July 2019

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Control Solutions, Inc. - Minnesota

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Saving the Earth should not Cost the Earth

The end goal is always going to be a building that operates effectively and efficiently.
Dave Lapsley
Dave Lapsley,
Managing Director
Econowise Group of Companies

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Control Solutions, Inc

I don’t think that I am providing any breaking news in stating that not a day goes by where those that are connected, in particular on business social media do not see someone from the Niagara community beating their undeniably well-tuned drum.

It must be true as some of our industries most established parties are constantly singing of the merits of these undeniably capable platforms.
As I have already stated the N4 platform in whatever flavour we may choose offers some very cool functionality and in the right hands provides some more than acceptable results.

I can only be completely honest at this point and express my concerns at the way that the industry is currently being brainwashed into believing the hype that all of our prayers are being answered.

I myself have had to endure meetings with long term and loyal clients and found myself reluctantly explaining to them that they are now faced with having to upgrade their legacy 2016 Supervisor systems for new N4 based platforms.

Due to having invested previously quite heavily in automation, providing their Tenants with technology-rich environments, they are now staring down the barrel of a considerably large and expensive gun.

Each time I have attended meetings such as this, I felt increasingly obliged to provide a large box of Kleenex to ensure that the inevitable streams of tears could be thwarted.

A system that three years ago cost them in the region of $8,000.00 is now going to see them forking out around $50,000.00 dollars in order to simply maintain identical functionality.

I know we have all seen and perhaps even used the term smoothing the bumps in the road with respect to smart building technology, but are we smoothing the client's bumps or perhaps more likely, our own?

Time to be honest, if we deliver a clear and concise appraisal of the system, we could claim that it is both flexible and powerful, but certainly not open!
Open is never going to mean completely free to do what you will with a system, but neither should it require a membership fee or a cost for each control point that we choose to add to the system by way of licence costs.

Perhaps only a humble opinion, but there is and should always be a cost associated with a system, open or otherwise that provides any kind of real power to users.  Inevitably individuals have spent many hundreds of hours developing these systems and this time should not be considered either free or inexpensive.

Open to me is simple concept in reality and is made up of two simple factors, open protocol communication along with the ability to do with the platform what you will, if users decide to integrate 50 control points onto the system then so be it, if they decide to integrate 50,000 control points the difference in cost should simply be the users time and for cloud-based systems the associated data costs, no additional licence costs.

By developing on platforms such as N4, can we really claim to be innovators? The truthful answer to this question is an undeniable no.  Can we honestly and with total conviction, claim that we are leading our clients into the proverbial open meadows of automation, again no is the only truthful answer.

In fact, a moment of thought and it is plain to see that we are in fact playing our own part in corralling our clients into a place that is far from open; surely this is in complete contradiction to the direction that we all clearly believe the industry must follow in order to thrive.

Perhaps now I should add further clarity to my thoughts, please believe me when I say that my words do not come as an off the cuff statement, in fact, they come from many hours discussing the future of building automation and the subsequent smart facilities that will result with not only clients, but also some very experienced and knowledgeable individuals within the industry.

I think it is fair to say that we all realise that we are always going to have to pay for years of development, which is both time intensive and very costly.  This is where I guess I am going to get slightly more controversial, and perhaps even critical of the established systems that are out there.

Acknowledged already; these systems are pretty powerful but do they really offer the end user any real differences from their forebears? After many hours of discussion leading to some very profound thought, it is my humble opinion that the answer to this is not as clear as many would have us all believe.

Yes the capability to integrate third-party systems and devices cannot be challenged really but is this not something that we can and have been able to do for a long time both easily, and with little limitation with a sub $400.00 gateway or interface unit.  Is it really enough to claim groundbreaking innovation or that these systems are the answers to our dreams and prayers, and has anyone really listened to the end user as of yet?

Let’s now stick my head well and truly above the parapet and stake some claims of my own, yes I am sure you have all been expecting this by now, even asking, where is all of this leading us to?

This is where it all becomes a little biased as I explain a little more about where I believe the industry should be heading, and in fact where I myself have been concentrating a lot of my efforts over the last five years.

I have long since believed that smart buildings and systems are indeed the future and have been very busy in the background, developing platforms that I believe offer some real differences over those currently available. Here is where I truly believe the differences are.

Can I claim that what we have been doing is truly different and offers completely new and revolutionary functionality to users? Well with absolute honesty I can stand up and answer yes, I know that inevitably and quite rightly we are going to be judged on this by both our peers and maybe more importantly our end users, but I am pretty confident that anyone reviewing what we have achieved can only agree with what I do realise is as a very bold claim.

My team and I have developed two groundbreaking platforms based around truly open principles; they both run on everyday devices running Android and IOS operating systems that we can all purchase from our local stores, and in fact generally, carry with us on a daily basis.

