June 2012

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The Era of New Energy Management and Automation

Noesis is a free, web-based energy performance management platform that combines professional analytical tools and extensive real-world advice and tips supported by an online network of energy professionals.

David Emmerich
David Emmerich,

Director of Energy Information Services
Noesis Energy 
This article is about three fundamental changes that are happening in the industry and how companies and end-users are adapting to those changes to improve their opportunities for success.
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If you are in the building automation or energy conservation industry today, whether you feel it or not, you are in the middle of an amazing transition.  Some are using the term convergence narrowly to define the transition as the joining of the IT and BAS/BMS/EMS networks and protocols.  I would suggest that the true transition is more fundamentally about changing business models and human behaviors.  Adapting to new technology is what we (humans) are best at.  It’s easy to look back on modern events that have marked industrial and commercial leaps and recognize them: transistors, desktop PCs, the Internet, the LCD display, digital cameras, smartphones, LEDs.  Not only is the time between disruptive inventions shrinking, but more importantly, the time it takes for us to accept and adapt to them is shrinking.  The challenge facing the industry is not about technical change, but about behavioral adaptation.

In the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of new technology into one of the most traditional of modern industries: Building Operations and Management.  It’s safe to say that the IT and BAS/BMS worlds have already collided.  However, building lifespans are measured in decades (or more) and most building systems are expected to last 5, 10 or 20 years.  But development and life-cycles for semiconductor and software-based technology is measured in weeks, months or at most a handful of years.   So the question is, how fast can we adapt to this convergence given that we can’t take the easy way out and replace the installed base of equipment in 5 million+ buildings every two years like last year’s iPhone.

What is happening, of course, is that new technologies are invading every space available in and around the large capital assets that can’t be replaced frequently.  Right now we are seeing opportunistic startups in both hardware and software searching for a place to get a foothold.  It’s not clear yet, which new companies and products will succeed in delivering the lasting LED solution, hosted dashboard or data aggregation app.

What is clear from our experience in developing new energy management software, is that regardless of the changes in technology or the speed to which we have become accustomed to adapt, the key factor in managing ourselves through this transition boils down to our ability to effectively share what we know and trust what we hear.  Whether you are a specifier, contractor, consultant or a professional (or “accidental”) energy manager, understanding the information coming at you on a daily basis and moving information forward to influence decision makers are essential skills.

Regardless of your role – and this is true both at work and at home – the most effective way to share what you know and trust what you hear is to have a strong network of knowledgeable peers.  Knowing that is the easy part.  The difficult part is actually building a network.

Correction: the difficult part was building a network.  As the first component of this transition, the most advanced providers of software and hardware know that it’s essential to bundle product offerings with access to a community of actual users.  True users can provide real-world advice and solutions when you need them.  Not only are these companies providing a forum for their own users, but the more successful welcoming their competitor’s users as well. Access to manufacturer’s help-lines, sales reps, or on-line user manuals is no longer the best or first place to reach out for help.  Often called crowdsourcing, this source of information and solutions is self-managing and self–vetting, and by it’s very nature provides instant access to a trusted network of peers that traditionally was only available after years of deliberate cultivation.  Johnson Controls’ Panoptix is probably the largest scale example of this effort developing right now in the industry. 

A second component of this transition is that access to high quality information and professional-grade software tools is no longer available only to those how can afford to pay the most.  This shift is several years old in the IT world and in our personal lives.  Apple’s iTunes University, the Khan Academy, and now a growing number of top Universities such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT are providing their course content for world-class educations for free.  (Not to mention the inconceivable size of the Internet itself – mostly free).  On the professional side, there are several free replacements for Microsoft office such as Google Docs and Open Office.  For pure IT tools, Spiceworks and PacketTrap offer their tools for free in a world of very high priced competition.  The cat is out of the bag and in nearly every functional area there are free tools available that rival the performance of those costing thousands. Companies offering software or services will have to provide enough value to compete with high-end offerings that are free or nearly free.

Control Solutions, Inc The third component of the transition is to do away with traditional channels to market and preconceived notions of who the customer is.  Traditional sales channels were developed around limiting access to information and logistics.  Keeping your suppliers captive or controlling a physical distribution path was the means to maintain barriers to entry.  It was necessary to maintain control of the links in the chain between the manufacturer and the end-user because that was the only way to keep prices high enough to feed all the hungry mouths in the distribution chain.  But in the building, the new value is shifting from the physical hardware to the firmware and software used to convert a mass of information into actionable, profitable decision-making.   With this shift there can be more direct paths to the customer and the concept of who the customer is can be defined more broadly.  As the disintegration of traditional supply chains occurs in our consumer and personal lives (e.g., book stores, streaming media, computer software and hardware stores), this is being mirrored in our professional lives with new entrants integrating 3rd party app development or bundling complimentary products to increase opportunities to reach customers.  Again, history shows us that companies taking the lead and embracing this will have the advantage over those that resist it.

We already know generally what the outcome of this transition will look like.  As mentioned above, look to what has worked successfully in the consumer and IT markets and apply the same models to the commercial and industrial market for building efficiency software and controls.  The question is, what shape is the adoption curve and what areas of the market will experience their “tipping point” first?  The key to maintaining control and success through the transition of the C&I building industry into the next era will be opening the doors and lowering the barriers to adoption of new technologies.  In the next few years, success will be measured by how well products and services freely expand the reach of actionable information, promote an educated end-user, and develop networks of trusted peer groups.

About Noesis Energy and the Author

Noesis is a free, web-based energy performance management platform that combines professional analytical tools and extensive real-world advice and tips supported by an online network of energy professionals – from energy managers to third-party consultants — to share their experiences on achieving real results.  Noesis provides energy managers – or anyone tasked with reducing energy costs – with instant access to the people and information they need help them analyze their usage and identify and implement efficiency and procurement initiatives.

David Emmerich is Director of Energy Information Services for Noesis Energy


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