Making Markets EP20: Honeywell Pivots to Tech as the Edge Opportunity Proves Massive

In this episode of Making Markets, we sit down with Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk to dig into the company’s intriguing growth story rooted in its deep industrial expertise. From high rises to jet engines, Honeywell has a legacy in many of the world’s critical industries, and now it is building a software platform to power those industries while also adding appeal to the company’s investors and trajectory to its growth.

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Daniel Newman: A late December jaunt to Charlotte, provided the opportunity for me to spend the day with a group of Honeywell’s top executives, where I sought to better understand the company’s substantial pivot from giant industrial to a global leader in software empowering the industrial edge. This included an opportunity to sit down one-on-one with CEO, Darius Adamczyk, where we talked about the economy, rising interest rates, inflation, the company’s big investments in ESG, and more. So, strap in and join me for the first episode of 2022, right here on Making Markets.

Announcer: This is the Making Markets Podcast, brought to you by Futurum Research. We bring you top executives from the world’s most exciting technology companies. Bridging the gap between strategy, markets, innovation, and the companies featured on the show. The Making Markets Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Please do not take anything reflected in this show as investment advice.

Now, your host, principal analyst and founding partner of Futurum Research, Daniel Newman.

Daniel Newman: Darius Adamczyk, welcome to Making Markets.

Darius Adamczyk: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it’s really great to have you back. Haven’t had a chance to sit down since our Six Five Summit this Summer, where you joined us, and that was a really fun conversation. I think, as we come to the end of the year, we all had a little bit of a different interpretation of where we would be right now. And for anyone out there, it is the very end of 2021, right before break. Hopefully, all of us are going to be taking a little time off here, but thanks so much for sitting down. I’d love to get your take, just on 2021 at a glance. How you’re seeing it for Honeywell, what you’re seeing in the macro economy. And we can dig in a little further, but just, what a big year for you guys, and so many accomplishments.

Darius Adamczyk: Well, thank you. And certainly, 2021 turned out a little bit different than we expected. Whether, it’s the dynamic growth, that was probably faster than we expected. On the positive, our markets coming back in a very strong way. Those are the good things. The economy is booming right now. But, we also had some challenges. Whether, it’s the supply chain challenges we had to deal with, whether it’s inflationary pressures, whether it’s some of the labor shortages, freight and logistics challenges. So, it certainly didn’t pan out exactly how we would’ve thought.

I mean, we thought that at the end 2020, we certainly would’ve thought demand coming back, which it has, but probably even more pronounced than we expected. What’s a bit different, is some of the challenges, which is, the supply chain challenges, especially in the area of semiconductors and so on. So, it’s definitely turned out much different than we expected. And I think probably, the waves of COVID that really have hit us, because we had the first wave that ended in March, or April 2021, after people started getting vaccinated. We had the Delta wave and now we’re unfortunately, starting this Omicron wave, but hopefully it’s a very last one we’re going to see.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And it is a big, very persistent, fast spreading virulent wave. I think, we’re still waiting for evidence. How much is this going to impact? But, we’re seeing pullback. I just got some alerts, even this morning. CES is a big event in the tech space. Companies like Amazon, a bunch of the tech media, a bunch of social companies like Meta and Twitter, all pulling out. So, here we are, again, two years later and we’re having 2020 nightmares. But, at the same time I got on a plane to come out and visit you yesterday. The airport was absolutely bustling, which is good for Honeywell. The planes are flying. The planes are full, Uber lines are longer, restaurants are packed. So, you’re seeing a lot of encouraging data too. And so, I think we’re in this inflection point, where what happens next, is going to be really interesting.

Darius Adamczyk: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely right. And I think that the reality, is that COVID is going to be endemic. And I think it’s just something that we’re going to have to learn to live with. The good news, is that we have more medical tools to deal with whether it’s vaccinations, the antiviral pills that are out there. And I think vaccinations are going to become an annual event, and we’re just going to learn to live with it. We learnt to live the flu, we’ve done that and we’ve managed it. The good news on some of the early data points on Omicron, at least from what we’re seeing in South Africa, is that it doesn’t seem to be a severe disease, as some of the other waves. So, hopefully that will come. And my view, is that this wave will probably be a bit more pronounced in terms of the number of people that do get infected, but it probably won’t be anywhere near severe, and also should subside very, very quickly.

