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What are the Business Processes for Procuring a Master Systems Integrator?

MSIs are service providers. They typically provide a common data view for the systems they control within a building, campus or enterprise.
Scott Cochrane
Scott Cochrane,
President and CEO,
Cochrane Supply & Engineering

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Cochrane Supply & Engineering has teamed up with AutomatedBuildings.com to present a Master Systems Integrator Interview Series to raise awareness about the value of an MSI, and it has created a growing demand to learn more. This series has been gaining momentum and is generating much discussion with common questions arising such as:

•    How can I bring an MSI into my project(s)?
•    Is there a Master Systems Integration spec that I can use?
•    If I wanted to use an MSI, how would you describe the process?

MSIs 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. But, how do you hire a Master Systems Integrator? We have seen three basic business concepts regarding hiring master systems integrators, ranked here based on industry acceptance.

Concept One: The most common business concept we have encountered is what we call Negotiated Work. This is where a contractor is already doing work for the end user, and they run into a problem that could be resolved via an integration solution.  The contractor, now becoming an MSI, proposes it to the owner directly for often smaller dollar amounts to start.  In many cases, the integration brings huge value to the end user. They invest a small budget of service money for the integration in exchange for increased comfort, energy efficiency, and workflow efficiency, in addition to receiving improved data access and enhanced software tools to maximize their job success and capabilities.  It is at this point that the MSI transitions into being a part of the end user business family and continues to integrate and increase value through a vast variety of procurement processes. 

Concept Two: MSI as a Service.  We consider these contracts as on-going, with professional data consultation infused with software development, deployment, analytics, and software maintenance.  Some of these contracts initiate from the aforementioned negotiated work leading up to it.  In these situations, the owner is heavily involved and the networks that the systems land on are owner-managed, and the MSIs spend a large amount of time negotiating with the owner’s IT network.  These contracts often range from web services in the form of diagnostics, maintenance management, and energy management to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems.  The contracts for these services are usually owner-direct and are sometimes used as staffing services as more large real estate portfolio managers are choosing to self-perform these services and mix in the MSIs where they have projects and/or money available.  These MSIs are the diamonds in the rough and have an incredible breadth of knowledge and capabilities, and many of these contracts are very large in scope and time durations. 

Control Solutions, Inc Concept Three: Construction – Division 25 Systems Integration Section.  This is the most challenging arena to successfully implement an MSI scope of work.   We have studied this for a while, and our latest approach is to develop a self-contained IP network within the construction scope that would be contracted to, installed, and delivered by an MSI.  When Division 25 gets accepted into the spec, the engineers can evaluate each section (mechanical, electrical, security, Life Safety, IT) and coordinate the appropriate equipment onto a common communication backbone and a graphical user interface provided in Division 25.  We are working on educating engineers on how to specify a self-contained IP network to include servers, fiber, managed switches, DNS, and Firewalls.  This process allows the engineer to determine the performance of the system without relying on the owner’s IT department, or lack of one, for multi-tenant situations. This makes it possible for multiple uniformly-installed systems to live on the same network reliably and securely in the building—paving the way for potentially-huge savings and new services for the building owner and occupants. 

Learn more about the topic of Master Systems Integrators through our interview series and interview compilation.



About the Author
Scott Cochrane is President and CEO of Cochrane Supply & Engineering, a leading industrial IoT and building controls supplier with locations throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, 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.

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