Q&A with Ted Maulucci, president of SmartONE Solutions
May 8, 2020
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May 8, 2020 – Ted Maulucci’s career in the smart technology industry started far younger than most. As a teenager in high school, he wrote software to help educate special needs children, which was purchased by the school board.
“Back in the 80s, that wasn’t really a big deal,” he tells me.
Fittingly, Maulucci got his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto in Mechanical Engineering, and has also earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the Schulich School of Business, with a specialization in Real Property Development.
After spending nearly 26 years in various positions at Tridel, the Toronto-based real estate developer, Maulucci has received several leadership and innovation awards, including two CIPA Gold Awards of Excellence for application development in the real estate industry, and Private Sector Canadian CIO of the Year for his work on advancing smart and connected communities.
Maulucci launched SmartONE Solutions Inc. just over three years ago. As president of the company, he works to advance the digital living experience in communities. In this role, Maulucci is taking the experience he gained at Tridel, including serving as the company’s CIO, to develop technologies for smart multi-family communities.
“It all plays into SmartONE; everything kind of led to me being here,” he says.
I spoke with Maulucci on his unique start in the industry, his love of building things, and being ahead of the smart building curve.
Q: Going back to when you were a teen, how did you figure out you enjoyed writing software?
Ted Maulucci: The way I describe it is, I like building stuff. It’s like somebody wants to paint or someone wants to sing; I just want to build stuff. When you build software, it’s the same feeling as building something physically. When the PC first came out, some people wanted to play video games; my inclination was to build video games. So, I would actually write a lot of software; it was just something that innately I liked doing. The other piece to that is the contribution side of it. I wanted to do something that’s going to make a meaningful impact by writing this software to help people.
Q: How did you get your start at Tridel?
TM: One of the parents [at my school] had seen that I had done that work, and he was friends with Angelo DelZotto, who owns Tridel. He told Angelo, ‘you’ve got to hire this guy when he comes out of school’. I ended up getting hired by Tridel in 1989, based on that story, and they started me as a construction superintendent because they wanted me to learn the business from the ground up. I soon realized that I actually really loved construction. I worked on-site as a super for about five years. While I was there, I started to write software while I was working in the field. I wrote Tridel’s first software systems for managing deficiencies, colour selections and upgrade programs.
The software that I was writing was getting used and they ended up allowing me to hire staff. It was kind of a weird situation where I was a construction super with an IT team. Eventually, I became their CIO and took over all the software and IT operations of the company. I worked there for almost 26 years, and over that time, I basically worked in every single area of that company. I was a project manager for a short period of time. Then I wrote the software for their energy management systems. I was involved with their energy management company when I started to work with building software for the property management for suite divisions.
Q: How did that lead to your interest in smart buildings?
TM: About 15 years ago, I saw the concept of smart and connected buildings: putting a network in a building to transform the living experience. That started me on the journey that ended up leading to where I am today. We were kind of early to the parade; no one had really done it. So, it started me on a journey of finding the technologies and the business model to actually be able to create the business that we have today.
Eventually, Tridel teamed up with Cisco to figure out how to build smart and connected buildings. We did a number of experiments and projects, and created Canada’s first electronic concierge. We used Cisco TelePresence to connect multiple buildings together to lower the operating cost of a building by using a virtual presence.
Q: What was your end goal?
TM: I was looking to find the technology to put in these buildings, but I found that everything in North America was house-based. What we were trying to do is have hundreds of homes connecting to common infrastructure, so everybody could control the same entrances, everyone could see the same cameras and it would create this connected community. It ended up leading us to South Korea.
In South Korea, houses are less common; citizens often live in multi-family buildings, because of the density. We found that they were technically advanced to what we’re doing in North America, and their systems are very mature, which led us to a partnership with a company called Commax.
During our first trip to South Korea, we visited their showroom, and at that moment I understood what was different about these systems. Commax used to be a phone company; they’re used to building this infrastructure to connect all these homes together. Our flagship building, Ten York, was kind of the Wild West because it hadn’t really been done before. The building was already sold, so there wasn’t really an incentive to putting the smart solutions in for marketing. It was done purely as an experiment.
Q: How did this whole experience lead you to start SmartONE Solutions?
TM: As Ten York was starting to come close to occupying, the entrepreneur who is representing Commax in Canada said, ‘Why don’t you become an entrepreneur?’ My only job in my life had been at Tridel, so to go from that to being an entrepreneur was pretty disruptive and abrasive, but I did it. I stayed with Tridel for five months to help with the transition in the role, and then started SmartONE Solutions.