For us, we are looking forward to the day where this is more behind us, but there are good signs everywhere. You talked about aerospace. I mean, you see the tremendous pent-up demand for the consumer to travel again. I mean, airports are absolutely packed, but think about that in the context of the business traveler. I mean, there’s that same level of demand that’s pent-up out there, that going out to see your facilities, your colleagues overseas, your customers overseas, interacting in person again. I already argued, there is as much, if not more of that pent-up demand, it’s really going to hit as soon as we get through hopefully, this very last wave that we’re going to see.

Daniel Newman: I think, cautious optimism, is the word, at least for how I feel about it. As an analyst, I’m weighing in both the sensationalism of some of the media stories with the data, but again, too many armchair epidemiologists. So, I’m listening and I’m letting the experts, just like myself on tech, or Honeywell on the industrial markets. We need to make sure we all stay in our lane a little bit and let’s let this all play out. But, speaking of all, things playing out, I’d love to get some of those macro perspectives from you. You mentioned a series of different things that are impacting the economy right now, and Honeywell’s such a beacon. It’s a bellwether of so many of these things. You mentioned, the supply chain, you mentioned inflation, you talked a little bit about climate and some of the things that are going on there, but just starting with the supply chain. Well, you’re not purely in semiconductors, much of what you do, is hyper dependent upon them. What are you seeing on the supply chain? Are we seeing some relief through the lens of Honeywell?

Darius Adamczyk: Yeah, we are seeing some promise. For us, is we look at our 2022 needs, we have something like 90% of the supply that we need committed for our ’22, what we think our ’22 demand will look like. So, that’s promising, that’s actually extraordinary. That’s the good news, but we still have that additional 10% we’ve got to work on, but actually we’re in a little bit of a better place than I thought we would be at this point. So, I think that, that’s very encouraging from a Honeywell perspective. We’re getting ahead of it. And we do think that some of these challenges we will subside as we get deeper into 2022. The economies remain robust. I am optimistic both US, Europe, China, all these economies look poised for continued growth in ’22. And I think particularly, as COVID subsides, that that growth will probably accelerate.

We are a bit concerned about inflation and we’re supportive of some of the tapering that’s taking place, interest rates. The thing that we have to be very cautious about, is that we don’t want to see the other side of rollercoaster. Meaning that, inflation goes up and we have to be very thoughtful about not tapering it down too fast, too hard, because we don’t want to see a recessionary environment either. There’s nothing that says that will happen, but I have some level of concern that, if we go too far, too fast, that we could see the other side and hopefully that won’t happen. But, so far so good. I mean our demand profile that we saw in Q2, Q3 and Q4 looks extraordinarily strong and things look optimistic for us, for next year.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Powell’s comments at the last Fed meeting, I think, took a lot of the on uncertainty out. It seems that to your point, that the market is pretty committed, that the leadership, the Fed is pretty committed to doing things at a pace that doesn’t pop the balloon per se. But, I think we are all nervous with the amount of debt with some of the programs and some of the bills that are in Congress. If they were to pass trillions of dollars for these programs and interest rates, of course, if they go up, it’s not only going to affect consumers that are buying goods, it’s going to affect businesses that are buying goods. But, moreover, our government has quite a bit of debt-

Darius Adamczyk: Right.

Daniel Newman: That they’re going to have to situate.

Darius Adamczyk: Sure. I mean, obviously, it’s a service debt, is going to get more expensive that’s the drawback. I think for us, because our balance sheet is strong and to some extent from an M&A perspective, I mean we probably welcome slightly higher interest rates, because we have plenty of capacity and we’ll probably cool off the M&A environment a little bit. So, that’s probably not the worst thing, at least from a Honeywell perspective, that others may disagree from that point of view. So, we’re encouraged by some of the steps that are being taken. We are very supportive of gradual adjustments upwards, of the rates. And then, I think that’s going to have the right impact on the global, not just the US, but really the potentially global economies. Although, different countries are in very different places in terms of what they’re doing. And China, is probably on the other side of this thing.

