February 2013


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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Steve JonesEMAIL INTERVIEW Steve Jones and Ken Sinclair

The S4 Group, Inc

Steve Jones, Managing Partner

The S4 Group is a developer of gateway technology to integrate disparate technologies and systems in the building automation industry and other non-IT vertical markets.

Legacy Building Automation Systems Integration to the Cloud

I wanted to find out if this is a real market direction, get a feeling if there was a predominant standard being used, and get a handle on how quickly the demand is growing. It was a bit of an experiment to see if LinkedIn Groups could effectively be used to gather market research.

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Sinclair: I noticed your post on our LinkedIn Group requesting information about a trend you are seeing towards the growth of cloud based services and the need to support legacy building automation systems in the evolving environment. Why?

Jones: We were sensing a demand for our appliances to act as on-site agents for cloud-based applications. This is potentially a new application for our products so I wanted to find out if this is a real market direction, get a feeling if there was a predominant standard being used, and get a handle on how quickly the demand is growing. It was a bit of an experiment to see if LinkedIn Groups could effectively be used to gather market research.

Sinclair: Does this mean that the cloud is offering new and different services or applications?

Jones: The typical applications for on-site integrations have been migrating legacy building automation systems to new technologies or adding value added applications such as energy management or continuous commissioning. The cloud has the potential to offer the same applications, and many more. The cloud also has the advantage of always being up to date and being able to rapidly offer enhancements and new services.

Sinclair: Cloud based services don’t need local applications except for a web browser. Where does S4 fit into this shift in directions?

Jones: From the end user perspective all that they need is a web browser. However, when you get down to the basics an important part of the overall solution is the gathering of data and transporting it to the service provider’s applications so that it can be analyzed and the results made available to the user or automatically sent to the BAS. Our S4 Open Appliances have lead the legacy building integration market sector for some time. Supporting cloud based applications requires us to publish to the open standards utilized by cloud based services.

Sinclair: What are those standards?

Jones: That’s where the discussions became interesting. It’s obvious from the responses that everyone has not converged on the same standard and even those who are heading that direction are finding that there is a lot of room for interpretation between lines of the standard. The other aspect that was very interesting was the number of concerns in other areas that came up during the discussions. Overall, it appears that there is still a lot of education that needs to be done about cloud based services.

Sinclair: Can you share some details?

Jones: If you want to look at all the response details sign into LinkedIn and go to the AutomatedBuildings Group. Then look for the discussion I initiated titled “Legacy Building Automation Systems Integration to the cloud”. I posted the same question to a number of other building automation related LinkedIn groups but the most active responses came from the posting in the AutomatedBuildings.

Sinclair: That’s a good reference point but can you provide some of the highlights?

Jones: We ended up with 18 responses and showed up as the top influencer for the week. The postings covered a lot of topics including an acknowledgment that the same trends are happening in the metering area for intelligent utilities.  There were concerns about the ability to store the potentially huge amount of data that could be gathered. XML frequently came up as the solution of choice for the interchange of data. One of the postings delved into proprietary implementations and questioned why they are still being purchased.

Sinclair: It sounds like the responses were all over the map. Did you get the guidance you were looking for?

Jones: Yes, but I had to read between the lines. The type and volume of responses clearly told me that there is a high interest in cloud based applications and services. It also told me that there is still a lot of work to be done to harmonize all the attempts at standards. Most importantly, it told me that there is demand for an on-site agent that communicates to legacy BAS systems and makes the data from those systems available to cloud based services.

Sinclair: Were there any real surprises in the responses?

Jones: Yes, one response presented the case that Tridium’s Niagara AX platform already holds the position as a global defacto standard. That generated some heated responses that didn’t address my original request but certainly affirms that the subject of standards elicits many emotional responses both pro and con.

Sinclair: Where does this take you?

Jones: It looks like the cloud is opening up another product direction for us. Cloud based services are clearly gaining traction which in turn means that there needs to be a method to collect the necessary data from buildings. Strategically, from the start of our product development efforts we decided to position our products as enabling technology and leave it up to other experts to provide the industry specific applications and services. This revalidates that strategy and opens the door for a new set of partnerships and possibly some new connection communities.

Sinclair: You mentioned that this was the first time that you had started this kind of discussion on LinkedIn. Would you do it again?

Jones: Without a doubt. We got the answers we were looking for quickly and in a well-organized manner. I don’t think we would ever exclusively use one social media service but we definitely will be staying involved with the AutomatedBuildings LinkedIn Group.


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