August 2004
Interview
AutomatedBuildings.com

Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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EMAIL INTERVIEW  Tracy Markie & Ken Sinclair

Tracy Markie is co-founder and President of Engenuity Systems, Inc. and has 20 years of experience in the control systems market.  


Automation products becoming commodities

Sinclair: The last time we spoke, we discussed automation products becoming commodities. Has anything changed?

Markie:  The trend continues and I don’t think anything will stop it now.  More and more products are being certified either by LonMark or the BMA, more manufacturers have entered the market, and second or third generation ‘Open System’ products are now being installed.  Certainly our business (Engenuity) has grown in the last few months; we’ve seen a big increase in the number and variety of products in which end-users are interested.

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Cube

Sinclair: As you look at the growth of your business, can you see any trends emerging for the future of the open systems market?

Markie:  Sure.  Wider product availability, improving applications, XML and related follow-on technologies, just to name a few.  Convergence continues as desperate systems as well as newer networked systems are tied to the internet, and their data is made available to enterprise systems around the world.  These trends make the new distribution model more valuable to the supply chain.  By this I mean value-added services such as 24/7 availability, cross application technical support, extensive information and documentation, and order fulfillment management. 

Sinclair:  Are open systems finally taking over from the proprietary, single vendor applications?

Markie:  Not yet. Open systems are certainly gaining ground, but they are not the market share leader by any means.  We have seen a tremendous up tick in adoption over the past 18 months with many notable end-users specifying open systems as the solution for their buildings.  These include the U.S. Army Corp, New York City schools, City of Chicago, and State of Louisiana to name a few.

Sinclair:  Previously you said that a challenge for those interested in delivering open systems was wading through the large number of available options for products, tools etc. Obviously your company offers some relief from this dilemma---what else can end-users do to make informed choices?

Markie:   I can recommend several strategies for anyone who really wants to get ahead of the crowd.  Education: Many companies and organizations now offer seminars and classes.  Two traveling seminars will be touring the country later this year and early next year that will provide the most up-to-date information about open systems available.  The first, happening this fall, is BuilSpec.  This series will be managed by the same company that puts on the BuilConn show.  The second, now in planning the stages, will be put on by LonMark and will focus more on LonWorks technology.  Participation: Find relevant organizations and user groups to join.  These groups offer the best way to keep in touch with your peers in the market.  And finally, do your homework: The internet is an amazing research tool.  Information sources and companies such as Engenuity can provide an avenue to shorten your learning curve.

Sinclair:  Judging from the various products you’ve been selling lately…what is the latest and greatest application or project type? Is it different than a few years ago?

Markie:  We have seen an increase in integrated control systems that pull in more applications than ever before.  It’s not uncommon to see HVAC, lighting, access, and security all incorporated in a single control system with a single common front end.  We also see things like irrigation controllers, distributed user interfaces, and DVR’s tied into networked control systems.  While these systems have been utilized for years, the integration level has increased and sharing of data is reaching new levels.  The biggest change over a few years ago is the cost effectiveness with which the systems can be deployed and reduction in cost of ownerships they are providing to end-users and building owners.

Sinclair:  So what are the latest products that Engenuity is seeing flying off the shelves?

Markie:  While not the most exciting, infrastructure products such as interface boards, wire, and routers continue to be the volume leaders.  Sales of products like web servers that implement internet connectivity technologies has increased dramatically over the past couple of years.  Another good example would be specialty HMI’s or GUI’s like i.Vue and DotVision, which utilize internet technologies and dedicated web servers.  And finally, good ‘ol fashion sensors.  As the reach of control systems increases and sensor technologies improve, the volume of sensors has increased.

Sinclair:  How can someone shopping for a system and products make a decision between LonMark/LonWorks and BACnet? Or do they have to?

Markie:  While I may be a bit biased in this area, I will admit making the right choice about a networking technology can be like deciding upon and discussing politics, one solution does not work for everyone for various reasons.  In our business, we chose to support primarily LonMark and LonWorks based products and companies.  The reasons for us were clear.  These include the number of products openly available, the number of manufacturers supporting the technology, the number of end users specifying LonWorks, and the fact that the technology and products support device to enterprise integration which represents a top to bottom solution.

Reliable Controls Sinclair:  We’ve had a lot of interest generated by several articles on the Lisa Chip from Loytec/Cimetrics. How do you see this chip affecting the open systems market?

Markie:  My first impression is this chip could have an interesting impact on the market.  The first application I see is a gateway between LonWorks, BACnet, and Ethernet.  The chip could also open the door for more “off-the-shelf” products especially for the BACnet market where availability of standalone products is lacking.  Depending on the volumes produced and ultimately the cost, it could provide manufacturers an easier path to become protocol agnostic, supporting either technology easily.

Sinclair:  You have a unique perspective in the automation world since you can see both the manufacturers’ side as well as the integrator/end-user. Get out your crystal ball…where do you see this industry in 5 year’s time?

Markie:  Here’s my top three list:

1) More open systems:  This will be driven by lower installation costs due to better implementation and deployment tools and technologies, wider product availability, more standards, wider acceptance, and easier, even seamless integration of systems.

2) More Ethernet based technologies and products:  You just can’t help but believe the volumes and therefore the cost reductions generated by the internet world will overflow to the controls market. Also, in an ‘uber-connected’ world, having control systems integrated with the internet will be the norm, not the exception.

3) Increased data availability:  As our delivery vehicle (networked and internet connected control systems) improves, so will the information available.  Smaller, cheaper, and faster products driven by the first two trends will drive greater deployment of controls.  Ultimately, not only will the volume of data increase, but the quality of the information will improve as well.  This trend will drive sub-trends such as wider use of sensor technology and “yet-to-be-networked” applications as well.

The challenge will be how to keep up with it all!  I am certainly looking forward to the ride!!!

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