But, overall, I think ’22, especially from the markets that we play in, whether it’s aviation, whether it’s energy, which is automation, controls, buildings and we talk about buildings, everybody thinks we’re talking about office buildings, but stadiums are buildings. Data centers are buildings, hospitals are buildings, daycare centers are buildings. So, we think the utilization of buildings overall, is going to improve. And then, you combine that with some of our healthy building solutions, because I think people are always going to be much more aware of the air they breathe, the environment that they’re in, social distancing and so on. I think that, that will stay with us for a number of years. And I think those solutions that we brought to the world, will help people re-assimilate back into various types of buildings.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that specific example up. Because, I was going to ask you, from a Honeywell perspective, you have a very significant building technologies play. You’ve partnered with some of the world’s largest IT firms to really bring the IT/OT story together. As we do return to the office with this endemic disease that has continued to start-stop, you would say, the reopening of things, like this beautiful headquarters that we’re sitting in right now. I have to imagine so many customers that you’re either indirectly, or directly interfacing, are thinking about exactly that Darius.

We’re thinking about, “Okay, we want to bring it back. We want to bring it back safely, but we want to use data driven, technologically advanced, offerings to be able to tell our employees and those that are governing, that we’re thinking about this, we’re thinking about the quality of the air. We’re not just re-opening our doors, but we’re going to make it safe. We’re going to make people comfortable. We’re going to make stadiums, we’re going to fill them up and keep people safe. We’re going to keep the malls full with people spending money, but not catching disease.” I mean, your technology really, is underpinning this.

Darius Adamczyk: Absolutely. And the key is to not just have the technology. I mean, we’re in our new headquarters. We have all our latest and greatest technologies, including air treatment technology, with ultraviolet light, which really removes a lot of the pathogens out of the air. But, the key there, is something else, is making the occupants aware of what is going on in their environment? What’s the air quality? What’s the temperature? What’s the social distance? We bought another company called Sine, right around this time, a year ago. Which actually provides mobile applications, which are really designed for the occupant. And provide things like air quality, social distancing, all these notices and all of our employees here at the headquarters, actually have that on their phone, so they can look up in real time, what’s going on in their environment? What’s the air quality? What’s the PPM measurement? And we think that, that’s going to become really critically important, as people start to return to normal activities. That awareness about, “Well, how safe is this environment?” Is not going to go away for a while.

Daniel Newman: Looks a little bit like, when you’re walking around, I think it’s New York, and you see the grade outside of every restaurant and you get a grade. We’re going to digitalize that, it’s going to be on your phone, or on your device. And it’s going to tell you, “Is my environment, that I’m entering-”

Darius Adamczyk: Safe.

Daniel Newman: “Safe?” And I think that’s a huge opportunity. Sine, by the way, had a chance to use it this morning, checking in.

Darius Adamczyk: Terrific.

Daniel Newman: I did enjoy that experience. It worked seamlessly. And so, again, a lot of the technological innovation, or investments, both inorganic and organic, sometimes I think it’s missed. And when I started making markets, a big part of my storyline, was just that there’s so much more to these companies, than the soundbites that end up in most of the business tech media, or the business media.

And I’m like, “I want to get a layer deeper.” So, when we met at Six Five, we had this story about Honeywell’s transition. Now, another six months later, we’ve identified, it’s been an interesting year. We still have a lot of macro-economic issues, but your moves forward, whether that’s been a series of acquisitions like Sparta Healthcare Technologies, Sine, you’re continuing to make investments. Forge, I’m seeing more commercials on CNBC, than ever before. The stories transition. Do you think the market is starting to fully appreciate? Because, I still look at your stock and I’ll end it here. I say, sometimes I feel like it’s pure value, the way people assess it and value it. It’s all margin-driven and dividend-driven. And then, I look at it and I’m like, “But, there’s so much innovation-”

Darius Adamczyk: Right.

