculum to include things like analytics and data— we’ve got that. But it’s not the only thing; in fact, that’s kind of the entering point.
It’s a little like putting a chef in the kitchen with ingredients— everyone starts with the same ingredients, but you don’t get the same dish. So it’s finding that individual who’s able to put those ingredients together in a meaningful way, along with those that will work side-by-side with the other chefs. We do some really interesting things to look at the dynamics, before we even hire candidates, of how they interact with people. Today in technology, without collaboration, you’re pretty limited to what you can do.