April 2021
Interview

AutomatedBuildings.com

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steveEMAIL INTERVIEWThe S4 Group, Inc. was founded by Steven E. Jones


The S4 group just celebrated its 19 year anniversary! At S4, Steve used the lessons learned supporting Metasys® customers to develop products that cost effectively integrate legacy BAS systems into BACnet IP solutions and set the stage for a smooth and controlled transition to a pure BACnet environment.





                    



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Sinclair: Welcome back to Automatedbuildings.com. You’ve been much quieter than usual, what have you been up to?

Jones: We may have been quiet but we’ve been staying busy staying up to date and connected through LinkedIn, participating in the Monday Live! Sessions, and participating in webinars to keep a pulse on where our industry, and technology in general, are headed. Of course, one of the most important sources of information is feedback from our partners and their customers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone. We’ve spent a lot of time monitoring the adjustments recommended for building owners to prepare their buildings to be safely re-occupied. We believe that there will be a surge in retrofits and upgrades of existing buildings with legacy Building Automation System (BAS) installations to improve IAQ. Our products allow that to happen without the costly traditional rip-and-replace process. The pandemic has also put tremendous pressure on building owners / operators to make their buildings as efficient as possible. The paradox is that in many cases they don’t have the financial resources to take the traditional approach of upgrading everything to make to make their buildings more efficient. This opens the opportunity to transition these buildings over time using S4 technology.

One of the casualties of the pandemic was our S4 Boot Camp. This two-day hands-on training program had to be discontinued until it is again safe to travel and meet in person. As an alternative we recorded all of the training modules and published them on a YouTube channel S4 Virtual Boot Camp.

The U.S. Federal Government is one of the largest property owners / managers and they have a huge inventory of buildings that need upgraded. We have been spending a lot of time developing an outreach program for this market with the assistance of our UTAH Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). U.S. Federal, State, or Local Government Agencies can now purchase our products through the GSA Advantage program. DynaGrace Enterprises hosts our products on their GSA Schedule contract number 47QSWA19D005C. DynaGrace Enterprises is a certified Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB).

After 19 years in business, the time has come that we needed to completely rearchitect and reimplement our products to keep up with the digitalization of everything and changes in technology. All our R&D resources have been going into this effort.

Sinclair:: What does this mean?

Jones: From the technical standpoint, historically our products ran on the Windows embedded platform, Windows CE. It was time to migrate to Linux, move our code base to C++, and remove OS specific references to make everything more flexible, more extensible, hardware independent, and more portable with an improved user experience. That was a huge undertaking even before we consider adding new functionality.

From a business standpoint, these changes open the door to work closer with our S4 Integration Partners and value-added application developers to offer combined solutions to our mutual building owner / operator partners.

There is a lot of emphasis in the industry on introducing machine learning and AI technologies to make buildings safer and more efficient. Almost without exception, these technologies are written to support current generation open BACnet BAS installations. Our original business strategy was to provide the enabling technology for BAS transitions and stop short of offering any value-added applications so that we could team with everyone in the industry without conflict. This is as true today as it was when we first offered our products. By combining the S4 gateway products with this new generation of value-added applications their value proposition can be introduced to the huge installed base of buildings with legacy proprietary BAS installations. One of the benefits that S4 brings to these relationships is that by introducing the S4 technology to the building, they are started on a transition path to an open BACnet ecosystem.

Sinclair: Your product has a great reputation. Why would you fix something that is not broken?

Jones: We pride ourselves on this reputation. I have always said to our partners that S4 is not successful until you are successful. We needed to future proof our existing offering and prepare us to move much faster in the future. Our products always used BACnet as the core technology that allowed us to transition legacy, proprietary BAS installations to the open BACnet ecosystem.

In the past, this meant working with one building at a time and, occasionally, a large campus. Traditionally, the starting point was upgrading the operator workstation and global control for the building. This was a huge step forward in making both the building itself and the operations staff more efficient.  As the application innovators in our industry have introduced value added applications, like energy management and analytics, large property owners are looking at their entire portfolio of properties as an asset that needs to be managed, monitored, and as energy efficient as possible. We are ready for that transition.

Sinclair: You have focused on providing gateway products between legacy BAS installations and BACnet. Is anything changing in your offerings?

Jones: Providing the enabling technology for value added applications remains a major focus. The internal changes we made will allow us to move much faster to introduce new integrations, new publishing capabilities, and leverage the work of others. There will be specific announcements through the end of this year. We will be introducing integrations that connect to IoT offerings and enable them to participate in the BACnet ecosystem that is critical to providing near real time and always available local control for buildings consistent with the concept of Building IoT (BIoT).

Sinclair: When you talk about IoT the topics of remote connectivity and Cybersecurity come to the forefront. How are you addressing these issues?

Jones: These are industry-wide concerns that need to be addressed with a consistent and standards-based approach. I see our industry embracing and applying the already existing and proven IT Cybersecurity technologies. The S4 Group is following this trend. We have established relationships with TOSIBOX and Contemporary Controls to address the needs of our partners and their building owner / operator customers that are not provided by our own products.

As BACnet/SC continues to gain momentum our BACnet stack will be enhanced to support this new secure transport option for the BACnet ecosystem.

Sinclair: Given the age of most legacy Building Automation Systems how long is your current business model viable?

Jones: I think that everyone was surprised by how far beyond their designed life most of the legacy BAS products have continued to operate and deliver value. Many of them have been in service for 25, or more, years and are continuing to serve their building owners / managers. They are electronics and will eventually fail but there is no sign of this happening in mass in the short term. Given the huge installed base of legacy BAS installations we will continue serving this market, and adding new integrations, for the foreseeable future. You’ll also see us adding new features to our existing integrations to enhance the services that we are delivering to these legacy installations. The architecture of the system lends itself to moving into IoT services and adding value to current BACnet installations. It’s been an exciting ride and we look forward to enabling many more partners to deliver their products and services to turn ordinary buildings into Smart Buildings.

Sinclair: We’ve covered a lot of ground. What will we see from S4 in the short term?

Jones: Historically, our products have been applied to retrofits and upgrades for individual properties or a campus of properties. Over the last several years, we have frequently seen our products used as an on-site agent to enable value added applications like analytics, energy management, or AI and Machine Learning applications tuning building operations in real time. We have established relationships with several of these organizations who are focusing on optimizing entire portfolios of properties instead of addressing them individually. Large property owners are starting to address their properties as an asset and taking steps to optimize their portfolio for energy optimization, providing a safe environment, IAQ, and the occupant experience.



The S4 Group, Inc. was founded by Steven E. Jones after years of experience working for carriers, networking vendors, and system integration companies in both the government and commercial sectors.

Before forming The S4 Group, Inc. Mr. Jones held multiple positions with Johnson Controls, Inc. Initially hired as Manager, Architecture and Planning for the Controls Group IT Communications team, he moved up to senior member of the System Integration Services Group, where he focused on developing enterprise solutions and integrating the Metasys® Building Automation System into customers’ IT environments, network infrastructure, and management platforms. He has extensive experience in communications systems design, development, implementation, and management as well as extensive experience in systems engineering and integration.

The S4 group just celebrated its 19 year anniversary! At S4, Steve used the lessons learned supporting Metasys® customers to develop products that cost effectively integrate legacy BAS systems into BACnet IP solutions and set the stage for a smooth and controlled transition to a pure BACnet environment.

Academic achievements include a MS in Computer Science from Stevens Institute of Technology, a BS in Computer Science from Rutgers University, and an AAS in Computer Science from Penn State.

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