March 2004
Interview
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Do you think all products will become commodities?

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.  


Sinclair:  Tell me a little about yourself?

Markie:  I run the largest distributor of open systems products in the world. We carry around 2,000 products from 55 manufacturers. I am also the Chairman of LonMark International.

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Sinclair:  Tell me how open systems has changed since you started?

Markie:  When we started Engenuity, the open systems market consisted mainly of visionaries and early adopters, who believed that open systems was a good idea but even I have to say that the products and tools available back then made it real difficult for most people. Today these early adopters have arrows in their backs but they are leading a market of pragmatic integrators that are finding today's products and tools much easier to use and be successful with.

Sinclair:  Do you carry all flavors of open systems technologies?

Markie:  Our focus has been LonWorks products; the large number of vendors that manufacture LonWorks products makes a commodity style distribution business viable. We have yet to see any other buildings related open systems technology that has this profile. Our philosophy however is about distributing any and all technologies that would support a distribution model. We are observing closely the TCP/IP level products as well as BACnet based products, but it's still a little too early for those areas.

Sinclair:  Do you think all products will become commodities?

Markie:  We see most of the non-systems products going down the commodity route. These would include end devices such as sensors and actuators as well as network infrastructure devices like routers and gateways. We see some programmable and systems products going through distribution, as we also see HMI and the web related products going through distribution.

Sinclair:  You mentioned TCP/IP; will that be a big thing in building controls?

Markie:  At this time, TCP/IP is a big thing as far as gateways, HMI solutions and of course web server types of products and Ethernet routers and other infrastructure devices. We are not sure when Ethernet enabled controllers or end devices will become available in mass quantities at low enough price points.

Sinclair:  Tell me a little about developments at LonMark?

Markie:  There are significant changes happening at LonMark, firstly a new name have been given to the organization that now operates as an independent entity with minimal ties to Echelon. LonMark International will also be over-seeing the strategy of LonMark affiliate organizations set up in each of the active countries around the world. Another major change is that LonMark will be working at the system level instead of just the device level. Also, there is a plan to develop a certification program for integrators of LonMark devices and systems.

Control Solutions, Inc Sinclair:  Does that mean that there will be a LonMark USA?

Markie:  A LonMark Americas is being planned at this time, we're not sure if we need to get to the granularity of USA or Canada.

Sinclair:  What do you think are the greatest challenges to open systems today?

Markie:  Although we've moved a long way in recent years, many integrators are still finding it difficult to deliver upon the promise of open systems based buildings. It can be quite daunting, the number of options available for products, tools and ways of doing things. With open systems, we wanted the ability to choose the best of breed, now we have that, but choosing itself can be complex if you have many options.

Sinclair:  Like choosing cold remedy from a Drug store's shelves?

Markie:  Right, that's just it; a lot of products, many of them look the same, with similar specifications. And the risk of choosing the wrong product is real and the cost of going down the wrong path can be significant to the success and profitability of your project.

Sinclair:  Wouldn't that suggest that it's best to go with one open systems vendor?

Markie:  If you do that, you're back to a single vendor "proprietary" model, just using open systems as a platform. The challenge there is you will not be getting the best of breed. Vendor A may have the best HMI but vendor B may have the best Sensor while vendor C the best engineering tool.

Sinclair:  So what is the solution?

Markie:  First of all, look for certified products. With LonWorks based devices, the LonMark certification is the seal of approval to make your life a whole lot easier. But even with LonMark certified products you still have a great deal of options of similar products that different vendors have implemented with advanced features not specified under LonMark. You see, LonMark specifies the interface between a device and the network, it does not say how the device works neither does it limit the vendors from providing additional value adds beyond what was required by LonMark.

Sinclair:  So how should integrators proceed?

Markie:  In order for integrators to be truly successful in delivering their solutions, they need help from someone who understands all of the options of products, understands how they work with each other, what tools would make their life easier and understands the latest developments and releases.

Reliable ControlsSinclair:  They need a pharmacist to help select the medicine?

Markie:  Absolutely right, that is what we have set up Engenuity to do.

Sinclair:  How does that work?

Markie:  When you come we have shelves of products to cater for all of your integrating needs (albeit displayed virtually on the Web). We also have a plethora of information about those products available on the web either on a pre-sales or a post-sales basis.

Sinclair:  And you'll ship the products, just like Amazon.com?

Markie:  In many cases we are able to ship overnight. And we are there with you should you have any issues installing the product in your system.

Sinclair:  So the end result is the integrator delivers the solution!

Markie:  That's what we are set up to do, to ensure that integrators' aspirations in delivering open systems come true, with minimal hassle and risk. And if I may add, enabling the integrator to make a good business doing so.

Sinclair:  Thus your slogan, Open Systems - Delivered!

Markie:  Absolutely, and it all starts with a visit to www.engenuity.com.


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