In his haste to get home after working well into the night, Steve had apparently left his keys on his desk but did not realize this until he’d reached his car. Frustrated, he made an about turn and headed back to the key fob — luckily, he’d brought his employee badge with him.

As he swiped his employee badge to regain access to the building’s entrance, the lights in the dark, unoccupied lobby came on to illuminate his path to the elevator, on cue. The building’s security system sent a message to the building automation system (BAS) and lighting control systems to alert them that Steve had reentered the building afterhours.

The message included information about the location in the building where Steve normally works. The HVAC and lighting in his work area is indexed from the unoccupied to occupied modes of operation. When Steve gets to his office, it’s fully illuminated, even though he never touched a switch. In addition, his office is already heating or cooling to his preferred temperature.

Steve’s experience is the new norm in the rise of connected systems in which the future of efficiency is closer than you think, thanks to Master Systems Integration (MSI). Put simply, the idea of “tying various systems together” is the basis for the Internet of Things (IoT) or smart/intelligent buildings and has been the evolution of the MSI concept.  

“MSI is becoming more common in the marketplace,” said Bob Hamill, vice president of Sunbelt Controls, an ACCO Engineered Systems subsidiary. “The MSI platform is evolving. Smart buildings have taken off in the last four to five years.”

And, it seems, Sunbelt is already seeing the shift that will make this discipline take off as systems that are more proprietary are being allowed to interoperate with other systems, removing a big participation barrier.

“We have been aware of this emergent field even before Sunbelt Controls became a controls company,” said Scott Kachuck, software engineering manager at Sunbelt Controls. “Making disparate or proprietary systems communicate with one another was the only limitation. But, as manufacturers began moving toward more open equipment, systems can now ‘play ball’ with one another, leading to the emergence of building operational technologies in HVAC, security, lighting, fire, power, etc.”

Heavily involved in the building automation process and network architecture, Sunbelt Controls not only has the ability to integrate disparate systems but can also create custom programs designed to communicate across platforms typically found in today’s BAS and building IT/OT system applications. Consequently, it was an easy and natural segue into the MSI market.  

FIGURE 1: The idea of tying various systems together is the basis for the Internet of Things (IoT) or smart/intelligent buildings and has been the evolution of the MSI concept.

“Sunbelt Controls is well-versed in the system integration industry and is already performing many of the individual building disciplines that show up in the MSI scope,” Kachuck said. “Our goal is to maintain ‘stickiness’ with our customers, and providing the window into the customers’ building portfolio is a great way to accomplish that.”

To date, Sunbelt Controls has been awarded two MSI projects. The first involved the headquarters of a Pasadena, California-based real estate company. The company desired to have a unified user interface or “single pane of glass” to simplify the management and operation of its state-of-the-art facility. The integration focus of Sunbelt Controls’ initial MSI delivery for this client included an interior LED (point of entry) lighting system; exterior building lighting system; garage lighting; automated window shades; an access control system; a video surveillance system; an afterhours tenant override system; electrical metering and submetering; a BAS; a lab vacuum pump system; a lab valves and fume hood system; HVAC systems, including a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS), computer room air conditioner (CRAC), and variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems; a kitchen demand control and electrical uninterruptable power supply (UPS); an automatic transfer switch (ATS); and generator systems.

“Getting these two projects was not an easy feat,” Kachuck said. “Sunbelt has only recently merged its existing capabilities into the MSI offering, and these projects demonstrate our expertise with delivering this comprehensive solution. Sunbelt already has a number of relationships with the companies that develop MSI equipment and technologies as well as with customers who have an interest in moving in that direction.”

As the company moves further into this new and emergent field, it has had to reevaluate its approach.

“Our approach is to lead through consultation with the building owner/operator and the contracting team,” said Marc Annicchero, controls sales manager, Northern region, Sunbelt Controls. “Our role is to serve as a client advocate that ensures their unique business needs are explicitly defined and then designed and implemented to meet the team’s desired outcomes.”  

As the company figures out the future of MSI, it will definitely need to evolve its go-to-market sales strategy in order to grow with the technical and staffing needs created by advancing technology and systems integrations.

“We will need to establish a dedicated MSI department,” Kachuck said. “If this is a market our customers want to play in, then we will have to continue to expand our capacity and specialize.”  

According to Kachuck, the company will also need to change its understanding of who the customers are and how they go to market. Project managers will need to take themselves out of the contractor’s seat and insert themselves into the consultant’s seat. It requires a dedicated effort, focusing on relationships with designers, architects, and owners. As presently constructed, by the time a controls contractor bids on a job, it is often too late, and they are too far down the food chain to make an impact on MSI.

“We need to move the building automation conversation to the beginning of the project design process and think about how the owner wants the building to function,” Kachuk said. “That has to happen in order to design and integrate the various building systems needed to achieve his or her vision.”