Daniel Newman: “Going on.” Are people appreciating that?

Darius Adamczyk: Yeah, no, I think, that’s a very astute point on your part, right? Because, we are continuously investing in future technologies, but we also want to provide a compelling return for the today’s shareholders. And we’ve done that. I think we’ve got a very demonstrated track record of growth and margin expanse. We’ve done that for decades and if anything, we’ve accelerated our growth. But, we also want to future-proof the business. So, whether it’s things like our sustainable technologies portfolio, which really will enable the world to have a much greener planet. Whether it’s our forger offerings, our software offerings, whether it’s quantum computing, whether it’s our play in UAVs and UAMS, which is really the future of aviation. I think what’s underappreciated, people want instant gratification. “Well, how much is it going to get me this year?” Well, it’s actually going to get you a negative R&D into estimate. But, the point is that, if you don’t seed and if you don’t plant these future technologies, then the person who runs this business a decade from now, won’t have a viable enterprise.

And when you are a Honeywell shareholder, you get two, maybe three primary things. You get a company that competes and innovates and is a leader in just about every industry that we play in. And we do very, very well in those industries. Number two, is we have a responsibility to future-proof the business as well. And I just gave you some examples about how we’re thinking about the future and how we’re also investing in playing these technologies. And three is, and I think we’re very careful about how we deploy capital. I mean, we think that we’re good stewards of our investor’s capital and I think, the US digital design acquisition, which we just completed a couple weeks ago, is a great example. It’s a highly ESG-oriented acquisition. Basically, it allows first responders to actually, arrive at a building in order of magnitude, faster than through current technologies.

It’s a high-growth business. It fits our building technologies portfolio. And we bought it at a price point, which was fair. It was, “We’re going to get an ROI of 25%, year five.” And so, it is still possible to buy good businesses at a value point, which is attractive. And that’s the overall investment thesis for Honeywell, is you get all three of these elements. Careful deployers of capital and do it in a way that our investors look at it, future-proofing with new innovation technologies that may not generate much today, but they will in the future. And then, we play and win and we innovate in the markets we play in today, to give you a compelling return.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And the diversification has been significant. And I’m going to come back, because you talked about ESG and I’m going to want to end on that. So, hold the ESG thoughts, I got two little in-betweeners here. The first, is you mentioned quantum. And so, there’s been a lot of publications out there about the Quantinuum spinoff, which was Honeywell Quantum and CQC. And Honeywell’s going to be the number one backer. Seeing quite a bit of this in the market lately. I believe, it’s very intelligent engineering to unlock value in disruptive innovation. You saw, Dell did it with VMware when they couldn’t get the value inside of the Dell, they unlocked it. You just saw Intel did this with their autonomous driving unit with Mobileye.

And I felt that Honeywell followed a similar path, where you have a lot of value, but because Honeywell’s so big, so diverse and quantum was a small revenue component. It maybe wasn’t getting full credit for just how much you guys are actually, contributing and competing into that space. Anything else to that decision, to that move? Because, like I said, I’m very excited about it. It looks very good. Tony’s doing a great job. And seeing Honeywell hang onto that big share to me says, “You’re not bearish on it. You just wanted to make sure it got out in front where it might get lost a little bit in a company so large.”

Darius Adamczyk: No, I think that’s absolutely right. We love this combination. I mean, we think that the analogy here, is think about some of the leading hardware players in the personal computer market in the early ’80s. So, whether you want to talk about IBM, or Compaq, or one of those players, combining with a company like Microsoft, and then really merging into one. I mean, right now Honeywell has the leading hardware in the world, in terms of quantum computing. CQC has the leading software platform, in terms of quantum computing and not just for Honeywell, but really the whole quantum computing world. And we are keeping CQC at an arms-length from Honeywell, because it’s not just designed to work on Honeywell hardware, but really any other hardware. And that’s the way we going to keep it. There’s going to be a bit of a separation.

