What is a Master Systems Integrator?
People who work in commercial buildings naturally have some idea how many systems are working together at any one time to make the building operate.
There's the key-card system that gives access to approved individuals during off-peak hours. And the elevators of course. There are the thermostats that someone is in charge of in each tenant space. Also the lights, either always shining brightly or clicking off and on as spaces are occupied. Then there are all the parts and pieces hiding within the walls, in the basement and on the rooftops that make all those public-facing elements work reliably.
The funny thing is, for most people in a building, its essential role is to fade into the background, to just work. If you're aware of your building systems, it's likely because something is going wrong. You're too hot or too cold. One of three elevators is out of order or your key-card won't scan. Those are all symptoms of larger problems with the building's operations. If you're the building owner or property manager, the symptoms you feel are likely tied to increased operating costs resulting in decreased net operating income (NOI).
An MSI enables technical systems to work and continue working as designed throughout the lifespan of the building.
A Master Systems Integrator is the organization that enables all those technical systems, with all of their disparate parts and pieces to work cohesively in the first place and to continue working as designed throughout the lifespan of the building.
Why do connected systems matter?
It's true that buildings were operating fine before Master Systems Integrators came on the scene (though it could be argued that smart buildings today that utilize the expertise of MSIs are much more pleasant to be inside of). MSIs weren't established to just be one more sub-contractor on the job site. Most MSIs today are outgrowths of controls companies.
As building controls evolved from pneumatics to direct digital (DDC), the potential for connected systems expanded greatly. Now, the hundreds of devices that make up the HVAC control system each have the ability to connect to the internet and collect data. Building operators are presented with many more choices that expand their capabilities by freeing them from proprietary systems and costly overhauls.
MSIs offer precise ways to manage, monitor and maintain all systems over
the long term, primarily with data.
Having a Master Systems Integrator involved in the building helps building operators navigate these new choices. MSIs also offer more precise ways to manage, monitor and maintain all systems over the long term, primarily with data.
Connected systems enable data collection, storage and analysis across multiple systems and over long periods of time. This data informs strategies for energy savings, system updates or other cost-saving efforts in a way that simply wasn't possible before MSIs started integrating systems.
What makes a good MSI?
Due to the networked nature of building controls, today's best Master Systems Integrators have an understanding of IT networks, systems and protocols. While the MSI's primary focus is on the operational technology side of the building - all those controls and devices that run the systems - the IP-connected nature of these devices does require at least one outgoing connection via the IT network. This understandably makes IT teams nervous. The good MSIs can relate to these concerns. They know enough about the IT network to prove to those teams that they're not compromising security by opening a port for the operational technology network.
These are not always easy conversations but a good MSI will welcome the opportunity to discuss their security and networking strategy.