Article - July 2000
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Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Ken Sinclair, Editor

I have been on the leading/bleeding edge of the building automation industry for over 30 years. I have seen pneumatic control give way to electronic, electronics turn into main frame computers as big as refrigerators, mainframes give way to mini computers the size of suitcases, mini computers evolve to stand alone panels the size of clipboards which gave away to micro panels the size of pocket calculators, and now input and output devices become addressable. Now that the hardware had virtually disappeared and the migration of DDC control to the Internet had started it seemed that the next edge was here and I had better get on with my life's vocation of catching up.

Amazed by the implied simplicity of the Internet I was frustrated by the lack of organization of our automation industry. My special interest was how net web browsers would be used to present building automation graphical information anywhere. As I assembled a great number of bookmarks/links pertaining to this subject, it occurred to me that I might not be the only person trying to make sense of this wonderful new world. This new virtual medium had the power to allow organized and logical presentation complete with industry interaction. The potential opportunity to pull the Automated Building Industry together as a virtual community excited me. Our friends at had a head start and had done a great job of creating a virtual community/portal for the home automation industry. Using as mentors we started The net was a very different environment for us. The mentorship through the wonderful world of email/attached files, databases, html and even a bit of journalism was a rush. The support and encouragement of the community empowered with these tools totally amazed us. The ability to follow the model of an online ezine allowed us the luxury of a minimum time to market.

In May 1999 we had our web site up with July 1st being the first real issue of our online magazine "the Automator". Industry support from the start for the project has been amazing. Our original concerns about getting good content were soon put aside as members of the industry began to email us quality articles for publishing. The lack of typical publishing structure plus our desire to publish useful automation industry information turned out to be our greatest asset. The ability for our industry authors to click and drag, and or copy concepts from their busy electronic lives allows us to provide valuable content for our online magazine. The relatively short time to publish helps us get information to our readers before it becomes obsolete.

The Automated Buildings Industry is a small tightly control community and is generally extremely fragmented and difficult to reach. Each Corporation normally controlled sharing information but the recent explosion of information and web migration was making it extremely difficult for all players to provide useful timely information. The power and global reach of the Internet coupled with the speed of email made our desired goal of binding the many traditional and new building automation companies possible. The presence of our new virtual arena allowed the presentation of current automation/web interface concepts without having to deal with the complex task of what these new concepts might mean to each manufacturer.

Digital Dinosaur Does Dallas could have been a title for a low-grade horror movie but proved to be a significant growing point for us. Our involvement in The State of the Art Building Automation session at the AHREXPO helped us both inform and be informed about the rapid web growth as well as the exciting topics of evolving communication standards. We discovered that our greatest asset was the fact that we dropped out of the sky without the normal connection to large manufacturers or publishers. Once we convinced the industry that our intentions were honorable and that we wanted to build an automated building web resource the support was phenomenal.

Support in the form of great industry articles from industry movers and shakers increased both the quality and quantity of our content, and the use of our free news releases, new products, want ads and link services greatly increased. We acquired a number of paid ads from both large industry players and not so large new players. All of this activity helped our web resource grow.

New players in our industry are appearing daily. These players often supply only a portion of a Building Automation System. The actual fact is that few if any manufacturers actually supply the complete Building Automation System. Most projects are now implemented with a collage of automation equipment. This trend is likely to increase in the future. All of the above enhances value as a Business-to-Business (B2B) site.

From the start the number of subscribers who signed up to get monthly mailings amazed us. I love these guys. Their support is very encouraging as they seemed "to get" what a virtual magazine and web resource is all about and how it might be useful to them. Reviewing their companies' web sites gives us ideas as to what our readers might want to read about. Their global presence encourages us to seek and publish global automation information. North American Automation is of interest to the world, but we have much to learn from our global colleagues.

If I had predicted the effect eCommerce would have on our industry when we started a year ago I would have being wrong. I am amazed at the impact it is having and the power of this virtual commerce tool in the myriad of B2B relationships. Everyone who has company email is in the eCom business. A working eCom business should be developed or a crude one will evolve out of the email system. I feel we can provide a useful service connecting our industry to the eCommerce vehicles.

Somewhere over the last year we evolved to a Global Automation Portal serving over 10,000 sessions monthly and have over 400 links and 400 unique pages of industry information. The growth is now steady as email flows in daily.

We have talked of 4 net years per calendar year or a net year per quarter but it is now clear to us that Internet growth is exponential and we have our collective noses against an information mountain. We try not to let the information overwhelm us as we move back and forth assembling information to share with our readers. When we have time we look at what other related industries are doing and try to report back on potential convergence opportunities. We try to keep current with the daily increasing industry web knowledge. We have learned that our role is to connect the industry to technical content, not be the source of it. Our hope is continued support while providing ever-changing valuable information so that we can keep growing.

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