But, we’re thrilled by the combination, because it really creates a leading company in the world today in the quantum computing space. And yes, in terms of liberating some of that value, because you can pick up, that what really should be attractive to investors, is you can pick up a very pronounced play in quantum computing at an industrial type of multiple.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely.

Darius Adamczyk: So, I don’t think that Honeywell has a lot of value attached to it, because we have Quantinuum within it. So, obviously we’re thinking about ways, as to how we liberate that value and potentially have it be a bit more exposed to investors.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And I’ve put my thoughts out there. I could definitely see a public offering. I’m not going to ask you to comment on that, that wouldn’t be appropriate. But, for people who want to invest, there’s very few choices. And again, mostly it’s been locked up in a Honeywell, locked up in Google, locked up in IBM. And so, if you believe in quantum and you want to put some of your investment behind it, it hasn’t really been broadly available. And this, if it does go and becomes something in the public market, when that happens, investors will have a chance to say, “Look, it’s a company I believe in, partnered with a company…” And by the way, I do think it’s worth really pronouncing the fact that, the arms-length between hardware and software is going to be huge, because we don’t know in the end. What we do know, is that hardware and infrastructure continuously evolves, but just like semiconductors and software, the winners are the ones that have the software that can run on any chip.

And the easier it is to run it from system to system, the more opportunity and growth that exists there. Let’s flip to the ESG thing and talk about that a little bit. That to me, is just a huge opportunity. I’ve seen some data come out that, Honeywell has made somewhere around 90% improvements in its own. And what I say is, it seems like Honeywell is, its own biggest client in many of its innovation efforts. And this is one great example of it. Firstly, maybe just broadly, what’s driving ESG as such a priority for Honeywell?

Darius Adamczyk: Because, ESG is embedded in so many things that do across the business and just to maybe tee-up something else. I mean, every year we issue our ESG sustainability report, that comes out every September. And I encourage all of our investors to at least flip through that, it’s about a 70, 80 page document, which comprehensively breaks down what we do and how we do it on all elements of ESG, the E the S and the G. And I think we have a track record, frankly, that’s second to none. And I think that you see that, more than 50% of our R&D spend is on ESG oriented solutions. And as percent of the total ESG, revenue’s going to continue to grow. And I’ll just point to a couple of specific examples. I mean, I talked about US Digital Designs. I mean, that is a very ESG oriented company.

I mean, saving people’s lives is a very big ESG theme. Probably, the one element that maybe doesn’t get talked about as much as I think it should. Now, this is maybe a little bit away from digitization and maybe, where we talked about. Probably, our fastest growing business at the moment, there used to be Intelligrated, which by the way, is still growing extraordinarily fast, but actually one that I think, going to bet on, is going to grow even faster, is our sustainability technology solutions business. Which, really contains all the technologies that are going to be relevant in the new energy infrastructure. So, whether it be green fuels, whether it be plastics recycling, whether it be carbon capture, or it be hydrogen fuel cell batteries, all of those technologies are contained in that business. And we’ve had some great wins with JGC to name one of our partnership with United Airline, being another. Our partnership with Sacyr, in Europe for plastics recycling, that business is going to exhibit exponential-like growth.

And I think, can be Honeywell and specifically, our UOP, can be transformational in terms of the role that they’re going to play in taking the energy segment from what it was, to what it will be in the future. And as you know, there’s a lot of commitments around zero carbon emissions in 2040, 2050. We can be that bridge, with our technology portfolio. It’s available today, so this is not futuristic. A lot of this is available today. We can help a lot of these companies really transform to who they will be in the future.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, there’s a massive energy transition that’s going on around the world, every industry and as a company that is so industry-focused, not just industrial, but industry, you have such a tremendous track record in areas, manufacturing and aerospace. We’ve talked about a lot of these. Every one of these industries is under a different subset of pressures. And so, I’m really glad you mentioned the say-do, is something I hear a lot, or that posturing that’s gone on, versus execution. Because, I feel like over last few years we’ve got a lot of posturing and I’ve tracked primarily tech. And so, as like with Honeywell, I’ve been watching your technology transformation, but almost every major company in technology has made some level of a commitment saying, by 20X, 30, 35 40, they’re going to achieve carbon neutral, or they’re going to be 90% sustainable goods, or they’re going to be using only recycled fuels, or they’re only going to be sustainable labor.

