BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
Chris Bonzheim, General Manager; Marc Dreyer, Operations/Estimating Manager; and Jeff Tibbs, Account Representative
Scott Cochrane of Cochrane Supply & Engineering has the unique benefit of working with 300+ of the best systems integrators in the country. Cochrane recognizes the critical role they have within the building automation industry and is speaking with a different highly-regarded MSI each month with the goal of providing examples of industry trends, best business practices, and the growing value of an MSI. This month, he interviews members of the ControlNET Team
May 19 Interview with Ryan Kauffman, President of Control Solutions, Inc. April 19 Interview with Bassam (Sam) Haddad, founder of HDC Automation. March 19 Interview with Darrell
Driver, General Manager, Manitoba, for BSD Solutions. February 19 Interview with Scott
Manager, Building Automation at LONG
Building Technologies. January 19 Interview with Josh
Reding, Senior Vice President, General Manager of
Sunbelt Controls December Interview with David Crosley, Waibel Energy Systems November Interview with Derek
Drayer of RoviSys. October
Interview with Preston
Blackwell of Enervise. September
Interview with Tom
Davis of ERMCO, Inc.
May 19 Interview with Ryan Kauffman, President of Control Solutions, Inc.
April 19 Interview with Bassam (Sam) Haddad, founder of HDC Automation.
March 19 Interview with Darrell
Driver, General Manager, Manitoba, for BSD Solutions.
February 19 Interview with Scott Papay, Sales Manager, Building Automation at LONG Building Technologies.
January 19 Interview with Josh
Reding, Senior Vice President, General Manager of
December Interview with David Crosley, Waibel Energy Systems
November Interview with Derek
Drayer of RoviSys.
October Interview with Preston Blackwell of Enervise.
September Interview with Tom Davis of ERMCO, Inc.
August 18 Interview with Continual Energy Inc
July Interview with Ian Morse, Division Manager, Building Automation Systems, Conti Corporation
Interview with Marc Dugré,
President of Regulvar, Inc.
Interview with Rick
Gorka, President of the Airon Group of Companies
April Interview with Colin M. Murray, Owner of Solution Control Services
February Interview with Jeff Murphy, President and CEO of ECT Services, Inc.
January 18 Interview with Chris Saltz, Managing Principal of FIX Consulting LLC.
December Interview with Jason Houck from Hepta Control Systems.
November Interview with Geoff Hunter, President and Senior Principal of Palmer Conservation Consulting (PCC)
October Interview with Brian Oswald, Managing Director for CBRE | ESI.
Interview with Joe
Napieralski the Co-Founder and Director of Development of Smart
Building Services LLC
August Interview with Sidney
H. Blomberg, Jr. the founder and President of K
& S Ventures, Inc
July 17 Interview with Scott
Cochrane and Ken Sinclair
This month (July 2019), he interviews members of the ControlNET Team
The below content was a collaborative interview with the following members of the ControlNET team: Chris Bonzheim, General Manager; Marc Dreyer, Operations/Estimating Manager; and Jeff Tibbs, Account Representative.
Cochrane: There’s a lot of argument about the definition of an MSI. The way I define it is that an MSI really is somebody who will integrate many systems together, such as mechanical systems, mechanical/electrical, security/life safety/electrical, etc. In terms of that kind of work, how did you guys start into that type of work in the very early days?
Bonzheim: One of the earliest projects was an integration with a
factory-supplied ClimateMaster heat pump system at a job in downtown
Grand Rapids. They were LonWorks, but we had never done anything in our
careers other than install and program controllers that we had supplied
as part of our in-house line such as Honeywell. Due to our early
adoption of Tridium and their premise of protocol normalization into a
single database as the gateway into integration, we proceeded with the
project, and I think we were a little surprised ourselves that it
actually worked. So that was really the start and gave us the
confidence, and at the time, there really were no other contractors in
our market embracing integration and taking it on head-on.
Soon after that, we had done a large integration to all the primary power systems at Whirlpool’s data center. The success of that integration received quite a bit of attention and became the subject of a Tridium case study back in 2004. As part of that project, we integrated into several different generations of electrical and HVAC equipment… and multiple protocols—the majority not HVAC. It was power substations, automatic transfer switches, static transfer switches, power meters and UPS’. From there, we were selected as the MSI for the Van Andel Cancer Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI. They were seeking a “Smart Building” technology company able to integrate and deliver an intelligent building solution at their signature building. As they conducted interviews and went through the pre-qualification process, we were the most qualified company to deliver an integrated, intelligent building. That project led us into the Haworth World Headquarters job, which then led to Gordon Foods National Headquarters job, etc., etc. We’ve probably done five regional or national Headquarters building because of our role as a Master Systems Integrator and the desire for Owner’s to seek integrated building solutions for their most prestigious properties.
