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What's the Point?

The delivery of data and physicality of a "point" complicate things enough; but it really starts getting interesting when Enterprise Facility Management systems incorporate data sources from outside the HVAC/control system. 

Keith Gipson


Keith Gipson
CTO and Co-Founder
Impact Facility Solutions

Last year Ken wrote a commentary called "Building Automation has become pointless". The observation Ken made was that the controls industry can no longer even define what a "point" really is. As open standards penetrate our industry, "What's the point?"...of even trying to continue to segment out "point counts". Nowadays, a point could still be described as a traditional 1000 ohm platinum device that varies in resistance as the temperature fluctuates, but it could also well be a snippet of .XML retrieved from a web services query! The delivery of data and physicality of a "point" complicate things enough; but it really starts getting interesting when Enterprise Facility Management systems incorporate data sources from outside the HVAC/control system.  But first, what is the origin of the term "point" when referring to inputs and outputs on an automation system?  Well, here's how the story was told to me:

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Several years ago, I asked my good friend, Roger R. Henderson (who since, unfortunately, has passed on), "Roger, why did people start calling points,...points?" Roger was a pioneer in the controls industry. He worked for nearly 35 years for Honeywell. He was directly involved in the old Delta 1000 and 2000 system projects. As we insiders know, the first electronic networks run inside a facility were for the Building Control and Fire Life-Safety systems. Probably the only other comparable network at the time would have been for the Telco system (which some of the early BCS's shared!). Many times, even in the late 80's, as a technician for Honeywell, I would unpack an IBM PC and people would gather around it marveling at the "new" Personal Computer. Often, the BCS front-end was one of the first PC's people ever got close to!. These early BCS's were segmented by "Channels" (or main "trunks"), "Groups" (or
Controllers) and finally endpoint devices and I/O (input/output). So...if you wanted to know the general health of a BCS, you would punch in the address of the first point available, on the main Operator's Terminal, which was: Channel #1, Group #1 and Input #1. On an old Delta 2000 CPU these address parameters were separated by DECIMAL POINTS, meaning that every site had at least a point "one-oh-one-oh-one" or more correctly, one-point-oh-one-point-oh-one (1.01.01) The way Roger told the story, legend has it that the decimal point separation (and designation) wound its way up into the nomenclature of our industry, and that's why points are called "points". I'm sure that there are similar tales at other BCS companies, and if so, I guess we can put this one right up there with the "who invented the thermostat" debate (of course, everybody knows that Al Butz at Honeywell did that : )

Now that we know what a point used to be, let's look at our situation today.

In the "old" days of facility automation, the term "point" meant a sensor or output connected by wires to a central data gathering panel. However, today's owners and managers depend on the timely use of complex information "on demand". These snippets of data are no longer confined to discrete sensor values or hardwired relay outputs, but can be virtual, composite pieces of information formed through the processing of data from a variety of sources.

This latter definition of points reminds me of an incident that happened to me ten years ago when I worked for PG&E, which got me thinking about this subject and also really demonstrates how customers might look at "points".

One of PG&E's utility customers came in for a demo of an Energy Information System, as well as to negotiate a large energy commodity contract for his National organization. He was the Energy Manager for a large specialty retailer and quite naturally we struck up a conversation about Building Control, Demand side management and Energy conservation measures. I was astonished by his ability to look beyond the definition of what a traditional "point" was.

Perhaps it was simply that he just didn't know what information was and wasn't available in a traditional system, and this enabled his thought process to be unfettered by definitions. My eyes were opened up to what's really important when he began to explain that, even as an energy manager, reducing energy consumption is not always the primary goal, not in his world at least.  As a matter of fact, he said that he was willing to spend more on electricity, if the additional cost was negated by increased revenue! And that opened up the (in)famous "Ladies shoe sales" conversation. Basically, he said "you know, IF I could accurately monitor the indoor air temperature throughout the store and IF I experimented and drove down the temperature inside the store to an absolute perfect 70.5 DEG F and IF I could simultaneously measure the exact register sales amounts (point-of-sale information) in real-time: I might spend more money on electricity because my customers might spend more because they're more comfortable. Comfortable customers shop more!" And that's when he asked the question:

"WHERE do you pick up the point-of-sale information in your system?";

and I thought to myself

"Where is the point for Ladies shoe sales?".

The answer is: "In the Oracle, IBM or NCR system". This is why as an industry we have to move towards truly open IT-based standards. No, not because it makes us internally as an industry interoperable, which of course it does, but it's for customers like the one I just mentioned, who have a desire to import and export information to and from the BCS system to enhance his bottom-line. To do things that are outside of traditional boundaries and possibilities. There are many, many other examples and scenarios for utilizing information intelligently throughout a customer's enterprise. I hope that this simple example gets you thinking about what your customers might be thinking. I read in a book called "Techno Trends" by Daniel Burrus (an excellent book by the way), that we should "Give customers the ability to solve problems that they don't know they have, yet would solve them if they knew they had them, as well as the ability to solve them"

Otherwise, "What's the point?"

Come and hear what I have to say at BuilConn

Turning Virtual Points into Tangible Values
Track: The Value of Building-IT Convergence
Thursday May-18-2006
17:00 - 18:30

contemporary About the Author

Keith E. Gipson has been a technologist for almost two decades. Starting out as a Technician with Honeywell Inc. in 1987, graduating to an Engineer at Johnson Controls in the mid-90's and at Pacific Gas and Electric in 1997.

A successful entrepreneur and business professional, Mr. Gipson co-founded in 1997 the world's first; Internet based Enterprise Energy Management company, Silicon Energy Corp ( . The privately held company grew from three persons to a 120 plus employee, multi-million dollar company. Itron Corp. acquired Silicon Energy in March 2003 for $71M.

Mr. Gipson was Awarded United States Patent number 6,178,362, Jan 23, 2001 as Co-inventor of: an Energy Management System and Method utilizing the Internet to perform Facility and Energy Management of large corporate enterprises. Edison recently honored Mr. Gipson as a "modern day" African-American inventor with significant contributions to technology and specifically, the Electric utility industry.

Presently, Mr. Gipson is the CTO and Co-Founder of Impact Facility Solutions (, formed in connection with the founders of NetZero Corp (, Impact is dedicated to delivering Internet based, Enterprise Facility Management Solutions to large corporate customers using his latest, patent-pending technology.

Mr. Gipson mentors young, business professionals through University of Southern California's "100 Black Men" program and minority college students at the California State University "Upward Bound" program. He is the Director of the Children's ministry, Deacon and Sunday school teacher at The Roger Williams Baptist Church, Los Angeles, CA. Keith enjoys music, computers and spending time with his wife and four children.


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