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Mark Walters, President and Chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance, International Technology, Standards and Policy Authority

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Mark Walters.

Mark WaltersCurrently Mark serves as the President and Chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance, a consortium of over 200 leading manufacturers and service providers worldwide that are dedicated to interoperable wireless home control products based on the Z-Wave open standard. The Alliance serves as the standards body for Z-Wave and provides its members both technical and marketing support.

Mark has over 20 years experience in all aspects of electronic product solutions. He has held senior management roles in Engineering and Product Development for companies with products as diverse as high-end sound reinforcement, vehicular sensing and controls, premise wiring solutions and automated building controls. His specialties are RF Mesh Networks and Home Automation and Security. His passion is using technology to improve the lives of those that need assistance to make it through the day with comfort, safety and dignity.

When not making the world safe for automation and assisted living he enjoys the outdoors, sailing, automotive restoration and auto racing.

Mark holds bachelor's degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a MBA from City University, Seattle.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:23: Can you talk about some of your top career successes and lessons learned that you feel will be useful to the audience?
"....My background is actually in sciences, biology and chemistry and somewhere along the line I ended up in technology, and have served in a number of different roles through a number of different companies including operations, manufacturing, engineering management, general business management and now I find myself running a global consortium. I think what's worked best for me throughout my career is being very curious, asking a lot of questions and being fortunate enough to find technologies and companies that have been exciting to me....."

:01:27: Can you describe your journey leading to your current role?
"....I started out in sciences and got interested in electronics way back in the early 80's when the Ethernet was just starting to happen. It was always very exciting to me how we could communicate across great distances with people in many different countries and so I've always kept some element of technology and communication in my career path....I think the key for me in my career path and getting to Z-Wave Alliance and the chairmanship has been keeping that broader scope, higher level perspective and understanding how to apply that technology to the business and how to solve problems about making people's lives better using the technology rather than focusing specifically on the technology itself...."

:03:38: Many people in the audience may not be familiar with the Z-Wave Alliance and the challenges that led up to the formation and you being the Chairman and President. Can you comment? Also what is the value of the work from the Z-Wave Alliance?
"....I ran into this group of engineers from Denmark in a company called Zensys and as we got to know each other a little bit we realized they had a great technology. At that time there were 3 or 4 companies in the world that were looking at the technology as well. We all got together and said this is a great technology, we should use it in our products, but we need to do it in a way that we could take advantage of each other's fortes. In this way, when somebody wants to do a home control solution all they have to do is buy Z-Wave and it would all work together....This sounded very simple at the time; there were 5 companies involved so we thought let's collaborate. Very quickly that began to snowball as other companies started to contact us saying that they wanted to get in on it and add their products to this particular standard of technology. We realized that we had to create some structure around that concept and we formed the Z-Wave Alliance. As the Z-Wave Alliance formed I was chosen to be the interim Chairman....Here I am some 9 years later still the interim Chairman of 6 months...."

:07:12: How many members do you have now?
"....We started in 2005 with our 5 original companies; we now have 300+ companies that are members of the Alliance and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we just announced our 1000th certified product. We have a thousand products that have been certified to be inter-operable...."

:09:00: Mark comments further about the Z-Wave Alliance; building brand awareness so consumers will ask for it when shopping for products and services.
"....With the Z-Wave Alliance we do have two very different hats that we wear. One side is very much the technical side that I've been talking about and that is creating the Standards, becoming the Standards' body, creating the mechanism for our member companies....But as you just mentioned, the other side of the business is to go out to evangelize the technology, to bring more companies into the ecosystem and into the Standard so that we can continue to offer the consumer more and more choices, but also so that consumers can become aware of what they can do with this technology and what kinds of things they can do with home control or business control....."

:11:40: Mark comments on why others should get involved in this work.
"....They are not just buying a superior technology, but they are actually buying a successful consumer brand. That is not something that you do overnight, it takes years and years and years and we are just beginning to enjoy the advantages of being a recognized brand. But I think the primary reason that anybody should come in (particularly into a Standards organization where they want to contribute to a Standard), is that they need to be passionate about it...."

:14:09: What do you hope to accomplish this year?
"....My big personal goal this year is to continue to evangelize and to deal with technology and to apply it more to what we call 'aging independently' or independent living. This is something that personally I'm passionate about...."

:16:19: What do you wish to accomplish in the next three years?
"....Three years it's going to be about continuing to grow, bringing more companies into the Alliance and taking a look at how we use our technology and evolve our technology....This whole thing I was talking about 'aging independently' — that's going to become much more necessary as people begin to age. We talk a lot about the Internet of Things, and all of the things out there somehow magically talking to each other into this big thing we call cloud and that is making our lives better. I believe very strongly that we will use technology in our homes through the internet into a much bigger collective; what we are now calling cyber-physical systems to do things like reduce traffic and reduce energy consumption...."