Cochrane: Now, in becoming an MSI, when did you actually start promoting it? Did you see it as an important part of the business right away, or was there something else that changed that made you see it would be an important part of your business?
Bonzheim: Absolutely, it was an essential part of our business. It was the differentiator between ourselves and the traditional national control contractors. They weren’t doing it; they didn’t like to do it. And that really was what gave us an advantage over the national contractors and continues today.
Cochrane: You guys have been doing this for almost 20 years. With that being said, you are a very successful company doing a good job for your customers; you’re a good MSI. Can you speak to some of the traits and characteristics that you feel make you a good MSI?
Dreyer: What we learned early on while doing a lot of integration work is that everybody wants to integrate, integrate, integrate, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of what do you do with the data once you have it. We invested a lot of time going through various integrated systems to clearly understand the data. We’ve learned good practices of what to do with the data, how to use the data, what presents good value to the owner, and how to give them good information from their buildings of things they want to know. Not just data because you have data. But actually useful data that owners can use to help save energy, solve problems, maintain their buildings better or more efficiently—that type of thing.
Bonzheim: Additionally, with any integration, these are complex mechanical systems and one of my goals was to have a graphical interface department with graphical design engineers on staff. So we went out and hired people who were educated in the creation of graphics in a software/electronic environment so we could make that one of our hallmarks. We have found it to be true over and over that ease of use promotes use, and our customer base agrees and has embraced that premise. That is why great graphics are great design, not just nice pictures, but the way the navigation tools are laid out, how they’re linked, how they’re named and how the data is presented to an owner. If we can help make a complex system logical and easy to use, then we have delivered our promise. Other things are really simple business philosophy types of things: We do what we say we’re going to do; we don’t take shortcuts; we put a quality installation in front of profitability, always. A lot of these integrations aren’t easy, but we always learn along the way and apply those learned practices to the next opportunity. Communication with the vendors and equipment suppliers you are integrating to, and a working relationship with them is absolutely essential.
Cochrane: Do you feel there are any other qualifications for an MSI that you feel that you need to qualify as a company that can do these integrations? Are there other people you think have to be within your company in order to do these jobs?
Bonzheim: Your depth of knowledge has to be deeper than what it was as a temperature control contractor. I know if not for Chris Davis, ControlNET Senior Application Engineer, and his knowledge of electrical systems, doing the integration at Whirlpool’s data center would’ve been almost impossible. He understood how an electric power grid worked and could envision what an integrated solution would look like. I remember him creating the graphic that tied in all of these multiple systems, multiple generations and multiple protocols together, and yet on the graphic, it looked like it was one system, and that was exactly what the owner was looking for. They had been searching nationally for a contractor that could do it, little did they know we were right in their backyard and we were the guys who could do it.
Whether it’s electric power at a data center, or understanding the importance and function of a Vivarium in maintaining the environment of breeding pairs of incredibly valuable animals, or the efficiencies of single MMI operating Security along with Temperature Control in a budget-strapped K-12 environment, an understanding of what makes a building “smart” to your customer is essential. Even though it may be a simple as a contact closure monitoring cryogenic freezers or monitoring the delta airflow in an operating room, an understanding of the importance of the process to your customer will define your success as an MSI.
Cochrane: So like Marc pointed out, the MSI not only has experts in multiple fields around these building services but you also, if you need to based on the use case of the end user, will become a subject matter expert about the services within the building so that you can support the integration properly. So you have to go and learn about cryogenic freezers, etc. as a part of being a good MSI.
Bonzheim: Correct. You can’t know it going in, because you don’t know what you’re getting into. Even our culture and the way we hire people, I like to find people who want to be disruptors and want to be continually challenged. I came from a national organization where employees did not embrace change well. When you came up with a new product line, there’d be a lot of hesitation and pushback and they just liked doing it the old way. It’s not like that here; people embrace new technologies. As an example, Honeywell’s new CIPer controller is a product employees have sought information on and want to be the first to install and program it. We know in order to stay ahead of the competition and provide owners what they want; then we have to stay up on new technology. Most recently, we have incorporated the use of Bluebeam into our organization, as part of a seamless estimating to the installation process and hired software code writers in order to create custom operational tools for internal use to assist in our tracking and final delivery on projects of all sizes.