There’s just a lot of promises being made. And you and I had a little time to talk off the record, and I liked one of the things you said, along the lines of, 2030 versus 2050. I mean, you have things being committed, that will be two, three, four CEOs from now, for some of these companies, maybe more.

Darius Adamczyk: Right.

Daniel Newman: And so, it’s easy to say it, but the doing is complicated. And you mentioned you have these technologies that exist. You guys have probably one of the most comprehensive data sets of environmental sensor data in the world. You have macros on the utilizations of materials, that are required for companies. This is very real and tangible for the tech industry, which is going to be one of the most accountable, because they’re making the biggest promises, they want to be on the front end of this. Honeywell’s not really just going to be a partner. From what I understand, they’re really going to need a company with your capabilities, to be able to meet the promises they’re making their stakeholders.

Darius Adamczyk: Well, that’s exactly right. And I talked about some of the technologies that we have today, that can make that reality. And there are two sides to this. The first one, is how do you remediate? How do you become less hydro-carbon intensive? That’s a big body of work and a lot of investment and transition and transformation has to take place there. But, there’s another element, that’s just as important, which is measurement. You also have to be able to prove the fact that you are not as carbon intensive as you were in the past. And you have to have sensors and systems and software to be able to do that. And just to give you an example, I mean, we are currently in the process of instrumenting one of our own facilities that happens to be a manufacturing facility in this case, but to really measure the emissions in real time.

So, as we implement techniques, technologies to minimize those emissions, or eliminate those emissions, we can actually prove that. We can prove that and we can measure it in real time to say, “Okay, here’s what the carbon emissions were, and here’s what they are after the applications of a given technology.” We think that, that’s really important, because today it’s mostly, math models and applications and so on. And I think that’s helpful, but until we develop a system record to actually track carbon emissions, I don’t know that we’re going to have a fully compliant infrastructure in industry.

Daniel Newman: I feel like the word from everything you just said, is really accountability. There’s a big accountability opportunity that Honeywell can help these companies to deliver on. And that’s something I’ll definitely be watching closely, but the sustainability story is very, very compelling. Last question, there seems to be a bit of a debate in the markets right now about the large conglomerate, versus the systemic breaking of these companies. You saw with GE years ago, but now you’re seeing some of recent ones with Johnson & Johnson, with Bouche. Obviously, Honeywell, it seems much of your stuff is integrated, but you’re also perceived-

Darius Adamczyk: Right.

Daniel Newman: As a conglomerate. I’d just love to get your take on what you see the forces are here and why Honeywell is currently-

Darius Adamczyk: Sure.

Daniel Newman: Better positioned in-

Darius Adamczyk: Right.

Daniel Newman: In its current condition.

Darius Adamczyk: Right. Yeah, maybe a couple of answers. So, the first one is, we don’t view ourselves as a conglomerate. I think when people think about Honeywell, they think it’s a conglomerate, but there is a technology theme that’s very, very common. I mean, industrial automation business, or aerospace business, which the heart of it, is avionics. Well, what’s avionics? It’s, they really control aircraft, through the avionics platform. Same thing as warehouse automation, or RSPS business, building technologies. We’re the pre-eminent player in building controls. I mean, that’s what we do. But, I can see why people would say that, it’s a natural view. Because, we don’t really have that as the central theme, we don’t control and automation of its central theme. We have the end markets as a central theme. We talk about buildings and so on. But, we could be named Honeywell Control And Automation, it would fit.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think it makes sense. I think the moral of your answer there, is that conglomerate would not be an appropriate word to utilize. And although, the market may sometimes misinterpret it, because of the diversity of your business, that everything has common threads that tie it together, create value at scale, which is the difference between a conglomerate and a diversified enterprise, that’s building things across many industries. Darius Adamczyk, thank you so much for joining me today on Making Markets.

Darius Adamczyk: Thank you.

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Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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