Both Bubll and Sentinll have associated Web applications which allow configuration along with back end visualisation, we have selected AWS as the most suitable platform to run these on but could equally have gone with alternatives from Microsoft or Google.  Set up is even possible on site hardware if the users require, but let’s be completely honest, they have been designed to operate in the cloud, and as such, this is the route that we would recommend.

I have mentioned the Bubll platform in a previous article written for automated buildings but always felt slightly protective over some of the functionality that we have included in the system.

A now patent granted user interface technology that can be configured in minutes without specialist engineering tools, it has no limits to the number of points that it can accommodate other than perhaps the limitations of the computing power of the connected device that it is running on.
Capable of integrating multiple manufacturers systems simultaneously over BACnet but also a completely bespoke IoT interface is allowing rapid integration via third-party APIs, making it both powerful and flexible.

Bubll is so rich in features and security measures that this is certainly not the arena to discuss it fully. However, one of Bubll’s key features is certainly worthy of a brief note as it is an area where the product provides something that we have not yet discussed, which is value.
Bubll’s virtual engineering mode; Bubll users are given the ability self-configure full out of hours performance testing of both key plant items and terminal units alike and subsequently run them in a fully autonomous manner, a detailed exception report is generated upon completion for users to action, this allows a targeted maintenance regime to be implemented.

Think about having the ability to add a performance test to a time schedule and leave for home in the knowledge that the virtual engineer will be taking care of matters and will report his findings to you in the morning.

220 Fan Coil Units tested, 206 passed and 14 failed, it will even detail the numbers for you, allowing a knowledgeable approach to be adopted in making the fix, a simple test re-run and all units proved and documented as performing as required.

This simply has to be one of the most important things that a system should offer to clients, and that is VALUE, yes it should be in capitals as it is that important.

Cooling Required

Can a system offer something unique and really deliver results that other systems are unable to provide? Will functionality save them time and subsequently offer financial benefits without compromise to the operational status of their building and their client's comfort?

Much to our teams’ absolute delight we now have unequivocal proof that Bubll will pay its own keep inside time periods not seen for a very long time. It is not simply an expensive upgrade of an old system; it offers true value.

Several of the UK's leading FM providers are now making Bubll a standard inclusion when both bidding for new, and retention of old portfolios, to manage. This is testament enough for me to believe that we have achieved something worthy of mention.

This has now been followed by Sentinll, which is equally groundbreaking in its approach in offering innovative functionality whilst meeting the pre-requisite of offering end users true value.

Sentinil Dashboard

Again a system that runs on industry-standard devices and is capable of delivering full-featured, and close to real-time visualisation of automation and energy monitoring systems.  Add to this its agile query engine which is able to monitor building operation and energy consumption in real time whilst reporting any anomalies; this fully tailored monitoring approach can be configured via a simple drag and drop interface, yes it is that simple.
Reports can be generated for portfolios of buildings to identify the best and worst performers per square foot of real estate along with detailed analysis of any faults that have occurred during the selected time periods.

Like Bubll, Sentinll will offer a return on investment periods that are rarely achieved with automation systems.

Reliable Controls In both of the above systems, our team of dedicated Building automation engineers and software developers have already done the hard work for users, whilst the systems are both capable of extremely complex functionality.  In the background, they are very simple to configure and manage by the end users themselves.

My own personal journey over the last five years has been a very thought-provoking process, and I have been forced to ask myself some very big

Do I consider that my team have achieved anything outstanding? I will answer yes to that question every time. Do I think that they are more
talented than all the others out there, including those employed by the big names in the market? The answer is no more or no less.

I believe that the big difference is that we have spoken to and listened to our clients and their professional teams, and have delivered the
functionality that they have been asking for, in packages that operate on standard devices; they are affordable and most importantly offer advances that provide true and unarguable value for money.

Ultimately I am certain that others out there can do the same as we have; they simply need to listen to their clients’ needs and have the will to provide positive changes.

The end goal is always going to be a building that operates effectively and efficiently. We need to provide systems that offer reliable, secure, and cost-effective routes to sustainability, and not simply adopt platforms that the industry tells us that we should.

I honestly believe that in pushing proprietary closed solutions on our clients we are long term doing them a disservice, and with the tools that we all now have at our disposal, there is quite simply no reason for it. We all need to become innovative and think outside of the box; conventional thinking and compliance to the big manufacturers will ultimately cost us all.   We all need to ensure that Saving the Earth does not cost the Earth!

About the Author

Dave Lapsley currently holds the position of Managing Director for the Econowise Group of Companies; leading a team of dedicated Building Automation and Software professionals in both the day to day activities of a System Integrator and developing and implementing cutting edge solutions for improving efficiency and reducing carbon footprint within the built environment.

Prior to founding the Econowise Group of Companies around 12 years ago Dave spent upwards of 25 years serving in the Process & Automation Industry working on system from manufacturing equipment through to Commercial and Residential environmental controls, more latterly holding senior management roles.   


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