We just recently added an individual with a focus on Data System Design and Information Technology. He was brought on board to not only support our team but support the integration needs our customers challenge us with. We have more customers starting to see us as members of their data supply chain. A solid understanding IT and Data System Design will help us become a more knowledgeable partner when customers want to integrate information from their SQL database and share it across their network, either from our system or to their system. There is more and more IT expertise that an MSI will be forced to have, especially with the advent of IP controllers and their eventual domination of our industry. We’re adding that expertise and investing in that today.
Cochrane: With your capabilities, a lot of your MSI work is sold negotiated directly to the owner. I would assume as add-ons to projects and things that had gotten involved in. Tell me about the construction process and the MSI from your standpoint. As somebody who does bid on construction work, is there a place for the MSI in that world right now that you see in your opinion?
Dreyer: I would say that pretty much every job, even a plan and spec job has some sort of an integration component to it. It could be HVAC, electrical systems, utility meters, lighting systems, generators, security systems, fire alarm systems or process. Every job we touch today has some sort of integration that you’re tying into somebody else’s equipment through a communication protocol. From simple little buildings that are not really sophisticated to world headquarters-type buildings or medical research facilities, they all have integrations. We’re all living it. The data is there; it’s just a matter of what do you do with the data once you have it.
Cochrane: You mentioned you are doing quite a bit through the plan and spec process, and you are seeing engineers specify a lot of integration now. From that standpoint, do you feel like this is being driven by your customers, the end users, or is it being driven by the engineering community? Is it being driven by you guys? Where do you think the drive is for these integrated projects?
Bonzheim: I think as consulting engineers and owners have gotten to understand and embrace Tridium and the Niagara Framework, for many, integration has now become a part of their expectation of any control system contractor. I would say it’s being driven primarily by the consulting engineer community in their discussions with owners because they know they have a tool (Tridium) that can pull it off.
Tibbs: Unfortunately, I would say it’s coming from the equipment manufacturers and their influence on the consulting engineers. The consulting engineers are being told that it is a much better way for owners to go. However, they want the MSI to adjust and service those equipment supplied controls and, unfortunately, their proprietary programming tools prohibit that. Engineers really are frequently just following suit with whatever the equipment guys are telling them, but that is changing, too, as they witness the service predicament owners are placed in. A lot of equipment providers suggest they are nervous about controls contractors controlling their equipment, even though we’ve been doing just that for decades. It’s just the way the market is right now, and we respond to the specification. For us, that means on a large project it’s a lot of integration into packaged controls, mixed in with the controls we supply and subsequently service.
Bonzheim: What we find is that’s not how we want it to be from the customer’s position. We try to steer engineers away from that because what they wind up with is a service predicament where factory-supplied controls are serviced by someone who is not their controls contractor, and the rest is. This has been difficult for owners to come to terms with, as they see their controls vendor as the ones who should service all their control needs on a project.
Cochrane: As an aggregate of your time as a company, what percent of your time is spent in the following categories as an MSI:
Bonzheim: A small example of consultation occurs when we get a call
from an owner who has a Niagara system in their building, but they’re
unhappy with their security contractor. Once they find out we provide
card access and CCTV and that they’ll get the same level of service and
knowledgeable personnel working on their security systems and Graphical
Interface that they’ve come to expect from us, they want to hear more
and they really like that integrated message.
I’d give the R&D that low percentage because R&D for us is very organic, we learn as we go. We’re not sitting around trying to determine how this stuff is going to work before we ever try it. We’re a very practical company, and the two things where the rubber really hits the road is with thoughtful programming and commissioning incorporating best practice standards that are discussed and implemented—these are essential. Without that, R&D and consultation don’t even matter.
Cochrane: Have you ever sold any of these services as a professional service agreement where you were charging an hourly rate? For instance, for something like a consultation?
Dreyer: Not regularly, but we have at times if the need is there. On a specific design-assist project, for example, we took our expertise in controls and systems integrations and applied that to what they were looking to do within their project.
Cochrane: So you’re selling it, you’re doing it, but it’s really a byproduct of following what the owner is asking you for and doing a good job of doing it. You don’t have to advertise it. Because you guys are simply following what your customers are asking for and delivering. That’s the key.
Bonzheim: An example of that, Scott, is at Mercy Health, they wanted a touch screen firefighter control panel that integrates into the BMS to perform all their smoke control profiles. It must allow a firefighter to interact with the fire alarm system, HVAC airflow and coordinating complex fire initiated sequences. That fell under the scope of work for the fire alarm contractor, but they were not prepared or equipped to meet this need. They looked at it and realized smoke control at a complex high-rise level did not fit their system’s capabilities. All agreed ControlNET with Niagara could do this, and we had a very happy GC and Owner in the end.
