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Not seeing the benefits of smart buildings? Try an MSI

April 7, 2023
As the capabilities of smart building technologies advance, the role and responsibilities of Master Systems Integrators have grown to address the business needs of their customers.

The MSI, or Master Systems Integrator, is a role that has developed in the building management industry to help building owners and managers control and integrate their building systems. As smart buildings have matured and technologies such as IoT, analytics, and predictive maintenance have advanced, the role of the MSI, along with its ever-expanding responsibilities, has also evolved. The industry faces intense challenges, including security, data management, the balance between IT and OT networks, and the need to demonstrate business value—challenges that an MSI is suited to address.

Today’s MSIs are smart-building consultants and key members of a project team, responsible for ensuring that the owner’s business objectives translate into measurable, data-driven outcomes.

Building needs evolve

Historically, MSIs provided integration services for building management system (BMS) technologies and control engineering, such as fault detection. However, as smart buildings have matured, the MSI role has expanded to include consulting and professional services throughout all stages of building design and operation.

Building owners and managers now come to MSIs with use cases that may have nothing to do with the building automation system (BAS), such as occupancy, space utilization, air quality, and cybersecurity. As curiosity on the part of the building owner or manager increases, MSIs are called on to answer questions or address anomalies that deal less with ensuring the technology is running smoothly and more with the management of building assets and resources. As a result, the level of professional services that MSIs now offer has grown in size and complexity, as well as become more nuanced.

As a result, the level of professional services that MSIs now offer has grown in size and complexity, as well as become more nuanced.

Industry players are also changing. An MSI might have been called in on a project basis to integrate disparate building systems, such as upgrading or integrating a legacy proprietary BMS system with a new open IT platform. Now, MSIs might also work on the software or analytics side to provide IT departments a custom API that shares equipment metadata traditionally not available through a BAS open protocol, such as BACnet.

An MSI may also provide design assistance from a consultative perspective and the integration and delivery of software, platforms, APIs, and anything that meets the needs of the customer, whether that be an owner of a single building, an investment group with a portfolio, an on-site building management company, or an outsourced maintenance or service contractor.

Three upcoming challenges—and opportunities

Along with providing integration services, MSIs are now challenged to take on strategic responsibilities—and to demonstrate the value of their efforts. These tasks include data-driven strategies, global cyberthreats, and measuring business value for creating future-thinking smart buildings.

Let’s look at data first. An MSI might be tasked with managing data from local utility providers or government entities while still organizing and uncovering performance or efficiency insights from the vast amount of data generated by smart building products. For example, they might identify data relevant to a college president’s decision to expand the campus by calculating the ratio of student commuters using private versus public transportation.

A second challenge is security. As the frequency and scale of cyberattacks continues to increase, security has taken center stage, primarily due to the increase of devices and networks in a building that become vulnerabilities in a growing threat landscape. The MSI can support IT managers by developing a site-specific smart-buildings data management plan. This plan outlines the people, processes, and governance to manage operational technology (OT) devices and data in accordance with the IT department’s data strategy. The price of ignoring security issues is at an all-time high. According to IBM, the average cost of a breach in 2022 globally was $4.35 million. In the U.S., it was $9.44 million.

The final challenge for MSIs is to reveal business value and meet the needs of executives who are taking a more active role in building management. MSIs traditionally are trained mechanical engineers, but they have evolved into IT professionals and managers who need to talk in terms that their customers—building owners or facilities managers—will understand and appreciate.

Insights relating to business value include:

  • Occupancy rates, to determine whether a space is being utilized properly or fully.
  • Indoor air quality, to ensure that a building is healthy without any potential code violations.
  • Energy usage and management, to reduce costs and/or to lower emissions for a building to meet ESG goals.
  • Cybersecurity, with the ability to demonstrate the reduced possibility of a breach.

Buildings are assets that must attract tenants, who in turn must attract and retain employees, students, customers, patients, and visitors. MSIs help ensure that a building is constantly generating value and, thus, increasing its value to all stakeholders.

The final challenge for MSIs is to reveal business value and meet the needs of executives who are taking a more active role in building management.

What to look for in an MSI

The role and expectations of MSIs have evolved as smart buildings mature and new technologies are introduced. The position now involves providing a broad range of services, including consulting, professional services, and software integration.

As the management of the built environment grows in scope and complexity, so will the role of MSIs. The consultative approach and the delivery of a range of services mean that all projects will be unique, ensuring that MSIs are constantly tailoring their services to the building project at hand. To stay atop the industry, the MSI role must first and foremost serve the needs of the business, but also leverage their array of disparate technical and engineering skill sets to provide value to multiple stakeholders. 

Headquartered in Concord, Calif., Buildings IOT provides professional building services, including building management systems integration.

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About the Author

Christopher “Kaysan” Wilkins

Based in Sacramento, Calif., Christopher “Kaysan” Wilkins is a Master Systems Integrator program manager at Buildings IOT, which helps building owners and managers set and achieve their goals at any phase of a smart-building implementation. Kaysan holds an MBA from the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute. He has more than 20 years of digital building technologies experience.

About the Author

Rebecca Butler

Rebecca Butler is the vice president of engineering operations at Buildings IOT, where she leads cross-functional teams of delivery managers, solution architects, BMS and IoT engineers, and software integrators. Her teams collaborate with customers to design and deliver robust and reliable smart building solutions. She has an M.S. in building systems engineering, a Project Management Professional certification, and more than 15 years of experience overseeing the deployment of cutting-edge technologies for enterprise and Fortune 500 companies.

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