When you build a building, there are educated, degreed, certified, professional services required, like a lawyer, to put together the contracts or an architect, who designs the building. Each requires specific knowledge of important aspects within construction and maintenance industries. These professional service providers spend large amounts of their time consulting, getting to know their clients, and becoming a part of the team, because it is crucially important to their success. The deliverables they bring to the project can range from contracts, drawings, or specifications, but a good chunk of their time is dedicated to consultation and decision-making.

And along comes the master systems integrator (MSI). An MSI is a contractor! The MSI integrates everything. They are a temp control company on steroids. Are we sure?

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview MSIs during education sessions at the AHR Expo in Las Vegas (view here) and at the Niagara Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the discussions have me really rethinking what an MSI is. Of course, they provide the software platform, graphics, data, and analytics as deliverables with incredible interfaces that optimize everything from energy to operations to tenant experience to new ideas every day, but that’s not all they do. Their deliverables come as a result of their relationships with the building owners and how together they accomplish the projects’/owners’ digital building control goals.

MSIs lead building digital systems design, tear apart every computerized control component utilized, and help make project decisions. Keep that, drop those, add this protocol to that system — we will integrate all of it. MSIs have expert knowledge and experience integrating mechanical and electrical control systems. They have mastered the technology needed and can help save huge avoidance costs by managing what other contractors are putting in by getting rid of unneeded controls, gateways, and software, not to mention computers that are not needed in the system but provided in typical designs. These direct savings can add up quick and provide indirect savings by offering consistent direction when it comes to technology choices. Not having to shop for every system's software and combining the use of networks offers even more layers of savings.

MSIs coordinate and collaborate between all the stakeholders to ensure the digital results they’re hired to provide. As MSI Sid Blomberg of K & S Ventures described at the Niagara Summit, “It’s like herding cats!” A key function for the MSI is coordination, usually through education between owners' maintenance, construction, and IT teams answering questions, explaining technology choices, and developing cybersecurity plans for maintenance in collaboration with IT. The MSI can be the intermediate between departments within the owners’ business and can help each group to understand each other and how to accomplish their joint goals. I have even heard of MSIs forcing change in businesses IT policies to accommodate the ever-growing IP-connected device acceptance and how owners’ networks need to evolve if they plan to put them on their managed networks. The value to the owner is exponential when the relationship is strong. Success leads to the MSI servicing the building, and owner, for years to come.

Often, owners ask for an ROI from an MSI for their services. While that’s like asking a consulting engineer the same question, the real return comes from the consultation resulting in huge avoidance costs with better technology collaboration that lowers the large direct costs and time commitment required to stand up 10 software platforms instead of one. Savings, yes! We have MSIs who have documented millions in savings on a large-scale integration. Justifiable, absolutely! Owners know it, and MSIs are in huge demand because of the financial successes from this new method.

There are no direct degrees or certifications for people and companies that do MSI work. As the industry develops, and we look at the successful MSIs, there are many unique skills, degrees, and certifications from multiple fields that make them great. For instance, having mechanical electrical engineers working with full stack educated computer science majors is pretty common in these companies. It’s the combination of skills and experience that really creates the magic an MSI can bring to a project.

When I asked the panel of MSIs at the Niagara Summit “How much of your time is consulting vs. delivered software platform development?” The answer was interesting. MSI Jerry Gray from Enterprise Controls mentioned, “80% of our total time on some projects is used for consulting and educating the owners.”

Jerry, Sid, and all the MSIs I’ve interviewed agreed that consultation and partnership with the owner is a huge key to a successful MSI business just like every other professional service within the building industry.

This article originally appeared in the June issue of Automatedbuildings.com. See it in its entirety here: https://www.automatedbuildings.com/news/may22/articles/scott/220429112301scott.html