Dreyer: We excluded it from the beginning as that work is typically provided by the fire alarm contractor. The construction manager asked us to get involved, and we worked through the process with the construction manager, the project engineer, the fire alarm contractor, the authorities having jurisdiction and the inspector. In the end, a touch screen display integrated with the BAS and fire alarm system was accepted.
Cochrane: You guys make it sound so easy, just deliver deliver. But I’m sure you’ve run into some challenges along the way—could you discuss a few of those for us?
Dreyer: One challenge to integration is that a lot of people just think it’s plug and play. That you just integrate to this, pull the points, link them together, and you’re done. Typically it is not that easy. You have to dive into whatever manufacturer’s product you’re integrating to, and you have to understand it. You have conversations with the sales representative or the person who programmed it to make sure you fully understand all their data, the data format, and understand how their equipment responds to your data input to make it all work together. Lighting systems at times can be difficult. I can think of two different projects where we commanded the lights on, and they didn’t turn on. We’d resend the commands, and now they’d turn on. Whose problem is it? We tracked it down and discovered our data was getting out of our system, and it was getting to the lighting system, but their system was just not accepting it… so what do you do? In these instances, it was the lighting control system problem, and they made the necessary changes. But again, it’s not just plug and play. It takes a lot of interaction and a lot of communication to understand what you’re doing with all of the data and how to make it work correctly.
Cochrane: You brought up a key point here: whose problem is it when we do these integrations?
Dreyer: It’s always the controls guy’s (MSI) problem—that’s where it starts.
Cochrane: That answers my question then, which was as the MSI, are you always responsible for that? Does that not just come with being the MSI that you have to figure out why the lighting system isn’t working now?
Dreyer: Yes, we have to be the expert to show that it’s not our problem. In one of the lighting control instances, the construction manager would call and say lights didn’t turn on again and we’d go take a look. We would test, and I would tell him it’s their problem (lighting system), and he’d say, I know it’s your problem because you can make it work when it’s not working. Well, how do you respond to that? The construction manager is basing his judgement on his common sense and experience. Our guys are counting bits and bytes through the IT network and figuring out where this data is going. Whether the construction manager understands it or not, we need to have the expertise to identify the problem and explain the issue so he can take action and get others involved to fix it.
Cochrane: A great point about the responsibility chain of the MSI. That is definitely typically a challenge as we often see the MSI is responsible for systems that they all of a sudden need to become an expert in overnight to ensure the owner is satisfied with their services. Any other challenges you want to bring up?
Dreyer: One that you already touched on is packaged equipment controls. This lends a lot of problems for MSIs and end users. We get the first call saying something isn’t working. We can’t help them because it’s packaged controls with propriety engineering software from Trane, York, Carrier, etc. They need to go back and call the mechanical contractor who installed it, who doesn’t know anything about it. He calls the equipment supplier, who doesn’t know anything about it. In the end, it takes a lot of time and effort to get their problem fixed.
Cochrane: A lot of times, we hear challenges with owners, with engineers in understanding and getting stuff implemented. We have challenges with the construction process. With general contractors who hire a mechanical and they throw out all of the integration scope of work… Anything else in terms of challenges like that?
Dreyer: There are always issues and problems that come along with it, but it becomes our role to understand the scope and wade through the information if you want a good outcome in the end. We’re better off heading off a lot of these issues at the beginning of a project and making sure the equipment comes with the right communication options. The engineer can specify integration all day long, but when you get out to the site and open up your boiler or chiller, and it doesn’t have a communication card or protocol that you can talk with, well you then spend a lot of time to track down and get what you need. It’s a whole lot easier to do it up front.
Bonzheim: When it comes to consultants, I think one of the things maybe they don’t understand is specifying integrations is actually a lot easier than they think it is. I have told consulting engineers that all you have to do, whatever product it is that you want to integrate to, is to identify that it has to use a common open protocol, either BACnet, LonWorks, TCP/IP and identify the points that you’re going to require to be exposed and if they will require read and write attributes.
Some consultants think they almost have to tell you how to do it in the specification when the description above is adequate. Once it hits Niagara, and if it has the specified protocol and the points aren’t released or exposed, then it’s the engineer’s call to enforce it or not, and we do see a lot of that, but it is much diminished from years past. At times we’ve integrated a product, and you’re getting minimal data out of it because manufacturers do not always allow all of their data to be seen in an integration. But if the consulting engineer or owner specifies the data points that will be required to be viewed and/or controlled, then it’s enforceable. If you have the data and you know where they want it to go and what they want it to do, utilizing that data across the enterprise is very cost effective.
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