The company has really taken off in the last year. From the beginning of this year, we probably had about five communities. We’re now at 37 communities being deployed. We’re actively being installed in about 10,000 homes right now, and growing rapidly. Tridel is now my client, so we’re doing more buildings beyond the first building that we did, Ten York, which has been running for almost two years now, at zero downtime. This technology from Korea is actually very stable and very proven.
Commax has a small ownership stake in SmartONE. They build the hardware, they’ve given us open APIs. We’re writing all the software locally. I share that story of all the software that was written at Tridel, because all that knowledge is now being built into the back end. So, we’ve got a very rich software mobile-enabled experience on top of this proven technology from Korea.
Q: What does the solution look like?
TM: Well, every home now gets the wall pad. If someone calls from the lobby, you can see it on your wall pad. Every connected phone will also see it. We can also do door cameras, integrated lighting, leak detection, smoke detection and energy control. We’re working with energy metering companies now, where you can see your energy consumption in real time. You can view cameras throughout your community to capture suspicious activity.
We also have a whole bunch of software features that allow you to do integrated parking control, so if someone’s visiting you, you can punch in the license plate and it’ll let you park. We have package control, so if a package comes in, you’re notified on your phone that you’ve got a package.
The other thing we’re able to do is we can actually connect thousands of homes. The system was built in Korea to handle up to 5,000 homes on one infrastructure. We could connect eight or 10 buildings together, and people can share services within those buildings.
Q: What about buildings that don’t have the option of having these smart solutions built in?
TM: Probably about 50 per cent of the buildings in the city of Toronto are bulk internet buildings, where one provider provides all the internet access in the building to provide cheaper rates for customers. When I left Tridel, right off, I went to Bell Canada and said, ‘you’re getting killed with bulk internet. How about we create a new product class for the market? How about we take our smart community solution, we’ll put it on the back of your network?’
Now that’s what’s taken off, and we actually have contracts with both Bell Canada and Rogers. Residents are paying around $55, but they’re getting gigabit internet, plus a whole wealth of smart community features. That’s the part that makes it fun, when you’re doing something that’s not just business, but it’s also meaningful. And we also really do see the fact that once we put our infrastructure into communities, we can actually do things to improve security, sustainability and services, and really impact lives.
Q: Can you describe some of the day-to-day responsibilities of your current role?
TM: The challenge of the current role is it’s basically everything, and it’s nonstop. I haven’t taken a vacation in three years and I literally work 14 hours a day. The company is founded on a vision that I had at Tridel and on something that I built from Tridel. You need to build the systems and processes to allow a company to scale, but you don’t have much money in these early stages. You need to find people, train people, find money, manage your company and set it all up. It’s just an overwhelming amount of work and you’re always running at full speed.
An idea doesn’t mean anything; it’s the execution of an idea that takes all the effort. The day-to-day right now is everything. I’m doing sales, I’m doing engineering work, I’m doing software development, I’m doing accounting, and I’m doing recruiting. I have people helping now in these areas, and as we grow and get more funding, we’re bringing on more people, we’re building more systems; it’s getting better. I can see that at some point, I am going to be able to take a break, but I think it takes a good few years until that can happen. It’s not for everyone.
Q: Where would you like to see smart communities go?
TM: What I like about buildings is that buildings kind of create a metaphor for a community, because there’s nothing stopping us from taking an aggregation of a bunch of homes, whether they’re buildings or single-family homes, and bringing them all together under the same concept. If you think about it, the internet is a network across the world. What if we create more localized networks for this community, so we can share devices within a community? We could put a package delivery system amongst the community of houses, we could put defibrillators throughout a community connected to the internet and people could share them, people could see cameras within their community.
So really, what I see is us creating these sub-networks to physically connect different devices. And then in association with that, we now have software that actually brings the community together at the same level. To be able to actually create smart communities, you really need to have these fundamental pieces. We need those layers, you need the first layer, which is some way of physically connecting things in a localized community. The second thing you need is people looking at the same software. And you need the messaging tools and the workflow systems. Once you have all those pieces, you can actually do something.
The biggest challenge for the future is actually having these proper strategies; having a strategy both on a technical level and on a business level, because with business, the numbers have to make sense. We can’t talk about pie in the sky ideas without thinking about the fundamentals underneath it to make it work. That’s the most important takeaway from all of this.
This article—along with other great content—appears in the April 2020 edition of Buildings IoT Canada Magazine.