Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.
Tomorrow’s Solutions in Today’s Projects
Chief Information Officer
Business Development Analyst
the automated building industry continues to enjoy unprecedented
growth, a variety of factors can lead to complications in the earliest
stages of the project lifecycle that impede and reduce the advantages
of intelligent building solutions.
Building and portfolio owners and managers see the
incredible energy and operational savings made possible through smarter
automation and are understandably eager to reap those benefits. At the
same time, contractors outside of the industry see the opportunity for
big paydays and seek to become systems integrators, whether or not they
truly possess the skill set and industry experience necessary to
realize an owner’s vision.
Paul Oswald outlined the differences between the
Wikipedia definition of a systems integrator and the expertise required
to be considered a systems integrator in today’s industry in this very
publication in May of 2016. Unfortunately, the number of Wikipedia
integrators has only grown since then and will continue to grow until
the industry responds, whether by certification process or attrition.
When owners who are new to intelligent building projects
are met with systems integrators who are new to the industry, the
likelihood of errors in design, installation, and integration make
erosion of benefits an unfortunate reality.
To combat this possibility, experienced systems
integrators have expanded their services and acumen to offer owners and
managers peace of mind throughout the lifecycle of an intelligent
These Master Systems Integrators (MSIs) leverage years
of experience in an ever-evolving industry into a level of service that
owners of any level of understanding of the industry can rely on and
appreciate. Master Systems Integrators develop lasting relationships
with owners so that they approach projects as a partner rather than
just a contractor.
While Master Systems Integrator is, at this point, a
title that any company may bestow upon itself, there are a number of
ways an owner can sift through potential partners to find a true MSI. A
worthy MSI should be able to present, in detail, their vision for each
of the following stages of an intelligent building project’s lifecycle:
Assess & Advise
Most owners consider taking on an intelligent building project for one of several reasons. Maybe a building management employee made them aware of an interesting demo with cutting-edge graphics and control. Maybe they want to improve maintenance staffing productivity while expanding the footprint of their portfolio and enhancing the tenant experience. Maybe sustainability and “thinking green” are a personal passion. Maybe it’s as simple as a desire to reduce energy costs.
For any goal or use case an owner may have, there are
dozens of contractors and systems integrators who claim to specialize
in precisely that discipline.
In the earliest stages, when building automation is more
of an idea than a planned project, an MSI can help the owner cut
through the noise when making the right decision is most crucial.
By assessing existing equipment and capabilities, a
seasoned MSI can help develop a roadmap for where a building is, and
where it could be. This will often result in a mutually-developed set
of specifications and standards the owner can refer to throughout
projects that may be years from even being considered.
This specification includes guidelines and checklists the owner can use when selecting electricians, HVACR professionals, and integrators, with detailed standards for which they will be responsible for complying.
Plan & Design
When the roadmap and standards have been finalized, the
project at hand may be developed.
Just as the Assess & Advise stage helps avoid future losses by way of choosing the wrong contractors, the Plan & Design stage helps avoid future losses due to choosing the wrong equipment or facility management systems.
Like any technology, intelligent building technologies exist in a landscape that changes in the blink of an eye. Any integrator can select today’s best equipment. A Master Systems Integrator can make a selection that’s ready for tomorrow’s growth. This step beyond the development of a standard project scope is what separates an MSI from an integrator.
Build & Implement
It may seem as though this stage would present the least
amount of difference between standard integrators and MSIs, but it may
actually be where an MSI’s skillset goes furthest beyond that of a
The reason for this is that the scope an MSI is able to
Build & Implement has expanded over years and years of experience.
Because all MSIs were once simple integrators, they have learned what
capabilities they should be offering, and have adapted their businesses
For instance, a Master Systems Integrator should have the ability to rely on in-house resources to offer what others cannot, whether it is custom software driver development to integrate non-standard or residential control devices into commercial projects, or to hand over graphics duties to a department of employees with backgrounds in graphic design rather than systems installation.
Quite simply, Master Systems Integrators have developed the resources it takes to say “yes” to a much longer list of owner requests, and the experience it takes to implement solutions that drive towards achieving the vision they share with the owner.
Small project teams offered by standard integrators rely
heavily on “Jack of all Trades” contractors. The same person who may be
a good installer, an okay programmer and a struggling graphics designer
is likely to serve all three roles, while another employee who
struggles with installations, studied programming a decade ago and has
a decent eye for design does the same for another customer. A sturdy
5-gallon bucket is just as likely to serve as a toolbox as a desk chair
in these instances.
The programming it takes to properly optimize complex
control systems is not something that should come as part of a
multi-tasking package. Master Systems Integrators are no longer turning
over a 5-gallon bucket and programming from memory on site.
Programming and Analytics departments offered by leading Master Systems Integrators are able to focus on a mix of industry best practices and cutting-edge rules development, resulting in a level of optimization a standard integrator simply cannot provide.
Because a Master Systems Integrator is involved, at one
level or another, in all aspects of an intelligent building project,
they have the ability to provide unmatched support. The same resources
that provide an advantage in the Build & Implement and Optimize
stages leverage the same skills to support the project itself, rather
than an aspect of it.
Master Systems Integrators are not assigning graphics
work to installers, or network design to logic programmers. While this
results in fewer service calls being required, it also means that the
root cause of any issue can be found quickly, and addressed by a
professional who specializes in the area where the problem resides.
An MSI should be able to provide 24-hour support throughout the warranty period and into an extended service contract in the years after a project is completed. Owners should not settle for any offer of service that does not come with guaranteed response times for all levels of support.
The most advanced building automation system is worthless if the owner’s stakeholders cannot confidently use it. What matters is not what a system can potentially do, but what its users know how to do with it. Any integrator can focus on the former. An MSI maximizes the latter.
Master Systems Integrators know that training is not an afterthought. Their involvement throughout the project assures that they understand the project goals, not just of the owner, but of the building managers, tenants and all other stakeholders of the project. Often, an MSI will inform the owner’s project team of who should receive training even moreso than the other way around.
A Clear Advantage
Because each stage of the intelligent building project
lifecycle builds on what came before it and must prepare for what comes
next, it’s crucial to work with a partner who understands the process,
and whose actions are based on that understanding.
In today’s industry, it is not difficult to find a
collection of contractors and integrators who can deliver a project
that provides an improvement over existing conditions. However, it’s
very rare that an owner’s first taste of intelligent building
automation will be their last.
with a Master Systems Integrator gives owners peace of mind and
confidence that the guidelines and processes required to make their
next project successful are built into the project they’ve just
The intelligent buildings industry is an incredibly exciting space to be involved with. As the calendar turns to 2017, owners are faced daily with decisions of whether to begin the path to their goals for 2018, 2019 and beyond or to settle for a 2016 solution.
About the Authors
As Hepta Systems’ CIO, Jason brings a wealth of knowledge about the role of IT in intelligent buildings projects, and 15 years of experience putting that knowledge to work in projects from small spaces to 1 million+ square foot skyscrapers. A former ControlTrends “Young Gun” and 2015 dBusiness magazine “30 in their Thirties,” Jason has earned attention an accomplished young professional from both inside and outside the industry.
A newcomer to the intelligent buildings industry, Mike leverages a unique background in both public relations and business information systems to bring an outsider’s perspective to the intelligent buildings industry. In his time with Hepta Systems, Mike has learned a great deal about the industry in roles ranging from business process analysis to user interface management.
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