July 2017

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Scott CochraneEMAIL INTERVIEWScott Cochrane and Ken Sinclair

Scott Cochrane is President and CEO of Cochrane Supply & Engineering, overseeing six branch locations throughout three states, as well as one in Canada. In 2000, Scott took over the business from his father, Donald Cochrane, Sr., who founded the company 50 years ago. He is proud to be an advisory council member for multiple industry manufacturers such as Honeywell, Johnson Controls, and Tridium, and to be named a 2016 IBcon Digital Impact Award Winner for his innovative contributions to the industry.

Master Systems Integrators

They make sure all systems communicate properly, collaborate with building owners to ensure systems information will be accessible and usable, and they develop software layers responsible for integration, aggregation, and communication of the building systems.

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SinclairScott, what is a Master Systems Integrator?

Cochrane:  MSI’s are service providers. They typically provide a common data view for the systems they control within a building, campus or enterprise. Their purpose is to connect the building stakeholders to their systems and provide useful, meaningful, and important information and control. They make sure all systems communicate properly, collaborate with building owners to ensure systems information will be accessible and usable, and they develop software layers responsible for integration, aggregation, and communication of the building systems.
To achieve this, it is an MSI’s responsibility to educate the construction team, look for synergy to save money, review progress, collaborate with IT Departments, and connect subcontracted systems and provide the interfaces required to run and advance the building. We work with MSI’s, and many are contractors that have evolved from Mechanical, Electrical, Data/Telecom, Process, and now Database companies that are getting into analytics.
SinclairHow is the MSI concept evolving?

Cochrane:  The growing technology available to control building services, combined with the advancements in IT infrastructure, has allowed for new services for the building to include the use of mobile devices, equipment diagnostics, advanced energy control algorithms, and so much more.  We can now provide the owner with a path to get all their control systems operating together, within or under budget, meeting IT guidelines by multiple firms in local markets for the first time in the history of buildings.  We at Cochrane Supply work with more than 300 such firms throughout the Midwest and Canada. There are some challenges, however, including a high demand for training to provide these services and not enough new talent.
SinclairWhat are the skills required to be an MSI?

Cochrane:  First, they need to be a current service provider. Many times, the desire to become an integrator comes from the market requesting it from them.  For instance, a mechanical contractor may be asked to integrate controls from two different air handling unit manufacturers to provide better comfort for the occupants.  As the mechanical contractor develops their business opportunities, they essentially fall into this role.  After acquiring some experience, they become proficient, and their new capabilities give them the opportunity to build new business and nurture organic business growth, motivating them to continue.
Once the service provider starts the evolution, they then need to self-access their skills and come up with a strategy.  We have found most MSI’s have specialized skills in operational technology and information technology.   Operational technology refers to the ability to work on systems within the building such as Building Automation Systems/HVAC, Security, Life Safety, Lighting, Process Control, and other building support systems.  Information technology (IT) is the ability to work on networks, understand cyber security, develop databases, and work with IT departments to understand requirements.  MSI’s will need both skills to be successful, and they should additionally be Niagara 4 certified or have some other platform certification.
Finally, the MSI’s need to market themselves as such and let their customers know about the new and exciting services they can offer.  MSI’s can also change how they go to market with expanded service offerings to include systems integration, web services, diagnostics, and autonomous building services.   
SinclairCan you describe some methods for procurement?

Cochrane:  We first experienced integration through projects sold as add-ons. The projects had a functional requirement like putting the lights and mechanical on the same schedule or being asked to sub-meter different systems for data analysis, which developed the need to scope out an integration to accomplish it. Smaller integrations typically had a scope agreed upon between the service provider and owner based on the new functionality of the system as the deliverable. From there, they negotiated price.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]In some cases, we have seen integration specified for construction projects.  The integration of systems on a construction project can bring huge value to the owner, and by synergizing their approach to operational technology with IT, we have seen companies increase operational efficiencies and save energy while simultaneously cutting the budget.  Originally it was written in Section 17 of a spec, though more recent specifications use Section 25—both are designed to specify a network platform to connect to the building’s diverse digital control needs.  Because the construction industry business is dogmatic, it has been hard to add a systems integration layer without it becoming a premium on the budget, thus keeping it from becoming mainstream.  We have been working hard with consulting engineers to drive home the value of open systems and working with systems integrators. In some of our markets, the tide is turning, and we are seeing it becoming a standard, while in other markets it is still referred to as voodoo magic.
While we have seen successful MSI projects, some of the most valuable relationships for the owners are when an MSI is sold as a professional service.  Similar to how users hire consulting engineers, owners are now hiring MSI’s as a part of their construction team.  Their role is to educate, consult and coordinate the operations technology requirements through the process with all parties involved, including architects, financial planners, engineers, project managers, operations, IT and all sub-contractors that provide operational technology.  They can find huge savings in the planning process and help the owner with valuable information about control systems before they purchase them. The MSI will typically work directly with the owner’s IT department to install the software on a managed network that’s ready for the operational technology to be integrated.  Once the software is installed, the MSI can act as a commissioning service for the systems they are connecting and ensure that the provided operational technology is working properly.
Finally, as a part of the owner’s team, the MSI can deliver the information to the owner exactly how they want it. And, as an ongoing service provider, they can continually develop new functionality for the owner.  It’s a true yin and yang relationship, as when done correctly, both parties can benefit greatly from one another.
Watch the Master Systems Integrators segment in this video that recently debuted at Controls-Con, a bi-annual building controls, and smart building conference.


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