February 2022

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The Myths of the Master Systems Integrator

For too many in the BAS industry, the role of the MSI is still a mystery and sounds like a fictional future story.


 Scott Cochrane, President & CEO,

 Cochrane Supply & Engineering

 Contributing Editor

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The Myths of the Master Systems Integrator

To some contractors in the BAS industry, the MSI is this impervious controls contractor whom tells all the other contractors what to do.  They can do no wrong on a project, only right.  They have an open check book from the owner to do anything they want, and the owner doesn’t care.  They live in an ivory BAS palace on top of the BAS mountain where all the vendors come to suck up to them.  

To some end users in the BAS industry, the MSI is just the graphics provider. All they do is make graphics from systems that are made to work by other trades. They make it look pretty for the maintenance team and end up getting all the adds and services after the project is completed, because the system they put in is proprietary.

While many around the industry may have some consternations about the concept of the MSI, the owners who have embraced the concept are HAPPY. They have taken their building controls to new places and are really having some fun with technology and data for their buildings today.  For them it’s like having access to a Building Controls SWAT Team…….for data design, integration, commissioning, technology selection, IT department collaboration, cyber security concerns, software tool management and much more.  Successful building owners brag to others about how effective the MSI is and often do not want to share their relationships, to avoid their MSI from becoming too busy and losing attention to their needs.    

But for too many in the BAS industry, the role of the MSI is still a mystery and sounds like a fictional future story.


Over the last decade or so, I have witnessed the evolution of the modern building control platform provider.  The platform (control system) in the early days was a Manufacturers Only Members Club, but innovative, dedicated independent contractors wedged their way into the business. This increased the competition, and the best technological solutions over time have become the winners of most current projects.  The BEST technological control solutions are now those that enable the building owner to develop world class capabilities in energy efficiency, building operations, and the big one TENANT experience.    Buildings by nature are usually BIG and not easy to get under control.  Usually, they will have digital silos that need to be connected. Because of this, another control system needs to be on the project, typically in the form of a network with software that can connect, manage, and share data while bringing that BIG building under control.  Owners, now enabled with more tools than ever to improve their building control systems, found themselves without a way to implement these solutions.  They started repurposing strong technical contractors (usually BAS contractors) and relationships into their building control platform provider and created the opportunity the MSI is working to serve today. 


1.      Owner Control System Technology Consultant – Meets directly with the owner to understand their control system needs and regularly attends design/project meetings to ensure proper selection/implementation of technology.  Ongoing support for changes and new systems being added over time.

2.      Control System IT Managed Service Provider – Network - layout, installation, cyber security design, cloud connections… Every communicating control system needs a network when mixing systems.  Without an MSI, the load typically ends up with a business IT department that typically doesn’t understand building controls.  

3.      Total Building Control Software Provider – Install, set up, integrate diverse systems, network device management/security, share data with other systems, serve graphical interfaces and system tools. 

4.      Managed Services Provider – Provide software as a service to leverage the building information and provide an array of services to the building which are now typically cloud based. 

The most successful MSI implementations are those that are owner led and procured as a professional service.  Similar to the relationship between owner and consulting engineers, owners find the most value when MSIs are hired on an ongoing basis and allow the owner to use them whenever and however they choose.  It takes time for the MSI to learn an owner's preferences and operations, and over time the relationship becomes more efficient as the MSI earns the trust of the end user and no longer needs much attention or time from the owner to meet their needs. 

I know the name Master Systems Integrator may seem vague, and I truly don’t think it matters what you call the contractor that performs that work. The key is in getting it done by the right people with the right attitude.  The reality is that there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to modern BAS providers, and it's not just the manufacturers’ branches anymore.  Heads up, you never know when an MSI might show up for your project.



Join us at the 2022 AHR Expo! Hosted by automatedbulidings.com, Scott Cochrane and other industry leaders will be speaking more in depth about the MSI and other industry hot topics in FREE education session!  Located in room N239 sessions running all day Monday, January 31, and Tuesday, February 1, during the expo. You can view the full line up of AHR sessions here:  






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