:19:16: What are the gaps of where you are today and where you want to be and how will you close these gaps?
"....If you are willing to get in there, be passionate and mix it up, solutions will present themselves and you will end up (1 to 2 to 3 years out), in a place that you couldn't even envision and it will be a great place. If I look back to that first couple of meetings in 2004 and 2005, where 5 companies were looking at this little company out of Denmark and this radio technology and we really just wanted to get 5 or 6 devices that we could take to the market together. But we all had bigger visions and bigger thoughts and we all realized that if this works for these 5 companies why won't it work for 30, why won't it work for 200 or 1000? Here we are at the end of 2013 with 1000 interoperable devices and 300 companies; I suspect we will be twice that in 3 years...."

:22:14: What surprises you as President?
"....It continually surprises me how business wants to be sometimes (conservative would be a good word), and how afraid some people are to dream, imagine or let go of the "why we can't" in favour of the "how about we do". This is something I get caught up in so I'm guilty of this myself, but I'm often surprised by very, very bright people who spend all of their energy figuring out just what can go wrong and just why they shouldn't do something and spend very little energy thinking about what happens if this goes right....There are certainly visionaries everywhere, but they seem to be fewer and farther between...."

:25:16: You personally, what do you plan to do next?
"....More of the same and as much of it as I can possibly fit in a day.....For me it's continuing to stay excited and continuing to do what I'm so fortunate to be able to do with the Alliance. Is there another gig after the Alliance? Is there another gig after Z-Wave? I'm sure there is, but I'm just not quite sure what that might be and I'm not spending a lot of time thinking about it because I'm having a great time doing what I'm doing right now...."

:26:31: What do you see as the top upcoming disruptive innovations?
"....I think two things are going to be pretty disruptive, the hydrocarbon economy and the aging population...."

:29:22: I was just thinking about what you are trying to do with Z-Wave Alliance. I'm thinking as a consumer I see kind of a spectrum confusion – there's my bluetooth device, cellular phone, wireless mouse, cordless phone, router with its own WiFi, etc. — how do you address all of that where maybe there's interference?
"....You go to an IEEE meeting and you figure out how we design this stuff so that it doesn't interfere with each other. We are seeing situations where some of the more popular brands are causing some interference and the technology solution is open up more bands....From the consumer's standpoint, if we as technologists and technology developers do our jobs right and continue to do our jobs right, as far as the consumers are concerned they don't need to be concerned about what the underlying technology is — technology done right is transparent and magic...."

:32:26: In my interviews with many senior executives of very large companies I ask the question where they see as growth areas (in technical areas) internationally. They talk about Africa, India, China, perhaps South America and even now greater growth in the United States. Do you define these as the same top ICT growth regions internationally?
"....Absolutely....Worldwide you can't put the technology genie back in the bottle, you can't put the commerce genie back in the bottle, but barring political unrest which unfortunately we have far too much of in the world today, barring disruptions like that we are going to see amazing growth worldwide in all of these economies....."

:35:31: What are the top areas of controversy in the areas that you work and your proposed solutions?
"....People have a tough time with change and they have a tough time with new technology coming into play, and you just have to continue to sell your benefits over and over again until slowly you become one of the incumbents, and I think as an incumbent that you don't have the same attitude towards the technologies that are coming up in the future...."

:40:26: What are your views on this rapid growth in free content?
"....What's interesting is that we have a whole new set of content out there that is deliberately free — the creator actually puts it out there in the public domain and says here take it for free, I don't expect any compensation back from this. I think it's going to be paramount that we recognize the difference between something that's being given free by the creator and something that is being stolen and made available freely through technology....My dad used to always tell me that there's no such thing as a free lunch and I don't think there is such thing as free content. If we're getting that content for free then we are circumventing some system that is important and sooner or later if everybody takes everything for free and there is no remuneration happening then the whole system will collapse and the content will cease to exist...."

:43:15: What are your views on the rapid growth in crowd funding?
"....A transaction is between two parties and as long as those parties are accurately representing their positions, then I think the regulations need to stay out of it. That being said there's always people who take advantage of that situation and start running scams and bilking people out of money and that needs to be addressed...."

:46:16: What are your views on digital currencies?
"....I'm generally in favor of them. I think we should have the capability to exchange value back and forth in an anonymous way and if that's being done for a ill cause, then we need to address the ill cause and not the transacted currency...."

:48:37: What kinds of improvements in policy (in the areas that you work) should happen in the next two years and what would you like to see internationally?
"....Right now Z-Wave and most of the popular home control and building automation technologies are operating on what we call 'public and unlicensed bands' worldwide, so we share our airspace with any number of other applications....I would love to see (from a policy standpoint), that governments around the world recognize that building control, home automation and energy and demand response and some of these applications I think are so absolutely essential moving forward get some protected spectrum. Don't give it all to the cellphones or the TV stations, carve out a few little notches here and there for us to use for our applications (where we won't be competing with frankly very inexpensively done consumer electronics that may inadvertently interfere with the very important applications that we're trying to fulfill...."

:51:21: From your extensive speaking, travels and work, please share some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).
"....I really don't have a great story to tell other than the normal travel faux pas. I have to say that I have greatly enjoyed visiting new countries, meeting people, taking in new cultures and trying new food...."

:55:10: If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....’What would be your advice and how would you encourage people to do more in their life and in their careers?'....'How did you get to where you are, what are you doing with it and are you enjoying it?'...."

:57:09: Mark, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.