May 2014

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A Few Screws Loose

on the desk … and elsewhere?

Andy McMillan Andy McMillan
Strategy Consultant
BACnet International

Contributing Editor


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As I type this column I have a couple of two inch screws rolling around my desk.  Yesterday they were buried in the bones of my left ankle.  Needless to say, between then and now I’ve experienced a little “hardware removal surgery” and a couple doses of really good Percocet pain pills.  I mention this up front in case what follows leaves you wondering if I not only have a few screws loose on my desk, but perhaps a few screws loose in my head, too. 

In this 15th anniversary year of I could reflect on highlights of the past but what fun is there in that?  Far more interesting (at least to me) is considering the possibilities that might be waiting for us in the next fifteen years.  Prognosticating is not for the faint of heart but bolstered by my temporary freedom from surgical pain I’m inclined to offer the following list of intriguing predictions for our industry over the next fifteen years.

The Bigger They Are The Harder They Fall

At least one long-established, multi-billion dollar player in this industry will disappear in a cloud of failed attempts at generating “recurring revenue” with business models customers do not want and/or becoming a “solutions provider” without enough understanding of the customer’s business to solve their real problem.  Now, I know some of you are already thinking that this is an easy call to make because it’s obvious some companies are so focused creating new business models that they are losing their focus on customers.  And we all know that road leads to nowhere but ruin. 

Efficiency per se Becomes Passť

Energy efficiency in equipment and controls solutions will decline to insignificance as a basis for competition.  Increasing regulatory requirements (think Title 24 et al) and voluntary sustainability standards (e.g. LEED) will drive the whole industry to a common reference point.  At the same time, the industry’s ability to increase efficiency through equipment improvements and controls approaches will plateau leaving most suppliers with comparable solutions.  As a result, the important competitive weapons that will rise to the top in controls, automation and energy information systems will be speed of implementation, simplicity of the user interaction and cost. 

Lighting is the Point … the Focal Point, that is

The time is coming when a building’s lighting system will be the building’s focal point of sensor data generation and controls intelligence.  In fact, virtually all sensors and much of the on-site intelligence for building automation and energy management will be embedded in lighting components.  This shift will be driven by the broad distribution of lighting components in a building and the rush to retrofit buildings with LED lighting.  It will create a compelling case for using lighting components as a platform for low-cost distributed sensor networks that are far more robust and capable than traditional solutions.  Coupled with the natural linking of LED lighting installation and advanced controls it will drive a complete re-shaping of the automation industry (elsewhere referred to Automation Armageddon).

Kiss Programming “Goodbye!”

Controls and energy information system programming will become little more than an interesting anachronism.  There simply will not be time or money enough to develop custom controls programming or software for every building, much less for every subsystem in a building.  Instead, building components that currently require controls will evolve to the point where they can simply be assembled and then configured at a high level – by people who know buildings and equipment, not programming.  Data streams from those systems will flow seamlessly into applications that know how to interpret them and what to do with them.  Controls configuration will become much like selecting apps for your smart phone and getting access to your controls and energy data steams for analysis and display will be like using the Netflix and Pandora app on your smart TV to access video and audio data streams. 

Rags to Riches

Another really easy call is that we will see at least one billion dollar company rise up from the ranks of the innovative “little guys.”  It’s hard to predict where they will get their start because there is such a wealth of opportunity for new businesses in our industry.  LED and wireless technologies are enabling new solutions and the “cloud” along with analytics engines are enabling new business models.  There is little doubt that you will look back in fifteen years and wish you could have known now what you will know then.


[an error occurred while processing this directive] At the end of our next fifteen years, little of the industry as we know it will remain.  I know that we operate in an industry that is historically rather slow moving (and I’m being generous at that).  But the reality is that our industry is being infused by people, technologies and concepts that have been historically fast moving.  Will they slow down for us?  I think not.  We are going to see the industry speed up and those who are a little slow will be left behind.  Which brings me all the way back to where I started this article … the loose screws on my desk.  As long as they were in my ankle my speed was limited to a slow walk.  Taking them out opens up the possibility that with some work I could get back to running at full speed.  And that raises an interesting question:  Do you know of any companies that have a couple of screws in the ankle that slow them down?  In this time of rapid change, unless they are willing to suffer the pain of removing the screws and working to regain full speed, the industry will pass them by.  Don’t let your company be one of them. 

As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at


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