Crazy times... Just a month ago I was worried about cybersecurity in building automation systems (BAS). Now, I’m worried about the business I’ve known and loved for the last 25 years. I know it’s going to be OK, but I still worry, so I call my customers/friends who are integrators to see what they see, to help me understand. And here is what I found out.
HVAC/electrical tradesmen are essential according to the federal guidelines that many states are following, which means we, as an industry, are allowed to operate during these uncertain times.
We are hearing all sorts of stories from different buildings from hospitals to warehouses — there is some important activity keeping our services viable during the epidemic. While this is important and prioritized, there are many other ways to keep the rest of the team working effectively while still billing for hours.
I asked Chris Bonzheim from ControlNET in Grand Rapids, Michigan, if he would need cut staff. He said: absolutely not.
“We had a six-month backlog, of which about 30% can be done remotely,” he said. “So, we are just reprioritizing our plans to complete that work while working from our homes. I am still looking to hire good people during these times.”
Scott Papay, sales manager at LONG Building Technologies in Denver, has a very proactive approach to the situation as well. He is calling customers and offering to put their unoccupied buildings in a setback mode to save energy while they are not using the building. In most cases, they’re doing this for free as a public service and to serve as good stewards of the industry. These conversations have led to new opportunities to do work while the buildings are empty. So, as they see projects/buildings being shut down, new opportunities open up in buildings that had too much going on in them to allow for BAS services prior to the pandemic.
Scott is not alone. We have heard from many integrators in a variety of areas that some school districts, universities, stadiums, factories and many more have opened up summer work early or started new projects to take advantage of the empty buildings.
Scott and his team have not only continued to add new work this month, they have been offering services normally requested for off hours at a high labor rate at normal rates during the day now, because the buildings are empty.
LONG Building Technologies, like ControlNET, is planning on keeping everybody busy and billable during the turbulent times.
Brian Oswald, senior vice president from CBRE|ESI, sees how being on premise during these uncertain times has heightened everyone’s awareness of the value for remote BAS monitoring capabilities. CBRE|ESI has offered remote monitoring services for many years, but with the epidemic, the company is getting new interest from clients for these remote services. He anticipates a significant increase in demand going forward as his clients realize how important an off-premise building control strategy can be.
Another observation during the pandemic? More time for training! Given our current state of events, virtual training has exploded as a go-to means for not just kids but for professionals and tradesmen, who are taking this time to catch up on long overdue training. Tradesmen are taking that class they’ve been putting off for months, if not years, because of normally over-packed workdays in the office or on-site work at customers’ buildings. Cochrane Tech Services, for instance, sped up its plans to offer virtual BAS training courses for systems integrators, contractors, service technicians, facility managers, and more to accommodate the opportunity for many of us to further our education at the moment.
The Cochrane Tech Services team successfully hosted its first instructor-led, online Niagara 4 Technical Certification course with live lab panels and plans to continue down that path to support the industry with additional virtual training opportunities. Kimberly Brown, manager of Cochrane Tech Services, is pleased with the program’s virtual class rollouts and the level of excitement and interest being expressed by BAS industry professionals.
“Our virtual training options have been met with overwhelming enthusiasm with people eager to take advantage of these rare remote opportunities,” Brown said. “They’re able to advance their capabilities and skills from the comfort of their home while getting the same level of extensive support and education that is standard in our typical classroom setting.”
I’ve personally been encouraging my own staff to use this time to educate themselves as much as possible. I’m inviting them to enroll in our Tech Services courses, watch industry videos, and immerse themselves in e-learning modules provided by our vendors.
As a distributor for many different BAS brands, even with many states shut down, I can tell you they are all still doing a great job shipping and supporting their products as of today. Obviously the future is uncertain, but as we, the BAS industry, have been deemed essential, it is our mission to stay viable to ensure our services are there for those in need. As a member of the BAS industry: consider yourself lucky. You probably have the option to work today and throughout the pandemic, which many do not.
This article first appeared in www.automatedbuildings.com's April issue. To view the article in its entirety, visit http://www.automatedbuildings.com/news/apr20/articles/cochrane/200331100404cochrane.html.